Friday, March 6, 2015

My Blog Has Moved to a New Home!

My blog can now be found on my website Nicole Caldwell Writes. Click here to be redirected!

Monday, March 2, 2015

When Obstacles Become Our Partners in a Car Chase to Enlightenment

Photo of the author by Kristen Harker

By Nicole Caldwell, originally published at Elephant Journal March 2, 2015

Perception transforms experience. How one looks at the world, alters that world wholly.

In the Better Theory, what most people see as the negative—pain, struggles, mishaps—are actually tools to enlightenment. Crisis teaches us cool. Pain teaches us pleasure. Loss teaches us love. Every negative we face is a potential guide we are wise to pay attention to.
We generally consider hardships to be disadvantages—experiences to be loathed and avoided at all costs. With this conventional wisdom, anything that is difficult or painful works against us. Yet history tells a different story:
Albert Einstein didn’t start speaking until he was four. Benjamin Franklin dropped out of school when he was 10 because his parents couldn’t afford his education. Ella Fitzgerald—along with other celebrities like Halle Berry, Jewel, Dr. Phil, Jim Carrey, Harry Houdini and Charlie Chaplin—experienced homelessness. Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times. Oprah Winfrey was sexually abused as a child and became pregnant at 14. Beethoven lost his hearing at the peak of his musical career.
What do we gain if we look at the next tough decision or challenge as an opportunity to grow? To learn? To make different choices? To start something new?
Without struggle, hardship or broken hearts there would be no music. No art. Without the blues there would be no Billie Holiday. No Ray Charles. No Hank Williams, Elvis Presley or Etta James. Without the blues we’d be without Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo and Picasso. Bad stuff that happens is the grit in our bellies we can choose to use as fuel for our creative process.
continue reading this piece at Elephant Journal

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Playgirl Interview with Starship Trooper Star Casper Van Dien

Starship Troopers Star Talks Sex
By Nicole Caldwell
Originally published in Playgirl, Issue #68, June 2014

Casper Van Dien is hot. His sizzling acting career boasts more than two dozen movie credits (Starship Troopers, Tarzan and the Lost City, Sleepy Hollow) and more than five dozen roles in television (“Beverly Hills 90210”, “Saved by the Bell”, “Monk”). He's starred in his own Lifetime TV reality show “I Married a Princess”, acts as ambassador for Egard Watch Company, and is now making his directorial debut with an adaptation of the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty—which he also has a role in. Another directorial credit follows soon after with A Patient Killer. On top of all this, he recently wrapped up work with his wife Catherine Oxenberg and her bestie Gabrielle Anwar on Sexology, a documentary that reexamines the state of female sexuality and arousal in the 21st Century.

While there are many people comfortable in the spotlight, few look as good while they're in it. Van Dien is distractingly handsome—it's no wonder he scored the title "Sexiest Soap Star" from People Magazine back in 2000. Of course, anyone who saw the Starship Troopers shower scene—or has so much as taken a look at this man—already could have told you that. Know this: The years have done nothing to diminish his sex appeal. Van Dien sat down with Playgirl to give us his insights on male beauty, his favorite acting role, and full-body orgasms.

PLAYGIRL: You were often referred to as “Ken doll” while at the Admiral Farragut Academy prep school in Florida, leading to fights with different guys; and in fact even later on this is how you were described. In what ways have your good looks worked against you back when you were single?
CASPER VAN DIEN:I guess it was one way that some people used to describe what I looked like. The fights were not that bad. More like hazing. That was par for the course back in the day in my military school and the schools I attended in general. That was probably not the worst thing that someone could use to describe you. I think that we all have judgments that are usually first impressions that can either be used against us or we can use to our benefit. Double-edged swords. I feel pretty comfortable with who I am and what I look like now. My wife says, that as far as women were concerned, my looks were definitely an asset!

You come from a long military tradition in your family: a father who was a US Navy Commander and fighter pilot, and a grandfather who was a Marine and served in World War II. You even graduated third in command from the college-prep, military-style school you attended. How did your family react when you decided to become an actor?
My family is a great support system for what ever I chose to do with my life. I think that they really love me being an actor and have been my biggest fans. It would have been a lot harder to do this acting without their support.

What has been your favorite role you've ever played?

You married Catherine Oxenberg in 1999. What is it about her that sets her apart from other women?
All women are amazing. My wife just happens to be the most amazing woman for me. I feel so fortunate to have found my soulmate. She and I seem to work well together. Her femininity fits well with my masculinity. I just find her so sexy and I am so turned on by almost everything she does. I know the ' almost' is going to cause problems when she reads this interview.

You recently finished up work with Catherine on “Sexology”, a documentary and website about female sexuality, vaginas, and orgasms. How has this project changed your perceptions about female sexuality?
I am even more turned on by my wife since we have gone on this journey together. What can I say? It is really exciting.

How do you like being behind the camera as compared to being in front of it?
I have enjoyed being behind the camera as a support system for my wife and Gabrielle [Anwar]. I feel like I have been able to do things for them that help the project in such a positive way, that someone not as vested as I am, might not have been able to do.

While working on the documentary, you agreed to undergo a full-body orgasm utilizing Tantric techniques on film, albeit with all your clothes on. What compelled you to try this?
They kept trying to find a guy that was willing to do this on camera with his clothes on and no guy would… So I did.

Were you nervous?
No, not really. I did not even think about it. I am so vested in my wife and Gabrielle’s project that I guess that hit the override button so that I could do it.

Tell us about the process.
I laid down on a table in my white boxers on while my wife and the healer Sasha took me through a process that helped be to experience waves of full body orgasms. Mine were mostly laughter orgasms. they are separate from ejaculations and do not have to be sexual, but they can be.

What does it feel like while it is happening?
Full ecstatic bliss throughout the entire body and being. Pure joy.

How do you think the documentary and website for “Sexology” will affect the way we view sexuality as a culture?
I hope it helps open up the subject of healthy sex so that people can relate better and have a better understanding of their needs and their partners needs. Lessen the misconceptions about sex and sexual taboos.

What’s one thing you feel women should understand about men?
That our greatest need/desire is to have a fully satisfied woman. Nothing makes us men feel more empowered then when our woman feel totally satisfied, sexually, by us.

You made your directorial debut with the recently released Asylum film, Sleeping Beauty. What are the details on this project?
With Sleeping Beauty, Asylum gave me my first directing job ever. It's a very dark take on the classic Grimm fairy tale. My daughter Grace plays Sleeping Beauty. Finn Jones from “Game of Thrones” is opposite her, and Olivia D’Abo is the evil queen. Catherine and I, along with Maya and Celeste, two of our other daughters, had small roles in it too.

Want more Casper Van Dien? So do we. Much, much more. Hop over to to learn more—or just scoop up bling like his at

Who is Omar Todd? Technology's Sexiest Man

Who is Omar Todd?
Technology's Sexiest Man
By Nicole Caldwell
Originally published in Playgirl, Issue #68, June 2014

Being a tech geek has never been sexier.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates may have paved the way for the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world, and given Vitamin D-deficient dorks like MySpace founder Tom Anderson some spotlight. But one man, behind the scenes until now, embodies the sex appeal of technological know-how like none other.

Omar Todd—technical director for Sea Shepherd, national council director for WikiLeaks Party, and council member to the International Cyber Threat Task force, among a myriad of other roles—has been for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange what Harper Reed was for Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign.

Technology and geeks are finally starting to move on the world stage as the main-stream media,” Todd told us from his home in Australia. “They are also changing the world and as we rely more on technology they will be the influencers of the future.”

Whale Wars TV shows captains on great adventures or dramatic footage—not the technical director pulling the strings to draw attention and foster support for the mission work of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. You hear drama about WikiLeaks and national security—not about the founder and deputy chairman of the WikiLeaks Political Party in Australia. Yet entrepreneur, filmmaker, conservationist, politician and activist Omar Todd has overseen the development and spectacular growth of multiple start-up companies in the digital media and technology sectors for the last 20 years.

Omar Todd makes technology sexy.

Today, technology is hot. “Technology is sexy because of the hope it represents for mankind,” Todd said. “If anything will save us and our planet, it will be technology. Until the last 10 years technology was scoffed out to a point as a specialist area only for nerds. Now, we are coming into our own with TV shows like “The Big Bang” squarely putting technology into the mainstream as something sexy. The people behind it, despite their bad hairdos, sometimes terrible dress sense, and odd mannerisms can be in their own way sexy. It’s these quirks that are now seen as something unique.”

The fedora-wearing, bespectacled, 5 o'clock shadow-rocking Omar Todd was always involved in computers. “I think my father brought the second Apple computer into Australia, way back in the 80s,” Todd jokes. “I remember knowing more about computers than any of my teachers... Studies in general were a distraction from the fun of handling computers for me.” By the time he was 15, Todd was writing his own code; and by his early 20s, Todd was running an Internet service provider. The rest, as they say, is history.

For Sea Shepherd, for whom Todd has worked since 2009, he uses social media like Facebook and Twitter to promote global awareness and support for environmental and animal-rights issues. His coordinated recent social media campaigns have garnered worldwide pressure against atrocities inflicted upon dolphins in the Cove in Taiji, Japan; to whales in the Southern Ocean by the Japanese Whaling Fleet; and to sharks from culling in Western Australia. More recently, Todd used social media with no budget to help manage a political campaign on behalf of the WikiLeaks Party in Australia.

But all this happened without anyone really knowing who Omar Todd is. So why the sudden interest in the spotlight?

I think our movement, both Sea Shepherd and the WikiLeaks Party, is very important,” Todd told Playgirl. “I was wanting to push the messages of conservation and Internet freedoms out more mainstream because I understood the technologies, like social media. We use all ways to get our messages out and I happen to be the best with technology so I used social media and any other method to get the message out. If that means being in the spotlight to get the messages out, so be it.”

Saving the whales and breaking into top-secret government activity are about as far apart as two subjects can get—though the technology for each is the same. Still, for Todd the strategy for each is extremely specific. “It’s easy to promote conservation and promoting news of terrible deeds of the environmental atrocities that happen around the world,” he said. “The images also are rich and amazing, from never-before-seen images from Antarctica to ships clashing in remote seas in the hostile southern oceans is not hard to see this would be popular content to promote.

On the other hand, promoting a political party based on transparency and accountability is a lot more difficult especially if the main candidate is effectively politically gagged in a physical difficult to access location. The contrast between the two is interesting: When I promoted anything about Sea Shepherd it was 99-percent positive; but when I posted anything about The WikiLeaks Party or politics, the response was much more of a mixed bag.”

Todd is compared to Harper Reed, who took social media directly into Obama's political campaign to heavily influence the electorate. Todd does the same thing with Sea Shepherd and the WikiLeaks party, only with a lot fewer resources. “Sea Shepherd and the WikiLeaks Party barely have any marketing budgets,” Todd said, “yet we manage to stand toe to toe with the largest brands in the world on the global news stage and hold our own. I suppose in this sense you need unique skills to be able to achieve with with a strong foundation and Sea Shepherd and WikiLeaks as brands have that foundation. I certainly have large online clout, and I think that’s respected by Julian.”

But the proof's in the pudding; and that's what Todd loves most of all. “I am seeing how what we do with Sea Shepherd and The WikiLeaks Party is influencing government policies and the public awareness in ways that never would have been possible even just five years ago,” he said. “Because we are on the cutting edge of technology, conservation and activism and because you set the agenda of your movements, you can set a vision. My vision is to rebalance the world with internet freedoms and protecting the biodiversity of our planet which ultimately will allow our species to have a future.”

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Enhancing North Country Lives Through Art

By Nicole Caldwell
Originally published at TruthAtlas

WATERTOWN, NY—Self-expression and art go hand-in-hand, and art isn’t just for galleries, either. The history of art tells the history of governments, cultures, war and peace, farming, gathering, and exploration. Art tracks every human frailty and triumph, pushing us to solve problems creatively and to think more critically.

“Any community is more vibrant with an arts scene,” says Kris Marsala, 58, president of the North Country Arts Council (NCAC) in Watertown, New York since January 2014. “We create different cultural opportunities for the community.”

The NCAC is a nonprofit organization seeking to develop and promote the arts in northern New York State. The North Country Artists’ Guild was created in Kris’ hometown in 1949 to promote fine artists, and it become the NCAC in 2009, expanding to encompass all arts– music, theater, dance, literary arts, visual arts, and crafts—and reaching out to artists and arts organizations alike with networking, educational, and collaborative opportunities. Their mission is to offer North Country residents a clearinghouse of opportunities for artists, arts-related retail options, workshops, lectures, and cultural diversity.

This isn’t such an easy task in an area that shares state funding with culture-centric New York City, but whose rural demographics, economics, and monoculture are light years away from Manhattan sophisticates. Northern New York’s pristine landscapes, open St. Lawrence Seaway, low population, and multitude of outdoorsmen and manual laborers camouflage the ever-growing arts scene. Arriving in the North Country for the first time, you’d be astonished at how many artists call this region home, and how hungry the public is for cultural and creative opportunities. The mission of Kris and the NCAC is to scratch the artistic surface of the region and shine a spotlight on its art scene.

Kris’ own artistic arc has run the gamut from videographer to potter, writer, and musician. He understands the effect art can have on a person–he’s lived it, and his work with the NCAC is what he describes as a way to give back.

“I’ve always been full of creative energy,” Kris says. “It got stirred up by my Watertown High School art teacher and it’s kept me motivated over the last forty years.”

He attended Watertown High School before studying painting, pottery, and photography at the Lake Placid School of Art, a school operated in the 1970s where the Lake Placid Center for the Arts sits today. He then concentrated on pottery at the Thousand Islands Arts Center in Clayton, New York, and lived on a wooden Trojan boat on the St. Lawrence River less than a mile away. He ended up meeting a master potter from nearby Livonia, who lived with his wife in a converted funeral home and made art and music. Kris took up a traditional apprenticeship and moved in with the couple to create pottery before moving back to Watertown to start his own pottery shop on downtown State Street while also performing a number of theater shows.

North Country Arts Council President Kris Marsala stands in the council's gallery space in Downtown Watertown, N.Y. Photo by Nicole Caldwell
North Country Arts Council President Kris Marsala stands in the council’s gallery space in Downtown Watertown, N.Y. Photo by Nicole Caldwell
Not loving the business-centric world of retail, Kris started a television series called Krazy Kris on the Beat. He describes it as “reality TV before reality TV,” featuring a camera following Kris around while he surprised DJs on-set. This work would turn into a rock ‘n’ roll talk variety show, Variety Tonight, that would win a National Ace Award in 1984 and capture the imagination of personalities like David Letterman, who called the show the “last best hope for cable TV.”
Kris knows what it’s like to be a struggling artist. While developing, producing, writing, and performing on the show, he also worked as a waiter at any number of upscale restaurants. “I practiced the time-honored tradition of working in something creative and doing something else to pay the way,” he says with a grin.

Kris’ experience in the art world informs his work as the NCAC’s president. “We’re the conduit for artists and arts organizations,” he said. “Studies show that kids who take part in art classes and music classes do better in college; if you play an instrument, certain parts of your brain are more developed.”

The NCAC keeps itself busy. They’re currently working on projects such as a gallery space for buying and selling art in northern New York; an events and performances calendar boasting what Kris says is some of the finest work in the area; events throughout the year; and a website constantly updated to reflect events, performances, concerts, and other cultural opportunities and arts organizations throughout the region. The organization is the only lifeline of its kind for artists and arts organizations in Jefferson County–making its reach all the more important.

“My resume is an eclectic mix of art forms that I’ve embraced throughout my life in order to unleash that energy,” Kris says. “One of my primary goals as president of the NCAC is to give others a variety of opportunities to do the same.”

The NCAC’s latest project is a fundraising effort to establish Screen on the Square, a new room in the building where the gallery space is located that would create a venue for movie screenings, recitals, performances, classes, and more. Screen on the Square would offer the NCAC a sustainable revenue source by selling tickets to events held there, fueling future work and creating jobs for curators, educators, and performers. They hope to reach their $125,000 goal by July 2014 in order to get Screen on the Square’s doors open to the public. So if you’re in the area, be sure to stop by.

Want to learn more?

The North Country Artists’ Guild was established in 1949. This organization served the North Country by providing promotional opportunities to fine artists. In 2009 our mission was expanded and name changed to The North Country Arts Council to reflect our hope of encompassing all arts.
Learn more at

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Giving Dignity to the Needy

Erika Flint, Watertown Urban Mission's executive director

By Nicole Caldwell for TruthAtlas

WATERTOWN, NEW YORK–A man walks through a set of doors next to an archway with a sign: “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread.” As he gets a shopping cart, he’s joined by an employee who points out new products, and calls his attention to posters depicting portion allotments based on family size. The man pulls a bag of rice, a bottle of juice, a loaf of fresh-baked French bread, shampoo, produce from a local garden, and a can of tomatoes. He is walked to the front of the store, checks out, and takes his bags of groceries home to his family.

This is the new face of poverty: a dignity-driven, choice-based system encouraging individuals to take charge, make smart food choices, and usher in better choices and a better life. This is a world without shame for falling on hard times. This is the Watertown Urban Mission, a nonprofit organization located on Factory Street in the heart of Watertown, New York.

“My mother was one of nine children,” says Erika Flint, 33, who has served as the Mission’s executive director since 2011. “She raised me on her own. And though we occasionally received aid through government programs, most of our help came from churches, neighbors, and family members. The help wasn’t obvious. It didn’t feel like we had no money, or that we were in need.”
That experience is what made the job at Watertown Urban Mission resonate so strongly for Erika. “We provide help in a way that inspires people,” she says. “They don’t stand in a line and become a number.”

Erika Flint stands inside the Watertown Urban Mission’s food pantry. Photo by Nicole Caldwell
The Watertown Urban Mission creates a network of local churches, organizations, businesses, and individuals to help people through difficult times in Watertown and surrounding Jefferson County. The organization was created by three ministers in 1967 interested in banding together churches of all denominations to serve neighbors in need. In 1968, 15 churches pledged their commitment to the Mission—a number that today has ballooned to more than 40 county-wide. The Mission’s programming offers food, clothing, shelter, medicine, vital supplies, and counseling in order to empower people to get back on their feet. None of this assistance is cash-based. Instead, the Mission offers specific items and help to individuals in order to target the exact source of need.

There are six major programs Erika oversees at the Mission: the Bridge Program, a court-ordered alternative to incarceration for those facing legal issues because of alcohol or drug abuse; the Christian Care Center, offering fellowship through daily devotions, bible study, and prayer; Critical Needs, providing emergency assistance such as medications, diapers, furniture, or home repair; the Food Pantry, serving more than 500 families a five-day supply of food every month; HEARTH, preventing and addressing homelessness; and the Impossible Dream Thrift Store, selling donated goods and clothing to the public at affordable prices.

Erika grew up in Croghan, New York, about 30 miles east of Watertown. “It was a very small community,” she says. “When I was little, I thought nothing of going to my Uncle Dennis and Aunt Darlene’s house and having them pull food out of their refrigerator saying, ‘Oh, we bought too much of this,’ or ‘Here, take this home with you.’ They gave us food without making it seem like they felt sorry for us—they didn’t do it like we were starving. And we weren’t—we had this support system.”

Now married with two children of her own, Flint pays her childhood experience forward every day at the Mission. “Because most of our funding comes from private sources, we can do what makes sense,” she says. “It’s not a deficit-based approach. At the Mission if you are working, or are trying to get an education, we can help fill in the gaps where you need it to keep you going in the right direction.”

The Watertown Urban Mission negates the Catch-22 of poverty in the United States. Instead of cutting checks or mailing out food vouchers, the Mission works face-to-face with individuals and families. They might help with specific car repairs so its owner can get to work; provide business attire for a job interview; provide medications for someone who can’t afford them; or ensure a child has school supplies. The Mission empowers people to take responsibility over their own progress. For example, a person who works and is the legal guardian of at least one child is eligible to receive transportation support. The Mission may buy a car worth several thousand dollars and sell it to a person for $600, payable through monthly installments of $50. “We could just give the cars away,” Erika says. “But instead, we enable people to buy their own.”

One woman had a water pump fail this winter at her home. Without money to buy a new one, she was forced to melt snow for drinking, bathing, and dishwashing. “She had no resources,” Erika explains, “but she owned her own home. Her husband had died in that home—she had lived there so long and she didn’t want to move.” The Mission wanted to help. Instead of giving the woman cash or even a gift certificate to a hardware store, “We bought her a water pump and had someone install it for her. And in the meantime, we coordinated with a church to bring her fresh gallons of water.” Putting faces to the aid and targeting specific places where help is needed, Flint says, eliminates the risk of mismanagement—for the givers and the receivers.

One man who went through the Bridge Program as an alternative to incarceration said this about the Mission: “This program didn’t just give me my life back; it gave my daughter her dad back.” A mother and daughter going through the Critical Needs program had this conversation within earshot of staff: “Why are we here?” the daughter asked. The mother replied: “So someday you don’t have to be.”

These stories—and countless others—understandably inspire a lot of giving. All donations, no matter their size, are celebrated; but one recent gift was particularly noteworthy.

KB Global Care, the charitable arm of New York Air Brake Company’s parent company, the Germany-based Knorr-Bremse Group, awarded the Watertown Urban Mission $205,000 in 2014 toward the nonprofit’s campaign seeking $2 million to revitalize its Factory Street location and establish an endowment. “This is the first grant from them to be dispersed in this continent,” Erika says. The grant, which pushed the Mission past its campaign goal a full 11 months ahead of schedule, ensures renovation of the food pantry and thrift shop, upgraded safety measures, improved privacy in consultation areas, the creation of wheelchair-accessible bathrooms and lifts, and much-needed renovations such as insulated windows. Unsurprisingly, what grabbed the attention of those determining grant recipients was this: The Mission helps people get back on their feet so they can take care of themselves.

“The funding will allow us to give people a space they can feel proud of when they walk in,” Erika says. “This works with our intention of allowing people to do for themselves in order to maintain a sense of pride.”

Asked to come up with the most difficult part of this work, she shrugs. “I don’t think there’s anything difficult about this job,” she says with a smile, “except always wanting to do more.”

Want to Get Involved?

The Watertown Urban Mission brings together about 40 member churches with local community-minded organizations, businesses and individuals to help people through difficult times with programs that feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless, visit the imprisoned, give aid to the sick, and more. With generous donor and volunteer support, the Mission helps people rise above their circumstances and in turn, this strengthens our community as a whole. LEARN MORE

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Aboard the Hound

Image from
 “There are many ways of leaping, the essential being to leap.”
-Albert Camus
Originally published at Greenback Gravy
  Patrick turns his head in my direction as the Greyhound bus quietly bumps its way through the middle of Texas. It's night, I don't know what time. Interior bus lights are turned down to a dim glow. The low hum of the engine has lulled me mostly to sleep with my eyes partly open; but I pick up my head when I see this man across the aisle pivot to face me.

"I like Schlitz." He says it like he's answering a question; as if we've been mid-conversation and he is just now punctuating a previous point. I stare at him blankly. Waiting. "My family lives in a trailer," he continues, "so I’m already white trash." Ronnie, Patrick’s friend sitting behind him, chuckles. "If you can fall off a horse without spilling your beer,” Patrick says, as if by explanation, "you’re alright." He shrugs and turns toward his window, considering the pitch-black world outside.

It was 2003. The stretch from Springfield, Mass., to Austin would be the first leg of my 60-day Greyhound bus pass. This initial voyage would take a little more than two-and-a-half days. Almost 48 hours in, it seemed I'd been gone for months. The people I met across 10 states—a woman in the Cleveland station who didn't mince words and said she prided herself on her spunk; a Texan who called himself “Flying Tiger” because of a tattoo bearing that likeness on his calf; a woman from Russia specializing in escort services; and a man who called me a "true child of God"—were enough to make it seem I’d traversed entire countries.

Greyhound Bus Lines offers a dramatic deal to anyone who can stomach it: Discovery Passes, sold in increments of 7, 15, 30 or 60 days, allow a traveler to get on and off the bus as many times as he or she would like, no strings attached, within the allotted time. If you’re thrifty (and, inherently, such a traveler is likely to be), you can even find all overnight Greyhound routes so money can be saved on lodging. The 9:15 p.m. bus from Phoenix to San Diego is such a trip. Ditto for the 11:30 p.m. route from Seattle to Missoula.

Being 21 and hitting the road on my own for two months was a decision most people couldn’t understand. Buses are uncomfortable. They run late. They smell. Luggage gets lost. Unsavory characters abound. It takes forever to get from point A to B. What if something horrible happened to me? It's not safe for a woman to travel alone.

And so on.

To me, though, the notion was thrilling. Criss-crossing the country by bus sounded like freedom. All those characters, savory and non, and hearing their stories would only mean more fodder for my writingand more meat for my character. Potential for trouble only meant the adventure would be that much more memorable.

I got the Greyhound “bug”—an appropriate term—when I was 19. Three girlfriends and I felt a road trip was in order after our first year at a tiny school in Amherst, Mass. I’d traveled to St. Augustine and back via Greyhound the winter of that year, and knew doing the whole country by bus would be an unforgettable adventure. My friends and I plotted the route carefully, and managed to get a ride out to Scottsdale in a friend's car so we could get more mileage out of our 15-day passes. Many people have done the country by car, and having this first experience of driving from my family’s home in Northern New Jersey nonstop with Leticia, Aethena, Mira and Nick to Scottsdale certainly had its perks. We could park at the most tantalizing trucker’s stop and fill up on food. When we saw a sign for Little Rock, we could pull over to the fireman’s festival downtown. And we could have stories, like that funny time, 30 hours into the trip, with that thunderstorm in the middle of Texas when we ended up on the old Route 66 and couldn’t find our way, and someone ended up crying and we had to pull over for a few hours to rest.

But it wasn’t until Nick dropped us off at the Phoenix Greyhound station that the real adventure began. Within hours we were plowing through the middle of nowhere at 3 in the morning, playing a trivia game with total strangers in the back of the bus. It was then I realized what it meant to see this country. I understood, for just a moment, that the whole experience of getting from point A to point B was just as important as what waited for me at my destination. Since then, I’ve completed more than a half-dozen cross-country trips by Greyhound in increasing increments of time. Each adventure was different, but the bus was constant. And now, looking back, it seems as if it was all one continuous ride. Indeed, does one ever actually “get off” of the metaphorical Greyhound bus?

When his apprentice wants to know which route he should choose, the Yaqui brujo answers: “Any path is only a path. All paths are the same: they [all] lead nowhere.” The only important question you must ask is: “Does this path have a heart?” If it has a heart for you, then dare to follow it.
-Sheldon Kopp, “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!”

Of course, not everything on the Greyhound was fun and games. My luggage disappeared several times. Missed connections stranded me in stations, forcing me to sit and wait. I’ve squished four people into a three-seat row for hours at a time, survived sitting in the back of the bus next to a bathroom with a broken door latch, and been stuck next to more than my fair share of screaming babies.

The bus left without me one morning in Cincinnati after a routine 15-minute stop. I beat my hands against the glass of a locked station door and screamed while my chariot pulled away. Luggage, laptop, and journal: gone, gone, gone. I managed to reach a sympathetic Greyhound worker on the telephone in Cleveland who agreed to meet my bus outside as it arrived. She and her employees, I learned later, stopped someone as he walked off the bus with my computer. The journal was gone forever.

A few weeks later, an evening bus out of Seattle got delayed on account of someone with a body odor problem, according to the loudspeaker announcement. We were evacuated, lined up in a row, and individually sniffed by someone who was likely interning at Greyhound, unpaid, after graduating from Harvard with a business degree.

“She drank from a bottle called DRINK ME
And up she grew so tall
She ate from a plate called TASTE ME
And down she shrank so small
And so she changed, while other folks
Never tried nothin’ at all.”
-Shel Silverstein, “Alice”

So many stories take place while crowded in an uncomfortable seat; it’s natural sometimes to overlook what went on between stretches of highway, Dairy Queen rest stops and the occasional breakdown.

I got off the bus in Nashville in 2002 for what I imagined would be a few hours of aimless wandering. In fact, there happened to be a huge protest going on at the capital building against a new tax bill. My boyfriend and I spent the afternoon hanging out with total strangers on the capital’s steps debating politics and talking philosophy with strangers. Walking Nashville’s main drag afterward, I met a mother-daughter singing duo called the Pretty Patriots. They shared their story; then the little girl sang me a song before we parted ways.

A bus brought me to St. Augustine, where I met my two favorite street musicians, Frank and Mary Schaap. Seven years later, I'd run into Frank in New York City's Central Park, still crooning away.

There was Keith the Outlaw and, the following summer, Harley Sergeant, riding their wheelchairs along San Diego’s boardwalk, remembering times when there was more to do than be a bum on the beach. Their stories taught me that if I’m ever lost, I can go somewhere like that to commune with new friends, score free meals at the temple around the corner, and reinvent myself.

I remember a story I heard when I was a little girl in Sunday school. It’s from the book of Luke, and outlines a scene in which Jesus watches people put offerings into a temple’s treasury. The richest of the lot drop their gifts in, paying little mind. Then an impoverished widow puts two small coins with a combined value of about two-fifths of one cent into the offering. “Of a truth I say unto you,” Jesus says, “that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all.” In giving when she had so little, the story goes, she gave everything.

The story came to mind one day while I was on-board the bus, doing one of my straight-shots from Portland to Manhattan. I thought of Rock ’n’ Roll Randy, a homeless man I'd met during my travels. He offered me all he had—a pair of mittens—after we'd only spoken a few minutes. "You just have to do one thing for me," he said.

"I got two questions for you."
"Okay. Go ahead."
“You think I ever had it normal?” He asked me, all seriousness.
“Yeah, I did. 1964. You think I’ve had fun since then?”
“I’m sure that you have.”
“Rock ’n’ Roll Randy,” he answered. “Portland, Oregon.”

I remembered Arnie, a Yurok Indian who picked me up hitchhiking along Northern California's Highway 101. I'd eventually learn about his conservation work with his tribe’s fisheries department, and he'd feed me and house me and later send me home with gifts for my family. I've gone back to visit Arnie and his family and friends almost a dozen times. Each time, he provides for me however he can—even though he has so few material things. He is a friend in the barest, truest sense of the word.

He has never asked me for anything in return.

Similar experiences happened every day with people I sat next to on the Greyhound. They shared their stories, revealing themselves in the most human way any of us could.

These things aren’t much. The people you meet onand off—the proverbial bus are often people you never talk to ever again. But sometimes for a brief moment, they, with nothing of their own, offer everything. There is a lesson here. Sometimes, I wonder if I’ve gotten it yet.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Reclaiming the Pussy: A Modern-Day Woman's Manifesto

-->Reclaiming the Pussy: A Modern-Day Woman's Manifesto
By Nicole Caldwell

The pussy is the first wonder of the world.

That labially adorned chute is the portal through which all life hitchhikes onto this mortal coil. That muscular mass is solely responsible for so much arousal; its pink and tan and brown and bluish velvety folds so welcoming and soft as to bring knights in armor to their knees. The fertile crescent—that hotbed of humanity that spawned the human race and nourished it on its uphill climb to the top of the proverbial food chain—refers explicitly to fertility. To womanhood. To the pussy.

The pussy: for which most pop songs and blues songs and rock 'n' roll songs were written; for which many wars of legend were fought; the cunt, the master of so much male persuasion; the vagina—that lasso of truth whose scent and temperature have no match and enjoy boundless, ignoble power. The pussy created poetry, inspired rebellions and symphonies and pageantry, sent Rhett Butler into a tailspin, killed Romeo, put Tristan into a tizzy, and doomed Orpheus for all time. God himself came to earth through Mary's virginal vagina to save mankind from his sins.

That pleasure epicenter—every cookie, oven, vag, yawn, and yum-yum—runs the economy. The pussy inspired a multi-million-dollar market for Hallmark cards and 1-800 Flowers. The box keeps Tiffany's in business. The patches, coots, caverns, beavers, and honey-pots of the world hold majority stock of every cruise line, chocolate company, and cologne business on Planet Earth.

The muff stopped Spartans from war. Lady Macbeth used her manhole to goad her husband into regicide. Cleopatra ruled all of Egypt with her mighty meat grinder. Helen of Troy had enough mojo to inspire a thousand ships be launched. The snatch made Samson weak. Thrones have been abdicated for that temple; empires toppled for that eel-skinner. For goodness' sake: a vagina was even responsible for splitting up the Beatles. 

With so much power, no wonder it's also the subject of so much scorn.

Just as the early architects of Christianity subverted pagan culture and co-opted tradition to transfer attention from other religions (fertility gods and pagan rituals-turned Easter eggs and Christmas trees, anyone?) and herbalists and seers burned at the stake as witches in order to hide their abilities, so too has the pussy been put on trial and subverted in a conspiracy to contain it. The vagina—that holy mountain—has been raked through our culture's coals in order to zap it of its strength.

We call men pussies to imply inferiority and lameness. Women are pressured to scent, shave, pluck, dye, laser, bleach, pierce, and surgically enhance their tufted treasures in order to make the most feminine article in the entire universe, feminine. The clitoris—the high-roller of organs, whose only job on earth is to squeeze the vagina into orgasm—wasn't even scientifically “discovered” until 1998.

A horrific wave of douchey agenda by cunt-fearing twerps insists the natural, perfect scent of the vagina is somehow imperfect; that it needs to be artificially cleansed with some bogus perfume. Bleaches, waxes, lasers, and even plastic surgeries attempt to reinvent the wheel; make it seem like every pussy isn't already possessing all the savoir-faire and poise of the greatest superpower to ever visit earth. Stronger than all things combined, more turbulent and tenacious and sensitive, all bundled into one magnificently nerve-riddled package.

For shame.

If the cunt on Anne Boleyn could incite Henry VIII to start a religious war, and the porn industry—which incidentally stars none other than Ms. Pussy—is the single recession-proof industry, is not the case closed on whether a lady's screw-hole is or is not already perfect? Is or is not strong and mighty?

To call someone a pussy is to call him or her weak; insufficient. The word itself can be traced back to folk etymology's “pusillanimous”, coming from Latin words meaning “tiny spirit”. Yet Russian woman Tatiata Kozhevnikova in 2012 set a world record when she lifted 31 pounds using only her vagina; and the vagina, though small, is enough for every mammal on the planet to have fit through. The word cunt has been turned dirty—the meanest word there is to describe a cruel, unlovable woman—when the cunt is the most tender, wonderful, lovable, and sincere of all living things.

If we must use pussy to describe something other than the vagina herself, let it be used to refer to great strength. “You're such a pussy” or “What a cunt!” should be a compliment; should be a standing ovation of literary verbage. These words that relate back to the virile vagina have no place in the negative burnpile of insulting slang. It's time for a pussy etymology renaissance. Reclaim the rose! Let's put pussy back on the map as that which we aspire to be more like: one who is resilient and vulnerable, bold and inviting; one who can take a licking and keep on ticking. 

Originally published in Playgirl's Spring 2014 issue, Issue #67 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sexology: TV Star Catherine Oxenberg Takes on the Female 'O'

This article appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Playgirl.
In Bed With Catherine Oxenberg

Interview by Nicole Caldwell

It's surprising, to say the least. In a world where many consider feminism passe—where you can purchase a vibrator or dildo just as easily as you can a pair of shoes—roughly one-third of all women have never experienced an orgasm. In 2014, a half-century after the so-called sexual revolution, women are still very much strangers to their own bodies. Unable to access our own innate sexual energy, we allow sexuality to be equated with promiscuity, ejaculation with penises, and sex itself with intercourse and penetration.

Armed with disturbing sexual data and determined to unlock the key to feminine sexual energy, Catherine Oxenberg (“Dynasty”, “Acapulco H.E.A.T.”, the soon-to-be released Sleeping Beauty) and Gabrielle Anwar (“Burn Notice”, Scent of a Woman) sought out sexual experts, tantric masters, researchers, and everyday women to create a documentary and website devoted to the discussion of female sexuality and the revelation of feminism's greatest potential. Sexology launched its website in January (, which features full-length, uncut interviews from the documentary and resources such as films and literature to educate and entertain on topics of other-worldly sexual experiences. The Sexology documentary film, edited by two-time Oscar-nominated editor for The King's Speech and American Beauty, Tariq Anwar (also Gabrielle Anwar's father), is scheduled for release this summer. 

We sat down with Catherine Oxenberg to get her take on the state of female sexuality, her own sexual journey, and the story of how this daughter to a Yugoslavian princess, actress, and sex symbol came to be the poster woman for women harnessing their innate sexual power. 

PLAYGIRL: Why do you feel, in 2013, that the world needs a documentary about vaginas, female orgasms, and achieving one's “deepest bliss”?
CATHERINE Oxenberg: Quite simply, why wouldn't we? Sexual energy is nothing more than life force. Once one learns to harness this energy intelligently, one has access to an infinite wellspring of vitality, joy, and a sense of inner coherence and well-being. Stress and exhaustion are replaced with effortlessness and ease. In the words of Dr. William Masters [preeminent gynecologist and senior member of the Masters and Johnson sexuality research team], "Sex is unchartered one knows anything about sex." Sadly, more than 60 years later, not much has changed. Sexual illiteracy is still rampant. We still have no idea what our bodies are capable of, and how mastery of bodies can bring one the deepest sense of purpose, fulfillment, confidence, and joy. 

What about this project has resonated with you on a personal level? 
Everything. This project is my personal journey of discovery. On one hand, I believed that i had a great sex life. On the other hand, I had a persistent, nagging belief that there was supposed to be something more. When I first experienced my entire body as orgasmic, it completely changed my reality. I experienced countless orgasms from every part of my body: fingers, hand, nose, mouth, upper palate, heart... Literally, my genitals could retire. It made the concept of "multi-orgasmic" seem comical. I looked back at my history of short-lasting, tension clitoral orgasms and they seemed like junk food. Extended, deep states of pleasure were rewiring and healing my nervous system. It occurred to me that orgasmic energy was meant to be cultivated, harnessed, and channeled; not just for recreational purposes, but for health, prosperity, vitality, radiance, anti-aging, purpose, alignment, joy, passion, and creativity. This revelation had such a profound effect on me, that I had to share this with the world. I wanted to shout from turrets and rooftops: "We have not been using this incredible resource correctly!"

Regardless of how much success i had in other areas of my life, I was always plagued by a persistent belief that i was defective in some way because i could rarely achieve orgasm during penetration. I now understand that there was nothing wrong with my hardware; there had only been a glitch in my software. That problem was correctable. All women are fully orgasmic, they just don't know it yet. Ultimately, through our research, we have discovered that a woman does not even need sex to experience her full orgasmic potential. We are orgasmic beings: “orgasmicness” is an expression of “bursting with the fulness of life”. We just need to be given permission to surrender to our truest essence. We need to know it is okay to feel pleasure. Every single woman who has accompanied me on this journey has had similar, extraordinary, life-changing breakthroughs. 

In what ways will your work on this project change the way you view your own sexuality? 
I had been treating my body with about as much finesse as a chimpanzee banging a tambourine; when in fact, I am—we all are—a Stradivarius violin. A highly refined instrument, capable of playing the most complex symphonies; not just a one-note wonder. I am ashamed to admit that i knew so little about my network of arousal and my own anatomy. 

Of all you've learned doing these interviews, what has been the most shocking? 
So many things! One, how little is known about female sexuality and the female genitals. Two, that ejaculation and orgasm are two separate reflexes for men and women. The four-phase androcentric sexual model (developed by Masters and Johnson) ending in male ejaculation (conveniently) is ass-backwards because sex is not linear! Women are the ones who are supposed to ejaculate (frequently!)—not men! The Taoists say, “You should never sail up a rocky river." This means don't enter a woman until she has ejaculated! Merely being wet is not enough to gain entrance! Three, men can learn to have full-bodied orgasms without ejaculating every time, which means sex does not have to end so quickly—and the guy does not have to pass out in a post-coital coma. The biggest problem for men is that their their sexual energy ends up being localized in their genitals. Finding ways to move sexual energy into their hearts allows them to experience what it is like to make love versus having sex. This is something most women take for granted. Four, most women suffer from vaginal numbness. Once we heal that, the landscape of our vaginas becomes radically different; extremely sensitive, responsive, and alive. We traveled around the world, finding all the best, most effective techniques for genital massage. And five, I learned that friction fucking is passe. Those pumping pornographic demonstrations that most young men attempt to replicate on us mere mortals, are in fact damaging to our sensitive genitals—and theirs! Our sexual skills seem to have been bypassed by evolution; remaining as base and rudimentary as a caveman maniacally rubbing two pieces of flints to spark a flame. It is time to refine our skills. A full 76 percent of women admit to faking orgasm at some point, yet no man I have met admits that any woman he's been with has faked it. All you ladies, stop faking! Our men will never learn what pleases us if we keep pretending! 

What one major thing do you feel women are missing out on about their own sexuality?
To know how good it feels to be in a woman's body. This is probably the one thing I am most passionate about. Most of us have no idea that we are a playground of heavenly delights. In fact, our power comes from our ability to generate insanely delicious states of physical ecstasy in our bodies. When we feel good, our outlook seems rosier, we become juicer, we move through the world with greater confidence and wholeness. But let me clarify: This is not about being promiscuous. This is about being in an intimate relationship with your feminine essence. One of the healers we interviewed said, "Men have muscle power and women have sexual power." Sexual power is creative power. Women need to recognize this. When we cut off our connection to our sexual energy, it is like trying to run a car without putting gas in the engine. We restrict our ability to impact the world. Perhaps this is traditionally why men have been more successful. They did not shut down their genital generators. They somehow knew how to keep this impulse fanned. Maybe not always in the healthiest ways, but it might have been better than shutting it off, like most women do. 

Why do you suppose so many women are out of touch with their own bodies and sexuality? 
Probably from centuries of being burned at the stake as witches for opening their legs. I can imagine that this might have been a deterrent to exploring sexuality in a healthy way. Historically, women's bodies have been stigmatized, their libidos demonized. Even today, we are burdened by the stigma that good girls don't and sluts do. Women have suffered from sexual deprivation since the beginning of civilization. Hysteria—a medical term until the 1950's—was the most prevalent diagnosis for women from the time of Plato (who coined the term). The cure for hysteria was to be sent to a doctor who would stimulate the woman's genitals until she achieved a “hysterical paroxysm”. These women were sent to a doctor because their husbands felt it was too time-consuming and burdensome to relieve their wives themselves. Today, "Female Sexual Dysfunction", or "Female Sexual Arousal Disorder" has replaced the diagnosis of "hysteria", but our bodies are still being pathologized. Ladies, we do not have a dysfunction! It just comes down to a lack of understanding of our inner-workings. 

You've spent your career in the world of television and movies. How do you think Hollywood has affected women's senses of their own sexuality, bodies, and sex in general? 
For the most part, the way sex has been portrayed in the media perpetuates the same old antiquated myths. Instant mutual climax is one of my favorites! There is hope though, with recent films like The Sessions. I am curious to see Lars Von Trier's film, Nymphomaniac. 

How do you expect Sexology to be received by the public? 
I hope people will be as curious as i was, and continue to be, as my landscape of possibility just keeps on expanding. I hope men and women are ready to expand their sexual repertoires beyond grade-school education and monochromatic porn. Sex really is the final frontier! 

How do you like being on the other side of the camera as a producer? 
I absolutely love it! I have never had so much fun in my entire life! 

Be sure to check out Sexology's website at Get more Catherine at oxenberg.meAnd stay tuned for the documentary film, featuring an interview with Playgirl's own Editor-in-Chief, Nicole Caldwell.

Originally published in Spring 2014 issue of Playgirl (#67)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sex Sells: The Man Behind the Museum of Sex

Sex Sells: The Man Behind the Museum of Sex
Interview by Nicole Caldwell
Originally published in Playgirl Issue #65, September 2013