Enough with the Stuff!: Give the gift of pandemic-safe adventure

Holiday shopping can be a strain even under the best of non-2020 circumstances. It’s a whole new challenge when you’re the type of gift giver who would rather buy your significant other concert tickets — and finds yourself at a loss when most forms of entertainment face a murky re-opening. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned this year, it’s how to be resourceful and whether you’re buying your bud binoculars for their new birding passion or renting out the Showcase at Providence Place for a private screening so you can eat movie theater popcorn again, there’s still plenty of interactive gifts you can give the out-of-the-box loved one on your shopping list.

Level up their walks

Walking: This totally pedestrian pursuit has become the pandemic-proof activity of choice for so many of us, whether we like it or not. (“What did you do this weekend?” “Well, we ate. Then we took a walk.” “US TOO.”) But what better way to break up the routine of someone’s weekend constitutional than by gifting them a pair of snowshoes? A basic set of adult’s or children’s size shoes can be found at Ocean State Job Lot for under $50. Encourage them to be used by slipping a map of the trails at Pulaski Memorial Recreation Area in Chepatchet in the gift box or a map of Goddard Park, where you’ll be sure to find other snowshoers making their way this winter. 

Recommended for: the friend who went all in on new hobbies this year and is ready to branch out from sourdough and into something a little more physical.

Stay safe and shop small businesses

This is the year to go all-in on gift cards to your favorite small businesses. Help your loved one experience some pre-pandemic normalcy by sending them for an afternoon on Ives Street and doubling up on gift cards to Twenty Stories and Aleppo Sweets. Twenty Stories may be most famous for their book mobile, but their Fox Point storefront is available for in-store shopping by appointment, which means the bookworm in your life can enjoy a crowd-free browsing experience. Because the store curates 20 new titles each month, owners Alexa Trembly and Emory Harkins are experts at helping you find the right book to fit your mood out of their inventory. They’re also offering gift bundles this holiday season, under categories like “Book Club Favorites,” “Noteworthy Young Adults” or “The Little One” bundle, which includes two books and a Twenty Stories onesie. After their appointment, your loved one can pop into the other side of the building (Twenty Stories and Aleppo Sweets literally share a main door) and pick-up a to-go order from Aleppo.

Recommended for: anyone who wants to get cozy with a book and baklava, but also wouldn’t mind leaving the house for a change.

Rekindle love for a Rhody tradition

Roger Williams Park Zoo is such a Rhode Island stalwart that, when it comes time for gift giving, this big obvious could almost slip our mind as an option. But if you’re shopping for a family or a couple, gifting a zoo membership is a top-notch way to encourage outdoor activities all year long. Besides free admission, membership has the extra perk of discounts to more than 100 zoos and museums across the country, setting you up with a readymade list of places to go once we’re safely mobile again.

Recommended for: animal lovers and the Rhode Island transplant in your life who never took a picture on top of the bronze dog statue.

Hide out in someone else’s (tree) house

While several Airbnb’s in Rhode Island offer a glamping experience in the summer and fall, there’s only one Airbnb we know of where guests can go off grid any time of year. Just across the border in Rehoboth, searchable as “Providence area Treehouse Farm Stay,” you’ll find the rental of Airbnb super host, Anne. Her tree house, a shingled, big windowed tiny home on a platform amidst the woods, is located on farmland. There’s no electricity, but your giftee can take a day away from Netflix binging and instead visit with the farm’s animals, which include Nigerian dwarf goats, American guinea hogs, horses, poultry, and a water buffalo named Bill. (Bill’s a pretty popular guy with past guests.) There’s a composting toilet, but the hosts also provide a “real bathroom” for guests to use in the winter. Should you share that detail with your friend before you book their surprise stay? The choice is yours! 

Recommended for: the person in your life who always says they want to unplug or desperately needs a night away from their roommate.

From Stage to Screen: Play-turned-film taps into our distrust of government

When Nathan Suher calls the timing of The Assassination of Western Civilization a “curious thing,” he isn’t simply being glib about the state of the world. He’s referring to the release date of his latest directed film, a 1970s-inspired political suspense thriller, filmed entirely in one take. 

The movie will premiere online on Sunday, November 1, days before the election.

“The final cut of the film wrapped up around February 2020 and (I chose) to sit on it for a while and pick my moment,” Suher says. “Watching how the world reacted to the political landscape, the way our government has handled the pandemic and the escalation of tensions that have risen from the murders of George Floyd, and several victims, has reinforced the notion that this film has something important to add to the conversation.”

The Assassination of Western Civilization is the story of a tabloid writer, besieged by personal pressures, who finds himself in the crosshairs of an FBI investigation of the assassination of a senator at a nearby hotel. The film doesn’t “directly voice an opinion about this current administration nor the tensions that are currently relevant,” Suher says, but “it definitely is tapping into the delirium and paranoia that is surrounding the distrust in our government.”

It’s a plot that lends itself well to the ambitious task of capturing a full-length film entirely in one shot. Not just because of its contained setting, but because before The Assassination of Western Civilization was a feature, it was a play called Newcastle, written by Lenny Schwartz.

Schwartz and Suher have collaborated on several projects and recently produced a socially distanced anthology Far From Perfect: Life Inside a Global Pandemic. In 2014, Suher recalls the duo were “relatively early on” in their friendship, but always met up to spitball ideas. “One of those early meetings was at the Belle Street Chapel, the location where his theater company Daydream Theatre Company was operating out of,” Suher recalls. “I arrived early and Lenny was in the middle of rehearsals for the original stage version of The Assassination of Western Civilization … I sat in the back of the room, watching him direct the actors, and I was awestruck by the process. I had never actually witnessed this side of a stage production before.” When Suher finally saw the finished play, he was “blown away by it” – but didn’t approach Schwartz about adapting the script until four years later.

“Because of the style of the script with it unfolding in ‘real-time,’ and the fact that all of the story takes place in a single location, I naturally jumped to the idea of making this a single-take feature,” Suher says. “For the most part, the film adaptation follows exactly the same plot, beat by beat. What I felt was essential was to make sure the movie felt dynamic; that you weren’t just watching a three-dimensional play. One of those ways was to constantly give the viewer different perspectives of the characters and the room by making decisions throughout when to go wide and when to get right into the actors’ faces. As the movie progresses, and the tension keeps ratcheting, the camera takes more opportunities to get closeups… Keep in mind that this is all done in a single take. Normally on a stage the audience is able to pick and choose what they want to look at. I had to choose sometimes to instruct my director of photography, Ben Heald, to stay on an actor who wasn’t talking because I hoped their reaction would be stronger in the moment.”

While Suher had previously directed a 6-minute short single-take film, the task of filming a feature under the same constraints left him initially anxious. “When we were getting close to the end of rehearsals, I started getting cold feet about the entire process. The actors were doing very well, but I didn’t have full confidence that we were going to be able to run through the entire script and be 100% perfect. Which means, we can’t see the boom pole in the shot. We can’t have someone break character. We can’t have an egregious line flub. We can’t have someone accidentally forget where they left an essential prop.” 

Because Suher only had his full crew for one weekend, he worried whether they would be able to execute the single take. As a back-up, the crew spent nearly the entire time filming a version of the movie in 10 different parts. Yet with only four hours left in the weekend’s shooting schedule, Suher yearned to try the single take – a time crunch that meant the shot had to be nailed in only one or two tries. “The first take, we made it 22 minutes in and then the boom pole crossed right through the shot,” Suher says. “And of course, it takes about 25 minutes, at least, to reset everything! So it was really our last chance to nail it. With no time to spare, I called action on a ‘make it or go home’ final shot at the single-take version and, by some miracle, everything fell perfectly into place and as a result, we got our single take version in the can.”

The Assassination of Western Civilization premieres online Sunday, November 1, at 8pm. Register through Eventbrite at www.assassinatemovie.com 

Rise Up Together: The Womxn Project to announce their next legislative agenda

We don’t often see
legislative agendas announced at the neighborhood bar with a live band. But
what would civic engagement look like if, maybe, more were?

The Womxn Project calls their approach “artivism” – a partnering of art and activisim to bring about political or social change. Since the non-profit’s inception in 2017, The Womxn Project (TWP) has organized around the main issue of reproductive rights. Now, TWP is ready to share their future plans as an organization at Persisting the Day Away, a hybrid fundraiser/party/rallying cry at The Parlour on October 19.

Co-directors Jocelyn
Foye and Jordan Hevenor say TWP arrived at their latest platform after
conducting polling and holding a community conversation. “We’ve been focused
on, yes, protecting (reproductive) rights, but Rhode Island still needs to work
on access,” says Hevenor. “We need to make that access real.”

The outcomes of those conversations and polls will all be reflected on the legislative agenda that will be shared at The Parlour. And for anyone who wants to see artistic activism in practice, the evening will be rounded out by a performance by The Persisters. Limited edition designed t-shirts by Allison Cole will also be available. (“We’ll also have the Smash the Patriarchy shirt everyone keeps asking for,” Foye says.)

The two-hour long event, which begins at 3:30pm, will be family friendly. “Our children should know that they have a civic part of their lives,” says Hevenor. “Politics shouldn’t just be for adults, it should be for all of us. The government that we have and the society we live in affects all of us and the best way we can change that is by showing up.”

For The Womxn Project, the day represents the organization’s fall kick-off and a means to continue and expand upon their mission from previous years. Like the 20,000 postcards sent to constituents across RI, urging legislative action. Or this past spring, when volunteers appeared at the State House dressed in red cloaks and white bonnets from The Handmaid’s Tale, silently holding signs reading “Pass the Reproductive Health Care Act.”

“An important role of
The Womxn Project is connecting people with ways they can take action and
empowering them to take part in the change,” Hevenor says. “So many people
don’t know what to do at the State House. We offered our supporters an
opportunity to be volunteers and that was really insightful.”

“They could be a body
and make an impact, but they didn’t have to be fully exposed,” Foye continues.
“It’s how we started out – folks aren’t comfortable with traditional methods
and these artistic processes bring people out.”

Admission for Persisting the Day Away is a suggested $20 donation. Books will also be collected for a drive for Cunningham Elementary School in Pawtucket. The drive is the sort cross-sectional, community-driven action that seems at the heart of The Womxn Project.

“There’s a traditional
way that people have engaged with politics and it hasn’t led to what we really
need in this country,” Hevenor says. “We start in our own backyard to be more
inclusive and to challenge the status quo. That can be a catalyst to change the

Persisting the Day Away takes place at The Parlour on Oct 19 at 3:30pm. Learn more about The Womxn Project at thewomxnproject.org

You Better Work!: Local designers’ fashions stalk the runway during StyleWeek

When it comes to fashion, designer Zoe Grinfeld isn’t afraid to roll the dice — or perhaps play a game of RISK. A senior at RISD, Grinfeld explains her aesthetic as “clothing with a sense of humor.” She organized her first fashion show when she was 11, with garments made of dollheads and plastic cups, and exhibited at StyleWeek ‘17 as part of StyleWeek’s SEED Student Design Challenge before returning last year with a runway of her own.

So what can we expect when Grinfeld returns to StyleWeek this year? 

“Classic game pieces,” Grinfeld says. “Twister mats and fuzzy dice. My collection this season is actually inspired by board games, dice and probability, and in exploring the relationship between strategy and chance. I was also interested in making clothing and accessories with an element of interactivity, such as a magnetic checkerboard jacket which doubles as a playable checkerboard.” 

Grinfeld’s runway will be held on the closing night of StyleWeek Northeast, the three-night long fashion event running September 19 through 21 at the Providence Convention Center. Now in its 17th season, StyleWeek Northeast was founded in 2009 as a means to focus on the business of fashion and showcase emerging and veteran designers under the same roof as buyers, press and the public. 

The event kicks off on Thursday with the SEED Student Design Challenge which, this year, will highlight 10 students from Mass Art in Boston. The weekend will also include an accessory showcase with mobile boutiques and pop-up shops.

Nearly 200 designers have showcased on StyleWeek’s runways since 2010’s first event. Designers come from across the country with a variety of backgrounds. This year’s runways include looks from the Chicago-based designer and two-time “Project Runway” alumni, Peach Carr. (Carr will close the event as the final runway on September 21.) Boston designer Corey Ortiz, who turned heads on Season 15 of “Project Runway,” will also show off his latest looks during his runway on Friday, September 20.

Returning for her second StyleWeek runway is RI designer Brianna Moon.

“My aesthetic and style have always been inspired by the past, specifically the ’60s,” says Moon. “I’ve always had a deep love for clothing made from that era; the techniques and attention to detail were exquisite. These are things we don’t really see anymore, unless it’s luxury wear.”

Moon is most intrigued by simple silhouettes and beautiful fabrics. She considers her process for this year’s StyleWeek quite different from her first outing in 2011.

“(After 2011), I took a step back for a very long time,” Moon says. “This time I wanted to immerse myself in images and places that inspire me, but most of all surround myself with people who inspire and believe in me. I sit up on Pinterest for hours when I should be sleeping, just saving anything that inspires me. This season I’ve had so much going on, all at once, within my personal and professional life, so whenever my anxiety started to get heavy, I would channel that into creating.”

Part of Moon’s personal and professional balance includes maintaining her storefront at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, where Rhode Islander’s can shop Moon’s accessories and apparel. Five percent of all proceeds support the fight against domestic violence and violence against women.

Regarding her runway’s materials, Moon notes, “I think the most inspirational thing is that we are having a real moment where people are realizing that fast fashion needs to end, unless it’s completed in a sustainable manner and workers are paid a living wage. Trust me, I love getting items on sale, but I feel like more and more people are beginning to talk and listen. This time around, the fabrics I’m using to create are dead stock or organic fabrics.”

Brianna Moon’s runway will be held at 7:45 on Saturday, September 21.

For more information, tickets, and full event schedule, visit styleweeknortheast.com.

Lisa Gourley

The first time Erin Carolan met Lisa Gourley was at the Living Room in 1997. “She was there with three or four cameras,” Carolan remembers. “I thought it was so cool to see a female photographer elbow in — and watch guys get out of her way so she could get the shot. My favorite thing about Lisa is that she’s always all in.”

As a lover of local music, Carolan still sees Gourley — and chances are, if you love local music, you have, too. She still carries multiple cameras (one recording, another snapping shots) and stands up front; often in a long dress and black jacket or sweater, her blond hair parted down the middle. If she knows it’s your birthday, she may surprise you with a cake. If you’re in a band, you might use her photos for press releases and album covers. Legend has it, a photo of a Providence pit graces the wall of a clothing store in Germany who was trying to sell punk clothing — and snagged one of Gourley’s black and white photos as the perfect ambiance.

“Lisa was, and still is, at every show,” Carolan
says. “How she does it? Nobody knows. But you wake up in the morning with a
magical file of you and your friends. Sometimes at your worst, sometimes at
your best, but always a shot with your true essence.”

Gourley may not be on stage herself, but through decades of dedication has created a digital archive of RI music history. John Difruscio, current “Commander in Chief” at Askew and previous manager of Firehouse 13, calls Gourley a cornerstone of the music community. He remembers first seeing her in 1985 at the Bubble Room-era Living Room.

“What you don’t do is notice it at the time
it’s happening,” Difruscio says. “Then it’s years later and you’re seeing
memories that maybe you’ve forgotten about. There’s not too many communities as
thoroughly documented as Providence.”

Difruscio says he hopes Gourley one day comes
out with a hardcover book of her photos; they carry a special resonance in
particular, he notes, after someone passes away. Her social media, soon after,
is filled with hundreds of photos of the deceased and memories shared by

By nature, Gourley is a connector (approach
her at a show and she’ll surely introduce you to whoever is nearby) and her
work doesn’t discriminate. She’s photographed known national acts and club shows
with more people on stage than in the audience. In 2011, Firehouse 13 hosted a
gallery show in an attempt to celebrate the breadth of her work: “20 Years of
Rock n’ Roll in Providence” featuring her photos and a weekend of local bands.
(Eight years later, Gourley’s collection has surely grown by the thousands.)

Kerry Lee Broderick, singer and guitarist of
The Evil Streaks, was one of the bands who played the Firehouse shows. “Many of
my favorite photos of me playing are ones she took,” Broderick says of
Gourley’s work. “Her kindness and dedication to capture the music scene is
admirable. We are so lucky to have someone like her; so passionate about
photographing bands she loves because now we have these mementos, and
treasures, to remind us of great times.”

Cheylsea Federle

Federle loves smashing sexual shame. She’s excited about challenging sexual
misinformation — and wants you to be, too.

As the education and training coordinator for the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health (CSPH), Federle is an integral part of carrying out the Pawtucket-based non-profit’s core mission of advancing culturally inclusive, medically accurate and pleasure-informed sexuality education, therapy and professional training.

In her role, Federle must tap into seeming dualities. To college students, the largest demographic the CSPH serves, she’s the face of the organization through her work with the Sex Study College Tour. (The educational workshops have served 60,000 students across 75 colleges and universities since the CSPH began offering them in 2010.) Yet it’s the face of an organization that, by its nature, may need to act as a confidante to those seeking its resources.

Alicia Gauvin, executive director at the CSPH, says, “She has this positivity you don’t always find in people. We discuss incredibly sensitive topics and it’s critical to be able to work with someone who can build a rapport. She’s warm and an engaging educator.”

says the CSPH strives to create workshop topics that are relevant and of
interest to the students they are reaching through educational opportunities
like the Sex Study College Tour. Topics include consent (“Getting Wordy and
Talking Dirty”), pleasure focus (“Lube, Vibrators, Sex Toys… Oh My!”) and
advocacy, among others. The organization also offers workshops on non-toxic

While education has always been at the heart of the CSPH, the educator and training coordinator position is relatively new to the organization and Federle is the first to hold it. “A lot of our reputation is built on education,” Gauvin says. “And Cheylsea has a history with organizations and teaching.”

Federle was hired for the position in November 2018. Previously, she worked with the CSPH as an intern and volunteer before moving to Budapest to pursue a master’s degree in gender studies at the Central European University.

Federle’s day-to-day responsibilities at the CSPH vary, and she balances the
part-time position with her work as a prevention educator New Hope, she says
that teaching is her favorite part of the job.

sex education in this country doesn’t cover much beyond STI and pregnancy
prevention, which is important, but there is so much more to sexuality,”
Federle says. “One of my favorite things to teach about is orgasms. There are
so many misconceptions around orgasm, which create a lot of pressure to have
them. Plenty of people struggle with reaching orgasm and that’s okay! Reaching
climax does not always need to be the goal and not all orgasms are going to be
earth shattering.”

sharing information and resources, Federle hopes to depressurize the bedroom
“so that people can have healthy and pleasurable sex lives with less shame,”
she explains. “It’s my hope to be able to bring more education to the community
to increase access to sex education that is pleasure-centered, trauma-informed,
consent-driven, inclusive and medically accurate. The sex education we all

Brook Long

At this year’s Grownass Prom, Brook Long stormed The Met like a celestial marauder. Her black dress rippled and folded like a wormhole and her red-tinted shades evoked an alien who also may be a celebrity influencer, hiding from her paparazzi on Mars. She didn’t wear a tiara that night (her platinum wig cascaded to her waist), but nevertheless the fact remains: Brook Long is RI’s ultimate prom queen.

And, year after year, she gives us all the
prom of our dreams — while raising money for a good cause.

This year marked Long’s sixth year organizing the Grownass Prom, an annual party where grownass people can celebrate a rite of passage, drink legally and attend a prom fit for a teen movie choreo sequence. Drag queens perform during dance breaks, mini-macaroons fill platters and disco ball necklaces are gifted like mardi-gras beads to enthusiastic dancers.

Since its inception, the idea has been
embraced. Facebook comments explode when tickets are announced and, even in its
first year, nearly 500 tickets were sold, according to Long. This year,
attendance reached nearly 600.

“Basically, I thought my prom wasn’t great,”
Long says of the event’s impetus. “Some people go to seven or eight proms, but
I was in a small town and had one prom. You had to be a senior. The music
wasn’t great — prom is supposed to be great.”

Long originally considered renting high school gyms before deciding on clubs. Realizing she would need to charge admission to cover a venue, she decided to donate proceeds after cost to Girls Rock! Rhode Island.

“Brook’s efforts have truly been above and beyond,” says Hilary Jones, executive director at Girls Rock! RI. “She throws a party, invites the whole city — maybe all of Boston — and takes zero money for months of coordination. It’s wild and we are really lucky to have her in our orbit.”

For an organization with a small staff like
Girls Rock!, Jones notes the fundraiser is especially meaningful. “It allows us
to focus on creating and running quality programming,” Jones says. “We are also
glad that the spirit of the prom — creating a space where folks feel like they
can have fun and be themselves — is directly in line with our mission.”

While Girls Rock! offers some help at the event with coat check and the event’s raffle, the event is organized and coordinated by Long and her prom committee. Planning begins four or five months in advance, Long estimates. Decorations to fit the year’s theme (this past year was Intergalactic) are created in advance, but most work occurs the day of.

Fred Galpern, who nominated Long as a Motif person you should know, attended the first Grownass Prom as a guest — before realizing that Long, an old friend, was the mastermind behind the event. He volunteered to help in future events. “Working alongside Brook and her crew, I saw firsthand that she treats the event with care and seriousness,” Galpern says. “She has always been a thoughtful, caring person with a solid understanding and perspective on social causes.”

But however serious Long may approach the event
behind-the-scenes, as anyone who’s attended prom can testify to, the night
itself is anything but. For many, it’s a night that seems like it represents
the impossible: a high school do-over.

“There’s so many people who haven’t had a prom
experience,” Long says. “Or they had a negative experience. If you’re going to
have a prom, it should be for everyone. It shouldn’t be angsty like when you’re
17 or 18. You can wear what you want; people from all walks of life are welcome.”

And if you attend prom next year, there’s one
important thing to remember.

“Look for the wildest outfit there,” Jones
says. “It’s probably Brook!”

Love You!: Don’t let low funds keep you from taking care of yourself

bunniesWe know the message from the flight attendants: Place the oxygen mask on yourself first. It seems like an obvious warning and yet, even in the face of a spiraling airplane, many of us need to be reminded to take care of ourselves. It would actually be inspiring if the consequences to ignoring self-care weren’t quite as dire.

Weekend getaways, cruises and spa sessions may not be in your budget. Luckily, there are still plenty of ways you can decompress and love thyself affordably in a way that works for your schedule.

Take a Tropical Vacation for $5

A co-worker tipped me off to the “warmest place in Providence” and it’s been a winter staple of mine ever since. When you need to either trick yourself into believing its summer or make yourself feel better about not being able to afford an island getaway, plan a visit to the Botanical Center at Roger Williams Park. The center touts itself as the largest indoor garden display in New England and, even in drearier months, you’ll find bursts of reds and oranges peeking out amongst towering papaya trees and koi fish ponds. It’s a mega mood boost and family friendly. Children under 6 get in free.

Choose Your Media Wisely

When you’re overtaxed, there’s a lot to be said for prioritizing couch time and binge watching – especially if you feel guilty about setting aside time to essentially lay inert and covered in blankets. (In my mind, there are always blankets involved in self soothing. There’s also tea.) But are you making the best decisions in what you’re watching to blow off steam? As tempting as it can be to jump into “The Ted Bundy Tapes,” it’s worth considering how emotionally “challenging” you want all your content to be. Shows like “The Great British Bake-Off” and “Queer Eye” are both great choices for comfort viewing in part because they’re filled with people that you’d be thrilled to sit next to on an airplane. The catastrophes are manageable (pastry disasters!) and reminders that people are basically good. However, if you need something more stimulating to hold your attention, you could always eschew the civilized for the stupid and simple. Once, in the throes of a particularly difficult holiday season, my friend Shannon suggested I partake in a Paul Walkerbout. I watched every single Fast and the Furious movie, every night, until I felt better. They were mindless. They were high octane. A car raced a submarine. I didn’t think of my problems once.  

Give Yourself a Massage

This can be as involved or minimalist as you’d like. There are plenty of tools you can buy (or find at your gym) that you can use for self-massage. If you’re looking for a full body release, foam rollers are a solid investment and can be found in the $15 to $30 range, on the lower end. If you roll, you know what a game changer this is. If you’re new to rolling, once you get over the initial silliness of grinding your body back and forth over what looks like a giant pool noodle, you’ll be hooked. If you don’t have the time to roll around on your floor every night, try putting a tennis ball under your feet at the beginning of the day or giving yourself a little foot massage with lavender-infused lotion before you go to bed.

Look at the Big Picture

Join the scores before you and look to the cosmos for inspiration and perspective. On every clear Tuesday night, the Ladd Observatory in Providence opens free to the public. Getting out of your head and into the stars is humbling – and a way to feel like you’re having a mini-adventure on an otherwise mundane week night. The best part of this rec? You can take this advice and apply it literally any time you step outside, no observatory needed. Whether you’re walking the dog or walking into a bank, look up. Count to 30. Take a deep breath. It’s all okay.

There’s an App for That

Look, this act of self-love is a little tricky mainly because it involves picking up your phone – which can quickly lead into an anxiety freefall. (Work e-mails! You gotta respond! Ex-lovers! They’re posting pictures!) But when we use our phones for the powers of good, it’s like having an efficient little doctor in our pockets. Apps like Calm offer both freemium and premium versions to help practice mindfulness. Users can target their health goals upon download and choose from categories ranging from “improving focus” to “practicing gratitude” and more goals that will leave you wondering why you’ve asked your phone to order pizza – but never thought to outright ask it to “increase happiness.” (You can ask Calm to do that!) The free version of the app gives you 12-minute daily meditations plus a nightly “Sleep Story” to help lull you to dreamland.

However, if getting a better night’s sleep is one of your resolutions for 2019, I recommend My Sleep Button. The free app works by saying random words in 7-second intervals, with the intent being to focus and visualize each word for the duration. It’s less tedious than counting sheep and, supposedly, causes the brain to shift gears in a pattern similar to how we dream. It may seem … unusual … at first to fall asleep while a disembodied woman whispers “a wrench” into your darkened room, but it’s the most effective app I’ve found. Sweet dreams!

Fantastic! Comic Con returns and resistance is futile

cover.final.imageLet your Halloween costume pull a double this year – RI Comic Con is earlier in the season than usual. Held November 2 through 4, the weekend event is expected to bring in 80,000 to 90,000 sci-fi, fantasy, action, comic, wrestling, gaming, music and – let’s just say “pop culture” fans to downtown Providence. With a convention footprint that spans the Dunkin Donuts Center, Convention Center and the Omni, trying to classify the pirates, Star Wars cosplayers and borgs who will descend upon downtown into any one genre is, in fact, futile.

If you’re a RICC newbie, publicist Susan Soares has two tips.

“Get your tickets before the doors open,” Soares says. “Every year we see hundreds of fans waiting in line to buy tickets and then we sell out. That’s heartbreaking for us.”

Her second piece of advice speaks to the show’s tagline: the biggest show in the smallest state. “Don’t overwhelm yourself. Try to target something to see. Don’t expect to see everything. It’s impossible. We bring in so many guests and have activities, but in no way do we expect people to see everything and everyone. Be mindful of that and don’t set yourself up to be disappointed. Be reasonable, pick out what you want to see and have a great time.”

This year, RICC has made changes to help fans see more of the show, including a significant change sure to please seasoned convention goers.

“We finally, finally have the opportunity to have multiple entrances to the show,” Soares says. “This is a long-awaited change. We’re going to have a lot of entrances now. We’ll have two primary entrances, one in the Dunkin Donuts Center and then a second entrance into the Convention Center. We’ve been given access, finally, to the bottom floor of the convention center so we can filter fans through that way. We’re also offering ADA entrances.”

For past attendees who may have spent hours waiting in line in single digit temperatures last year, or anyone who has experienced the bottleneck between the Dunkin Donuts Center and the Convention Center, the new traffic pattern is sure to be a welcome relief.

Between vendors, costume contests, Geek Speed Dating, panels, the GeekFest Film Fest, gaming tournaments and unparalleled people watching, there’s plenty to do at RI Comic Con. Hell, you could even get tattooed. But undoubtedly the reason for the show’s popularity and growth — and its primary draw — is the show’s celebrity guests.

Headliners this year include Tim Curry, Hayden Christiansen, Kiefer Sutherland and Brienne of Tarth herself, Gwendoline Christie. Harry Potter fans also get coups in the forms of Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) and Natalia Tena (Tonks). On the comics side of the house, Rob Liefeld, who co-created the character Deadpool, is offering VIP and private fan experiences that include bonuses like a signed The New Mutants #1 variant and what’s being promoted as the “best selfie ever.” (Although, can it really top the Lost Boys photo-op that Kiefer Sutherland is offering with Jason Patric?)

Helping fans meet their favorite guest, make their photo ops (back indoors, by the way, after last year’s brief foray in an external tent) and maximize their time is top of mind for RICC’s organizers.

“One of the things we have planned is that the volunteers and staffing outside will actually navigate fans, based on who they plan to see first. For example, we know Tim Curry is going to be in the Dunkin Donuts Center,” says Soares. “If he’s your first stop, we’re going to suggest people enter through there. Or if someone wants to see the kids from IT, we’re going to direct you to the Convention Center.”

The idea of a weekend where the original Pennywise and the kids from 2017’s Derry, Maine, get to hang out in the same complex is the sort of surreal fan moment that RICC is all about.

“I know everyone was excited last year about Sebastian Stan and Paul Bettany (Avengers), but this year, I feel we got to the heart of the fans,” says Soares. “We got to the people who they really, truly, want to see.”

Visit ricomiccon.com for up-to-date information on appearances, schedules, and tickets.

Now Hear This: Aural Sex brings queer-positive porn to the masses

“Love can’t pay the rent, but lust…” / “Bo leans into Delilah, their nose touching her cheek as they lock lips. Long and tender.” / “Arriving at the house, he let himself in with his key – and headed up the stairs to the playroom.”

Listening to lines from the audio teaser for Aural Sex, a new podcast dedicated to queer sexuality and erotica, is a reminder of what we already know about podcasts: They’re intimate. A medium of recorded confessions, usually played discreetly in headphones or the confines of a car.

Be extra sure those earbuds aren’t going to fall out if you’re low-key taking part in some Aural Sex at work. (Especially if you’re listening to a story that ranks 3/3 winking emojis on Aural Sex’s Intensity Scale.) But beyond the sexiness of each recorded short story is another mission — and a driving force for the creation of the new podcast.

Series creators Tali Ginsburg and Mitchell Johnson recorded the episodes this summer at AS220 and Brown’s Rockefeller Library. The two Brown students combined their respective backgrounds in sexual health/advocacy and radio/podcasting to launch a series that, as Ginsburg recalls, “started with a pretty casual comment. Something along the lines of, ‘How great would it be if we could get funding to make ethical queer porn?’ It’s involved a lot of conversations along the way. What is ethical? What is queer? What is porn?”

“The industry doesn’t have a great reputation for labor practices,” Johnson adds. “It was important we figure out how we could pay creators, queer writers and queer voice actors while keeping the product free.”

The two secured funding through the Swearer Center at Brown University and the Brown Arts Initiative, with additional episode sponsorship by Mister Sister in PVD. From there, they put out a call on Craigslist for writers.

“We got a lot of submissions and a huge range of content,” Ginsburg says. The pair whittled submissions down to nine episodes, with stories ranging from sci-fi westerns to the tell-all confessions of a sex worker in Berlin. Each story is layered with FX to bring the audio to life: the background sounds of a crowded airport, the inarticulate boarding announcements of flight attendants. It’s fantasy with details.

“It was important to us to articulate why we were accepting or rejecting stories and what we were trying to represent,” Ginsburg says. “In the end, we decided we were looking for three things: writing quality, how well we thought the story would translate into an audio format and whether the story aligned with our values around anti-racism, consent and queer representation.”

The season released on August 10. Season two will release with a live event on September 27 at AS220, “Porn in Public.” The night will feature listening stations for pieces from both seasons, with an emphasis on season two narratives (which also include non-fiction stories). While there won’t be live readings, local writers and performers will be present, and the night is set to feature different exhibits ranging from a recording booth to collective art-making.

“There’s a long queer tradition of engaging in porn in public places — movie houses and such,” Johnson says. “We’re trying to represent that history as well.”

And yet, by breaking away from the tradition of visual porn, Johnson believes Aural Sex can tackle another issue. “Representation and what types of sex get represented (in media). For marginalized groups, they’re often either unrepresented or represented harmfully. There’s more of an ethical representation with audio versus visual. There’s a little more space for the listener to picture themselves and not be cut off by a visual representation.”

It’s a mission that might seem ambitious for a podcast with an episode description, “In 1953, a sultry vampire haunts an LA dyke bar. Don’t worry, she doesn’t want to hurt you… much.” But Johnson and Ginsburg would also be the first to tell you that the intersection of sex and politics is hot – and doesn’t have to be one or the other. Perhaps their website says it best: “On Aural Sex, we hope you find a place to politicize your fantasies without policing them, and of course, get off while you’re at it.”

And according to Ginsburg, there was at least one more reason the two spent an entire summer reading Craigslist-sourced erotic short fiction.

“A huge motivator for the project was knowing that we didn’t have access to this kind of content when we were growing up,” Ginsburg says. “We just want more queers to use lube!”