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Flexing the Brain Muscle

Today I got off work around 2:30 in the afternoon for my break between shifts. As I waited at the bar for my cash out, I struck up a conversation with a guy sitting there. We ended up chatting for a half an hour about politics and religion (yes, in a bar!) — but not the way you think.

You see, we spent a half an hour discussing the ways people approach these things through their own respective biases. Our conversation rarely showed any red or blue, crosses or crescents, or any other indication of our own views. We discussed the way people think about politics based on their own religions. How the inherent irony in works like The Terminator and my current read Robopocalypse manifests itself — like how the technology we have all come to rely on so fully eventually turns against us and thinks for itself.

We discussed books, and how his favorite six-book collection of Winston Churchill’s recollections of the Second World War is loved in part because of the coffee stains on some of the pages. We discussed quantum physics and string theory and how physicists sometimes consult philosophers as they reach their arms toward the upper echelons of the universe’s mysteries.

I realized something profound as I left my restaurant to spend my couple hours at Starbucks blogging and reading.

I miss learning. I miss my brain.

I miss learning languages and struggling to meet each threshold of understanding. I miss conversations like the one I had today, where two or more minds just talk about life and history and science and evolution and faith and religion and all those subjects. I miss the stimulation of being surrounded by others who push my mind in new directions, who force me to analyze and evaluate instead of regurgitate and accept.

I don’t have any funny quips or bits of wisdom to offer. Only a yearning to find that kind of camaraderie again. I have so many interests, from microbiology to art to String Theory to philosophy. Language. Not just my own.

As I walked in the discordant warm December rain, I found my life wanting. I love my husband. I love our home. But I think if you were to ask him, he’d say something is missing as well. Neither of our careers are where we want them right now, and though I can usually get through a day or a week or a month chugging away paying my dues, today reared its head to show me that change is coming soon, and soon indeed.

This isn’t to say I’m foretelling my imminent success as an urban fantasist. This is not even to say I’m foretelling my imminent piddling attempt at urban fantasy. What I am saying is that no matter what my writing career holds in terms of the c-word (career), something must change soon.

Whether it means I go back to university and hire a Caterpillar to dig me into another mountain of debt to get my Ph.D or start building a freelance career in non-fiction isn’t the issue. One of those things will probably happen.

About the future I know three things:

1. I want to move to Scotland and raise a family with my husband.

2. I will write no matter what I do to pay the bills.

3. If I am to have a long-term career, it must be an intellectually stimulating one.

Those are evident in my every day life. While I have the occasional enlightening moment with my tables as I wait on them, it doesn’t change the fact that Sunday when a guest was looking for me to order dessert, she couldn’t so much as describe me by my fiery red hair. To most of the people I serve on a daily basis, I am faceless. Nameless as soon as they walk out the door. No amount of cooing over their babies will change that for many of them. As much as I love the regulars who do treat me like a worthwhile person, I know this isn’t my place forever.

And so I find myself today contemplating the future and what it might hold.  I know I’m getting close to something big, but I feel that it lies just around the bend in the mountainside. It’s coming, and I don’t know what it is.

If I were to be run off the road on the way home, what would I regret?

I would feel like I was being a bit wasted where I am. I can do more than waiting tables, I know I can. This is not to be down on people who do this for a living — I chose this job. It didn’t choose me. There are aspects I enjoy, but ultimately this job does not challenge me.

I would feel like I got stuck somewhere that wasn’t the end goal. I would wonder why I didn’t try just a little bit harder to do what I want to do with this life.

Could I die today and be content? No. I couldn’t. There would be that something missing.

In one area of my life I am fulfilled, and that is love. I could not ask for a better family, a better husband, or better and truer friends than the ones I have. In this one area, I know that I am content.

But the others need some work.

I will close with a quote from one of my all-time favorite authors, a man who helped me discover epic fantasy and showed me that it doesn’t have to be high prose full of doom and gloom — that you could build a fantastical world full of humor and laughter and real people who eat and sometimes discuss bathroom breaks. David Eddings passed away two and a half years ago, shamefully outside my notice. His passing did not make headlines that reached my eyes. I thought of him just the other day and wondered how he was getting on. The question got answered much by accident.

This man will not be forgotten, and I will ensure that his words endure, if only in a tiny library owned by a redhead writer.

This is what I was talking about earlier when I suggested most aspiring fantasists will lose heart fairly early on. I was in my mid-teens when I discovered that I was a writer. Notice that I didn’t say “wanted to be a writer.” “Want” has almost nothing to do with it. It’s either there or it isn’t. If you happen to be one, you’re stuck with it. You’ll write whether you get paid for it or not. You won’t be able to help yourself. When it’s going well, it’s like reaching up into heaven and pulling down fire. It’s better than any dope you can buy. When it’s not going well, it’s much like giving birth to a baby elephant.

-David Eddings, from The Rivan Codex

New and Old

I logged onto MySpace just now.

I know. Whoa. Yeah, it still exists. I didn’t really know either. I went on looking for a poem I posted in my blog there a long while back. I felt like dredging it up and seeing if I still thought it was shiny and whimsical. I wrote it sort of in the style of Lewis Carroll — nonsense and bounce and yes, whimsy.

The first thing that caught my eye was this entry. I feel the need to post it here, to share it. I think it deserves that. So I give you the me of two and a half years ago; do enjoy. Some of it’s lyrical. I don’t know if the formatting was intentional or not or if it just happened as a by-product of MySpace re-imagining itself in a vain attempt to stay relevant against the Facebook behemoth, but regardless, I kept it.

i
stretch, feeling the tug of my muscles, a pleasurable ache remaining.
it’s a reminder of how much has changed this year.  2009, it seems, is
setting out to prove that spring of 2008 was a crucible — the
smoldering coals i had to walk over to feel the cool wet grass under my
feet.
the first crickets sing outside my window, their tunes riding on the
fresh breeze of the evening.  my breath is measured, even.  my fingers
and hands are warm as i type, the muted light from the paper-covered
lamp filling the room with a soft glow.  and here i am.
something leaps in my chest when that thought enters my mind.  the
breath in my lungs hitches for a moment, and my heart quickens.  here i am.
the air is cool, and the sun has begun its downward path,
setting the budding trees and leafy bushes to dusty gold.  i am alone
on the greenway path.  for once, no passers-by break the silence with
their footsteps and words.  no joggers with ipods, no walkers with dogs
and leashes.  just me.  i pause at the first curve, looking out over
the field.  a smile tugs at my lips — something that is happening more
and more lately.  a few puffy dandelions grow in the grass.  on
impulse, i step off the path and pluck one from its resting place.

there’s a difference in the air this year.  a softer note in the
sound of the wind.  as i let my mind drift over the events of last
spring, it touches on snapshots.  my heart stopping as i read a
one-line email from my cousin matt.  “please give me a call the first
chance you get.”  dark brown eyes under a shock of shaggy black hair,
darting nervously as my boss informs me my hours have been cut by 40%.
coming home again to find my roommate doesn’t have the rent money or
the bills at all.  mocking words.  maniacal howling from the other side
of my apartment.  walking into my bedroom and feeling someone else’s
uninvited presence.  things missing.  weariness.  driving.  driving.
mansions and mansions filled with people, hard faces.  suspicious
glances.  smiling children and dilapidated buildings playing among cut
gravel and broken glass.  a boy’s florid bow as he moves aside to let
my car pass.  spanish filters through my open window from neighbors
laughing on lawn chairs, easy banter on a summer evening as my car
moves through their world.  the quiet of the office, eight hours of
nothing.  from sprawling villas to shoebox dwellings — an invisible
line is crossed, and i drive into another world.  the rocky mountains
in the distance.  tired.  always tired.  six o’clock i drive to work in
the morning sun.  eight hours of nothing.  the sun sets as i drive, the
numbers on my meter move, move.  hours and hours.  at midnight, i drive
home.  i fall into bed.  i sleep.  six o’clock comes too soon.  tears.
the harsh scent of vodka.  the sharp sting of lies.  snapshots — just
snapshots — that world is no more.
mom always used to tell me not to spread the dandelion seeds.  i
pause as i lift the fluffy ball to my lips, my fingertips sticking
lightly to the thin, moist stem.  for a moment i feel a gleeful
rebellion as i purse my lips and blow.  tiny tufted dancers spin into
space.  freed from their resting place
, they float through the
air.  one lodges itself between my breasts, perhaps afraid to take that
step onto the current of the breeze.  i pluck it out and it soars away,
trailing behind the cloud of others that flicker in the light of the
afternoon sun
.
last year’s world is no more.  only this year is real.  only now.  here i am.
again my heart quickens as i glance forward in time.  the clock seems
to speed in its place on the wall.  soon and very soon.  no more
running away.  this time i’m moving forward, grasping at newness, at
vibrance.  everything about now tickles my awareness of the immediacy
of the present.  the pull of my muscles as i stretch, the comfortable
space in my clothing.  the smile that tugs at my lips.  newness.
i’m alone on the path.  i glance around, but no one is there.
my heart leaps in pleasure.  the creek burbles over rocks as i cross
the bridge, the soft pat-pat of my flip-flops still audible over the
water.  the path seems smoother, more even than i remember, even though
i was there not long ago.  i feel the urge to run.  what happens is
more of a scamper, borderline bounce.  my legs tense, my pulse jumps.
something in me sparkles.  without a thought, my shoes are off, left
behind on the pavement.  i pad a few steps forward, then i’m running.

2009 is a new year.  i felt it with the ticking of the clock as
december became january.  it’s new in every way.  the gentle ache in my
muscles gives me a moment of triumph.  my body is newer, smoother, yes
— slimmer.  i feel good.  i feel healthy, energetic.  when i look in
the mirror, i grin.  i think of what i’ve done this year, in the months
that have passed since the sorrow of last spring.  focus,
determination.  effort.  i’ve fallen down, but there have been hands to
help me up.  and here i sit.  i am ready.
i come to a halt where the path turns to grass.  i look out over
the field beyond where it ends, see the rolling, tamed grass of the
golf course and purposely turn the other way.  a small meadow is
nestled in the crook of a curving slope.  a few insects flit across the
path in the sun.  the breaths i take as i turn back toward home feel
like a drug.  the smile wins, and i feel my face light up.  when i
reach my shoes, i pick them up.  the plastic, warmed from the sun,
dangles from my fingertips.  my arms swing at my sides, and i revel in
the cool air that passes over my skin.  my earrings jingle as i walk
silently on my bare feet.  right now, at this moment, i am utterly
beautiful.

carbonation bubbles in my veins as a thrill passes through me.  my
skin hums in anticipation.  soon.  an electric edge is on the air,
seems to hover around me like an aura.  this time there is no
trepidation, only certainty.  clear, crystalline certainty.no running away this time.  no desperation, no stumbles and sobs.  only
an abiding quietness and a tugging smile.  a sparkle, a glimmer.
raindrops patter on the ground outside, and a fresh-washed scent floats
in on the evening breeze.  the crickets have been put on mute, gone for
cover from the rain.  inside in the glow, the world is spread out
before me.  i’m the tiny dandelion seed, and i’m finally ready to
launch myself off that cliff, to take the plunge.  till then, i’ll
smile to myself, i’ll keep these sweet secrets dancing at the corners
of my lips.  till then, i’ll look out over the world spread before me.
till then, i’m her.  i am ready.
fumbling toward ecstasy

I can’t help but love that.

Make it Happen

The more I think about life in all its complexity, the more I realize that it’s all a matter of making it happen. There are things that ebb and flow through its tides, but if you sit around waiting for something to wash up on your shore, you’ll be wading through a lot of driftwood and abandoned toilet seats before you find that message in a bottle. If you ever find it.

If there’s something you want to do, do it. No excuses. If you want to write, be a writer for god’s sake. If you want to paint, go get a brush and an easel and do it. If you want to travel, get your passport. If you want to go back to school and get your MBA, enroll. Make it work. Make it happen. No one is going to do any of those things for you. If you want to learn to play the violin, do it. Try. You don’t know how much time you have here, and why on earth would you want to waste it doing something that doesn’t fulfill you? Why would you stay in a stagnant swamp when you can be floating down a river toward your destination?

I’m not saying it’s not complicated. What I’m saying is this: people find a way to buy new clothes or new shoes. They’ll spend hundreds on a new computer because they’re sick of their old one, even if it works fine. They’ll spend hundreds on a new bike. Or a new car. They’ll keep upgrading their lifestyles instead of saving and living below their means. And when you ask them why they haven’t taken that trip to Spain or Greece or Mumbai or Antarctica, they’ll say they can’t afford it. Of course they can’t — they orchestrated their lives so that they can’t. Make choices now that will get you where you want to be five years from now, ten years from now.

I’ve seen people with nothing manage to build lives so spectacular, so rich and fulfilling, that it brings tears to my eyes. I don’t mean financial success, though sometimes that’s the case. What I mean is personal joy because they followed their bliss. Ask anyone who retires after thirty years of a job they hated. They’ll always have regrets. Always. Never be that person with a wistful glimmer in their eyes saying, “I wish I’d done that.”

I always ask myself if I will regret something more for doing it or not doing it. The answer is almost always the latter. If you try and fail, at least you tried. At least you went for it. And “failure” doesn’t mean you can’t make it work for you.

Your life is an earthen vessel on a potter’s wheel. You are that potter. You shape it, mold it, touch it as it spins. If you let it go of its own accord, it’ll spin into a misshapen lump that looks nothing like you imagined. If you grab hold of it and firmly direct the curves and flows, you’ll always know that you had a hand in it. You made your life what it is.

Take the clay and give it form. Make it happen.

Strong Female Characters vs. Strong Characters, Female

I just read a quite interesting essay entitled “Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad for Women.”  (If interested, you can find it here.)  I’ll admit it piqued my curiosity.  I tend to think a lot about how women are portrayed in cinema and TV, mainly because as a child and young adult, I remember getting very annoyed at all the damseling I saw.  In recent years, there have been a barrage of “strong female characters” to enter the silver screen and the boob tube (no pun intended).  However, many of these indeed do not fall into the categories of strong characters.  I still see damseling pretty much wherever I look.  Cute girl + charming/surprising/cliched strength + hero/shlubby everyman/nerdy audience stand-in = girl being rescued by dude by the end of the movie, almost without fail.  This is not to say there are no exceptions to this, but…how many times have we seen that scenario played out?

What I want to see — and I think many women would agree with me on this one — are female characters with strengths, weaknesses, and well-rounded, fleshed-out character development.   I hope that the women in my writing are three dimensional.  God knows I try to make my characters as gritty and true-to-life as I can in spite of the fact that I write fantasy.

Sidebar!  Fantasy writers are among the absolute WORST when it comes to this topic.  What I see in most fantasy is: big breasted, nearly naked women with swords/bows/guns.  Did I mention the nearly naked?  Is that necessary?  Is it even remotely realistic?  I give props to Dragon Age for not only fleshing out the women in the story but um…covering their flesh with appropriate amounts of armor, to the extent that I can look at them without my normal dubious, “And she is protected in battle how?”  Not to mention that it’s one of the few fantasy games that allows you to be a female hero and save the world, the world being one wherein women and men are actually portrayed as having more or less equal respect and responsibility.  Kudos.  The rest of the fantasy writing/filmmaking/graphic novel/gaming world needs to get a clue — women read fantasy too.  Unless you’re creating a sequel to Lord of the G-Strings (yes, that is a real softcore porn movie), put some damn clothes on the women.  No one but a supreme idiot would try and fight demons half-naked.

One of my biggest peeves when it comes to this subject is that movies seem to be overrun with stereotypes.  The one that grates most obnoxiously on my nerves is the Shrew.  There are very few films that don’t have one of these in them.  You know her.  The woman who is constantly portrayed as an emasculating, overbearing, rude, spiteful killjoy who wants nothing more than to ensure that her boyfriend/husband/love interest does exactly what she wants, to ruin all his fun and make him a laughingstock of masculinity.  This ball-and-chain stereotype infuriates me.  And it’s everywhere.  Fannie in Sense and Sensibility (and Lucy Steele, for that matter).  Ed Helms’ wife in The Hangover.  Natasha in Bridget Jones.  I watch a lot of “dude movies.”  Because I like them.  But I hate when they portray women like that.  Yes, some women probably are like that.  But not nearly as many as Hollywood would make it out to be.

All that said, there are some remarkable women out there in fiction-dom.  If you ask me, the one that started it all and paved the way for strong characters (female) everywhere was Buffy Summers.  I’m possibly a bit biased on this count, seeing as how Buffy is one of my favorite shows/characters of all time, but before Buffy the Vampire Slayer came about, you would be hard-pressed to find a female hero.  In fact, if you can think of one, I’ll give you a cookie.  Not heroine.  Hero.  The one who saves the day.  The one who doesn’t have to damsel to get a man.

Buffy is flawed.  She is not perfect.  She is selfish at times, overprotective, stubborn, and a bit holier-than-thou.  But she risks her life (gives her life twice, for that matter) to save the world, to save her friends.  Her character grows and changes thoroughly throughout the show’s seven seasons.  She struggles and triumphs and falls short sometimes.  But she gets shit done.  And she kicks ass.  Sometimes she does so in baggy overalls and unattractive sweats.  Sometimes she gets the shit kicked out of her.  Sometimes she’s bloodied and bruised and not so hot.  She is a hero.  And she’s a woman.  The other women on the show are also strong characters with three dimensions.  So I applaud Joss Whedon and the writers for blazing the way for female heroes. Joss has explained the Buffy creation by saying that he was sick of vapid blondes who would run upstairs and get killed off within the first fifteen minutes of a movie — he wanted to see a woman who could not only hold her own, but was capable of greatness and heroics.

The Bride from the Kill Bill movies is also a very strong character.  Sure, she’s Uma Thurman and hot, but she also cries and gets beat up sometimes.  She struggles.  She keeps fighting.  She saves herself.  Go Quentin for that one.

Another new favorite of mine is Veronica Mars.  She’s clever, relentless, brave.  She’s also cynical, distrustful, and overly sharp at times.  She gets into trouble, but she gets herself out of it.

It’s not that there aren’t examples of strong characters who happen to be female out there.  it’s just that they seem to get lost in the shuffle of the Megan Fox’s of the world.  The damn damsels who are given a couple traits mainly to make them more appealing to the male world and then set up to fulfill the rescue fantasies of said males.  The icing on the cake for me is when I see a “strong female character” who has been set up to be strong and badass for the whole movie only to be suddenly put in peril and saved by some everyman — clearly a gratuitous gesture.  You’d never see Superman suddenly powerless, only to be rescued by that nerdy girl who lives down the street.  Male heroes don’t have to damsel 99% of the time — so why should the female ones?

Anyway, all that said, I’m just going to keep writing my characters to be people I would want to know.  Not characters who would make me want to headdesk.

Life, love, and the pursuit of happiness.

Autumn is flirting with September in a dance of revolving heat, rain, humidity, and crisp breezes.  Soon I know autumn will have her way with the world, and I couldn’t be happier.  Flickers of yellow and orange and red begin to appear on trees, and the temperature actually drops at night.  All in all, I’m waiting in anticipation of October.  As it approaches, there are a lot of things on my mind.  Not the least of which is what October brings with her as she arrives.  A year ago, I was waiting.  I knew what I was waiting for, but I had no idea how long my waiting would continue.  This week last year, I began to see a few glimmers of hope, a few warm tingles.  And then as October 1 turned to October 2, after a gleeful two hours of zombie-filled revelry, my waiting ended.  A man I had fallen for over the course of a year and a half invited me into his life, and we started down a road together.

Given the context of emotion this week holds for me, I suppose it’s only natural for me to think about love.  To ponder that thing that drives us so much through this world.  I think the silver screen presents us with many unrealistic views of romance and love.  (<–Understatement.)  Frankly, the few chick flicks (aka rom-coms) I’ve seen lately have been so far away from reality that they’ve left me wanting to repeatedly bang my head against a board.

What is love?  What really makes a relationship work?  If I could answer both of those questions succinctly, I’d probably win the Nobel Prize for Peace.  I’m just sayin’.  Go to any Barnes and Noble and you’ll find sections littered with books trying to explain love and fix relationships in 200-400 pages of easy step-by-step instructions.

Do soulmates exist?  Is there that magical moment where you just know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have found the one person who can make you happy?  I might disappoint the world’s movie-going rom-com fanatics by saying this, but no.  I don’t think either of those two things really exist in the way they’re portrayed.  Relationships don’t follow a flow chart of:  meeting –> spark –> blossoming love –> conflict –> happy ending/sunset + horsey + castle.  Relationships are messy.  Why?  Because you’re taking imperfect people and smushing their lives together.  To expect perfection is naive at best.  However, I think the reality of love is more charming and beautiful than simply following a formulaic interpretation of easy happiness.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last two or so years since I met John, it’s that communication cannot receive a higher commendation in the world of love.  And before you can communicate, you need to know and be happy with yourself.  If you’re looking for someone to complete you, you’ll never find that.  But I digress.  I don’t think love happens like in the movies.  Or at least if it does, it’s not even close to being the majority.

I think a lot of the time people get caught up in this idea of the magical moment that will make everything clear, make everything easy.  There’s no quick fix for anything in this life, in love especially.  I still think the guys in Thrice said it right when they said that love is a loyalty sworn, not a burning for a moment.  Relationships take work–they don’t just work because you want them to.  Sometimes they take sacrifice and selflessness.  Both of which have to go both ways.  While I think that two people can experience an initial click or chemistry, I don’t think that two lives just slip into each other without a ripple.  People have different dreams and ambitions.  To me, the mark of the best relationships is the ability of the couple not to expect their lives to poof into perfection, but the willingness to build something together.  A family.  A home.  A life.  Whatever that may look like.  That’s where the beauty is to me.

That’s what I honestly love about my relationship.  Looking into the future and knowing that each of us will build something together.  That in the two years behind us since we met, we have begun building a foundation.  We’re two adults long since launched from the families that raised us, and in the last year, we have begun a new family.  A small family for now, just the two of us, but with strong ties to the families we came from.  Something to build on together into something that fits us both.

I can’t think of a truer love than that.

Changes and the Familiarly Unfamiliar

I’m in Scotland.

I’m again confronted with the ever-familiar waves of knowing and not-knowing.  I know the fresh, washed scent of rain cleaned air, of chill breezes and the golden honey warmth  of sun.  I know the hill that holds Stirling Castle, and the Black Isle that peeks through the window from across the Moray Firth.  I know this building, but the view out the window has changed, and the flags that hang of St. Andrew’s cross, the lion rampant, the jolly roger, and St. George’s cross seem oddly disparate, though they grace walls which still hold familiar photographs.  Lone Tree on Rannoch Moor.  Buachaille Etive Mor.  Pap of Glen Coe,  Eilean Donan.  Inchkeith Sunset.  Familiar names.

The people here are now alien.  No Jordan or Julia or Nicole or Keith.  Instead there is Andres, Sandra, Howe.  Unfamiliar but kind.  As a former hostelite, they welcomed me with warmth and shared food and even tucked me in when I fell asleep on the familiar cushion of one of these black leather sofas, covering me with a fluffy duvet as I slept in a group of strangers.

The maps are well known, from John O’Groats to Skye to Aberdeen.  The voices are unfamiliar.  No Polish  do I hear, but French and English accents.  It has been…a long time.  The giant gulls call out their thoughts of the town and the surf.  Cars rumble across the Firth bridge.  The sun hides his face behind an oddly stagnant sky.

A whisper flits through me, a startling revelation.  Inverness feels like home no more. Perhaps it is the lack of sleep.  Perhaps it is the staggering mix of old and new.  It could be either of those things, but I think what it really is goes much deeper than a superficial makeover.  I’ve got a home.  Not even a physical home;  that’s in flux.  But there is someone rather than somewhere I need.  And he is very far away.  He has become my family, and where family is, so home is too.

More than anything, I wish he was here to share this place with.  Even shrouded in clouds, she has a glory and a cleanness that surpasses anything I have ever known.  There is wisdom in her aged glens, peace in her silver-smooth lochs, strength in her heather-clad mountains, and humility in the rushing of her surrounding sea.  I think if she could speak, she would tell me that she will always hold a place for me here.  And that the next time I return to her, not to come alone.

Summer’s Almost Here; I Can Feel It

Summer breeeeeze…

It brings some glorious good news.  For one, cheaper phone bills.  Also, a trip to Bethany Beach this weekend with some awesome people, Splice comes out next week, there are only four weeks left of school, and perhaps best of all:

The Room is coming to Silver Spring, and Tommy Wiseau himself will be there.  “You’re tearin’ me apart, Lisa!”  This will be epic.  I can see the awesomeness hurtling toward me like a football thrown from four feet away.  Public drunkenness and sanctioned spoon-throwing, here we come.

If you haven’t seen this film (and if you have any appreciation for things so bad they actually turn around on the spectrum and end up in “awesome”), you must.  You won’t regret it.  Or you might, but don’t blame me for that.  I’m just the messenger.

You know what else is awesome?  I’m going to Montana in four short weeks.  And I finally get to show John my home.  After knowing him for two years and knowing his family for just as long, as well as all his friends in three states, it’s high time he got to see my world.  So I’m pumped.  Also?  MacKenzie River Pizza Co. is in Montana, and I could pee my pants jump for joy with excitement about that little adventure.  The Athenian, with spinach, fresh basil, tomatoes, olive oil, feta, and mozzarella?  Yes, please.  The Thai Pie with its peanut sauce base, grilled chicken, mandarin orange slices, and more peanuts?  Heaven.  Lodgepole bread sticks so wonderful they once made my mom burst into tears?  (Okay, she’d just had a hysterectomy and wasn’t on hormone replacement…but it makes it sound awesome.) Glorious.  Add to that Montana microbrews and you have yourself one solid, savory meal that could make the gods weep into their ambrosia.

I’m making myself drool, but I can’t stop.  So…much…food…in my future.

Nap’s Grill has one pound burgers.  My friends and I used to use our free periods once a week to send someone to Nap’s to order us all lunch using these “buy one, get one free” that they printed in the Ravalli Republic every day for a while — we raided everyone’s newspapers.  Pretty sure the restaurant hated us, but we couldn’t say no to those juicy, juicy burgers.  Medium rare with pepper jack cheese and a veritable bucket of shoestring fries?  To be honest, it puts Five Guys to shame, and I usually would never speak such a heresy.

In addition to food, there is also the glory of the Bitteroot Mountains, with the Sapphire range to the east.  Lake Como and Trapper Peak, Lost Trail Hot Springs, the Sula wilderness, Painted Rocks.  Not to mention that we’re taking a trip to Glacier National Park — last time I went there, I met a bear.  Well, that’s an exaggeration.  He was busy digging for pikas in the side of the hill, but I did see him.

This summer is going to rule.

I’ll leave you with these quotes from today:

Ms. English to me:  “You walk like a tiger.”

Dr. Phil (my chiro) to John: “You know, you really remind me of someone.”
John:  “God?”

WIN.

Epiphany With a Side of Joy

I’ll have two, please.  Thx.

Today I finished reading the first draft of a book that a woman from my writing group sent me.  It left me with a couple of epiphanies, one that left an ironic aftertaste and another that made me smile.

The first was that throughout the book, the characters made these decisions based on what they thought would protect the people they loved from their own actions, when in reality, it simply continued to raise the stakes.  People do that a lot.  I was exposed to a real life example this week — and the sad reality is that this happens way too often.  I mean, let’s face it:  only the world’s token sadists actually like hurting people.  The rest of us try not to do it, because it makes us feel bad.  The trick is to know when you’re only choosing between the lesser of two evils.  In the book, the main character had a decade-long affair.  She could have left a loveless marriage much earlier…but she didn’t.  You can imagine how it turned out.  I’ve never cheated on a boyfriend.  I know people who I consider generally good people who have, but I honestly do not understand cheating.  One common thread is that usually those who do it think that telling their partner would hurt too much, so they let it go on and try to bury it deep so the partner never finds out.  But that’s like letting a wound fester.  Eventually the pus is going to break the surface, and by then, you might have to have something amputated.  Which is something easily avoidable if you had just gotten it fixed first.

Seriously, once you cheat, you forfeit the right to decide what happens to the relationship.  Once you’ve broken that trust, which to me is one of the deepest betrayals one can experience on this earth, it’s your partner’s choice what happens.  By not coming clean from the get-go, you add robbery to the list of errors and you actively conspire to make someone else a fool.

It doesn’t just happen with cheating — I mean, parents don’t tell their kids about divorces.  People put off talking about bad news.  I knew someone once who didn’t find out their grandma had died for months because the parents hadn’t wanted to ruin something happy.  People didn’t tell me about a friend who had passed for weeks after it happened.  When I found out, the grief of her loss was compounded by guilt of not sending her cards or letters during her months of illness (it was cancer), anger at those who knew me and didn’t let me know, and helplessness.  There are some things people have a right to know.

All of that was wound up into the little ball of epiphany that just says:  if you think you have to protect someone from information, you’re just propping up a falling bridge with an umbrella.  Leaves an ironic tinge in my mouth just thinking about it.

The next one was just about the things people do because of insecurities.  I wrote a bit on my other blog about this that I’ll repeat here.  There’s that old saying:  you can’t see the forest through the trees.  People are like that with their insecurities.  Some of our issues are rooted deeply in fear and pain and a welter of other emotions.  Trauma.  Those trees are like old growths.  They are there, immutable.  You can’t just cut them down and get rid of them.  And sometimes it can be hard to see the beauty of the forest around us when we trip over the roots of one of those giant trees.  Sometimes we stumble into it, and it’s all we can see.  Our pain.  Past betrayals and hurts.  When that happens, some people throw their arms around this tree as though it’s the only safe place, simply because it’s familiar.  We’d rather stay there where it’s easy than have to grapple with it in context of the newer trees, the ones we’re afraid won’t hold our weight if we try to climb them.  We forget that like any old growth, it’s old.  We have to stand up, back up, and look around at the other trees around us to get the sense of the whole forest.

So my last epiphany was this:  instead of getting bogged down in the old growth and tripping over its fallen branches and roots the size of trunks, I’m going to climb up into the newer trees and trust that their branches will hold me.  I’m going to let their boughs embrace me and look out over the beauty of the forest, because true beauty comes from seeing the whole picture, not just the good or the bad that exists.  And in knowing that, there’s joy.

The Loved, the Lorn, and the Puffy Chairs

Today I watched a movie.  My boyfriend and I actually started it last night, but we were both sleepy and — let’s face it — a wee bit drunk, so we stopped.  I finished it tonight, and I’m going to attempt to review it here, with some interspersed reflections based on the novel I’m reading by someone in one of my writing groups which has a similar theme.

The movie is called The Puffy Chair. My first assessment?  It was remarkably painful to watch.  First of all, the female lead’s name is Emily, and she proved in the first 15 minutes that she was exactly the kind of girlfriend I don’t want to be.  Next, her boyfriend Josh proved to be the kind of boyfriend I don’t want.  And Rhett, the other main character, proved to be the only redeeming person for me, even though in one particular scene (actually two) I sort of wanted to aim an Uzi at his head.

I think the film had several good qualities.  It portrayed a somewhat believable relationship between an insecure woman who was looking for a commitment and a self-absorbed, passive-aggressive man who really wasn’t.  Neither of them were able to successfully communicate anything without it turning into a snit or an argument, which I’ve seen in many relationships, so that part was believable.  I couldn’t figure out if Emily was just really, really fed up with Josh’s indifference or if she was just really high-maintenance and moody, as one reviewer described her.  Either way, I was ashamed when I saw myself reflected in her at all, which I’ll admit happened a couple of times, and I really never want to turn into what I saw there.

To her defense, Josh was entirely incapable of discussing anything serious with anyone, let alone his girlfriend, who he calls “dude” throughout the entire movie — a not so subtle insight into the depth of his emotion.  When she asks why he loves her, he can’t think of a single reason outside of her sexy bits (literally — he changes the subject by grabbing her hoohah).  Granted, her reaction to his silence is a bit melodramatic, but even so, it shows the dysfunction there.  Later on when his brother Rhett calls him out on a pretty despicable action he took, he again gets defensive and nasty.

All in all, I found it really hard to sympathize with any of the characters.  They were all completely wrapped up in themselves.  They wanted what they wanted when they said they wanted it, and if they didn’t get it, the world ended.  I’d give it a C.  Maybe even a C-.

I don’t really like dwelling on dysfunctional relationships, but I volunteered to read a book penned by a fellow writer in which the protagonist is an adulterer, and I just read the first six chapters of her rationalizing her affair, which depressed me.  Especially after watching that movie.

After watching the movie and reading that book, I got the overwhelming urge to be the best girlfriend ever.  I also reflected on my own relationship and came to the conclusion that I am intensely fortunate to have found someone like John, and that despite the similarities between our names and that movie’s characters’ names, we are so not them.

I am so happy with him that it sometimes makes me bubble right off the ground.  Which is glorious.  So in regards to the title of this blog?  I’m that first one.  I’m not lorn — love, for, or otherwise — and I’m decidedly not a puffy chair.  I’m loved by an extraordinary man.

Take that, cynical world.

follow your bliss

This morning, I asked my student to reflect on the following:

“The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are…follow your bliss.   The heroic life is the individual adventure.   There is no security in following the call to adventure.”  (Joseph Campbell)

I figured that since I am trying to keep up my average of words per day, I would complete my own assignment. (I already hit 1,000 working on my novel today, but a bit more never hurt anyone.)

I’m going to break this down sentence by sentence and see what comes pouring out through the cracks.

The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are…follow your bliss.

I heard once that up until about puberty and a few years after, you spend your life trying to fit in, blend with others, be like everyone else.  In high school and the years after is when people become desperate to delineate what separates them from the rest of the world, to be an individual.  But how far do people really go to do that?  So many people spend their lives doing things that make them unhappy or at the very least, bored.  They spend their lives with people who make them unhappy.  They follow the status quo because they feel some sort of obligation to do so or need security in some way.

It took me a long time in my life to come to terms with who I am, and in a lot of ways, I’m still on that path.  It has taken a lot of failings in order for me to get to where I am now.  I wrote not long ago in a letter to someone that I feel like years ago, I was perched on the edge of a chasm.  I could see where I wanted to be on the other side of it, but I had to make choices to decide how to get there.  The first route was the tried and true slow descent down one side and up the other, maybe on a burro.  I could plod doggedly down and up and eventually get to the other side, but I knew that if I took that route, I might end up miles down from where I was aiming.

The other route was the most direct geometrically.  And it stretched out directly in front of me, a rickety rope bridge with punky boards full of dry rot and tattered ropes holding it together.  I gritted my teeth and stepped out onto the bridge, with nothing but those flimsy boards between me and a long drop with a sudden stop.  Looking down at the well-trodden safer path below, I could see people’s mouths agape as they watched me take my fumbling steps out on that bridge.  Some even yelled up at me, “You’re crazy!  You’re going to fall!”

I haven’t fallen yet.  Granted, there have been a few close calls.  A couple of those boards were rotted through and disintegrated beneath my feet like crumbling clay.  Occasionally, circling vultures would swoop down and attack, seeing I was vulnerable.  But each time, I clung to the most solid things I could find and held on tight.  I’ve made a large number of big decisions in the last few years, and they have all propelled me forward.  And the farther forward I go, the closer I get to the other side.  I can’t see the other side from where I am; I have to focus too much on putting one foot in front of the other and staying alive to get there, but I know it’s there.  I can sense solid ground in the distance, getting closer every day.  I don’t know how many steps remain before I get there, but I know there is even more adventure awaiting me after my feet touch the earth again.  And the only way I’ll get there is if I keep following my bliss.  This journey truly has been amazing, and making the choices I have made really are the privilege of my lifetime.

The heroic life is living the individual adventure.

I feel like it would be way too arrogant to call my life heroic.  I could say resilient or bold and maybe go as far as intrepid, but regardless, I feel that my life has been full of adventure.  In spite of all the moves (or maybe because of them), I’ve managed to hold onto some semblance of cohesion within myself.  Sometimes I feel stuck within the confines of what society deems normal, namely the need for money (ew), but I have still managed to get where I needed to go, regardless of how rough the road got.  For that I am both proud and thankful.  Proud that I haven’t completely had a nervous breakdown yet (although I’ve gotten close this year…sorry, John) and thankful for the people who have been there along the way to hold out their hands and help me along.  I wouldn’t be here without them.

I’m certainly not done with this adventure yet.  In fact, I might be setting out on another leg of it shortly, depending on what I decide in the next 24 hours.  There is a big wide world out there, and I haven’t seen enough of it yet.

When I think about it, I often tell my friends that they are heroic for following their bliss and doing their thing, so perhaps I ought to do myself the same courtesy and bestow the label upon myself as well.  I do have a tendency to be much harder on myself than others are.   I should be more mindful of that and stop Emmie-bashing.

There is no security in following the call to adventure.

This one rings so true — I think about the people I know who are pursuing the things they truly love, and very few are actually making any money.  Of course, money isn’t the only way to measure security, but I think that is sort of what Joseph Campbell was referring to.  That and the fact that the term “starving artist” did not evolve without some sort of precedent.  I’m okay with being poor.  I’ve never really had any money, so I actually tend to just give it away when I do have it.

Anyway, all in all, I think it’s clear that I have to do some things for myself. Dolly Parton said to find out who you are and do it on purpose.  I’m not one who usually looks to Dollywood for wisdom, but I won’t turn it away when I come across it.  I know a lot about who I am, but I need to make some purposeful strides into really letting that person shine through.

On that note, kiddies, sleep tight.  Bite the bedbugs and smile at your neighbor.