phoenix sky

Phoenix is at its best in the morning. Take a moment before the day begins, before the anxieties kick in, before your to-do list begs the first check mark. Take your eyes and ears off your phone and look up. The city is tented by a brilliant, stretching sheet of color and light. Let your gaze scan slowly from east to west. Start with the pinks standing guard from the peaks of the Superstition Mountains. Watch how they waft into orange and yellow tufts, gently pulling the sun higher and higher. If you’re lucky, you might see a streak of purple bordering the massive scope of blue. That blue, that prevailing blue, which dominates the rest of the expanse westward over the city, over the highways, to the Colorado River, to the Imperial Sand Dunes, to the Pacific Ocean. Relax your focus and your vision will start buzzing from the sheer intensity of uninterrupted iridescence.

The desert sky is studded on all sides by mountains at its edges. Splinters from skyscrapers are few and far between. It’s just so OPEN. How many other cities get to have this? How many allow for the Earth to have her space? High above our personal responsibilities, our collective frenzy, hangs the boundless ceiling of our planet which gives shelter to every living thing. It’s a real, ever constant connection to the rest of this world which we know is there but may never see. Quiet but commanding, it tells you that while you are small and your day might seem daunting, you are not alone. And to remind yourself of that, at least here in Phoenix, all you have to do is look up.

Damn. This is why I live here.

 

via Daily Prompt: Profuse

Profuse

sometimes I write poems

The Lake

The lake appeared and he would not see it,
though water was there where none had been before.
It spouted from the pavement and the dirt,
rising with a quiet, steady threat.
The neighbors built dams to keep their walkways dry.
My father criticized their new decor
and made a point to keep our doorway clear.

The lake appeared and closed in on the house.
The surface of the water began to swirl,
drowning plants that never wanted to swim.
The neighbors traded in their cars for boats.
They waved at him but he just turned away.
All at once our home became an island.
My father swore it was only a mirage.

The lake appeared and burst through the front door.
It ruined things that once seemed matter:
photos, books, computers, and coffee pots.
I tried to save his favorite pair of shoes.
He would need them if we ever found dry land.
My father threw them back and said with rage
that this wasn’t any of my concern.

The lake appeared and surged through every room.
The water seemed to make the whole place shrink,
stealing the spaces that made it feel like home.
My mother said my sister and I should find
our futures away from this shipwrecked house.
We promised them we would come back to help.
My father asked why then yelled to stay away.

The lake appeared and he cannot see it.
He refused his eyes so long they’ve given up.
The lake consumed our house some years ago,
and now it wants to pull him to its depths.
My mother treads the tides to keep him floating.
My sister and I swim in whenever we can.
His days and nights are marked by rolling waves.
Today my father whispered, “I feel wet.”

#nofilter

You know that sensation when you drink cold coffee thinking it’s hot coffee? Your tongue retracts into your throat and you sputter and almost die a little bit. You know? Oh, no? That doesn’t sound familiar? Seriously? Oh, you’re just perfect, are you? You never mix up hot and cold coffee. You never forget which beverage you’re drinking. Good for you! You’re winning at life! I’ll get you a trophy! I bet you’ve never mistaken a carafe of old coffee at work for fresh coffee and poured some into a mug and pumped some hazelnut creamer into it and then took a drink and yelled because it’s cold, stale, and tastes like burnt carpet lint and then your co-workers come check on you because they think something’s wrong. BET YOU NEVER DID THAT!

I have exceedingly little patience these days. Chalk it up to being a new mother and the lack of sleep and the ill-fitting clothes and the no time to do anything ever. My nerves are frayed. Everything annoys me. All it takes is one little push to set me over the edge. And then I want to rampage. Like, give me Kylo Ren’s lightsaber and I will throw you one epic Dark Side temper tantrum.

But I don’t have a lightsaber. I have a keyboard. So get ready for me to drop a wicked list of things that I hate right now. Oh yeah, a LIST. Ooh, you’re shaking in your boots. Careful now, don’t drip any of that hot coffee on your precious, precious boots.

  • Leftover coffee
  • Weak coffee
  • Too much creamer
  • Not enough creamer
  • Powdered creamer
  • Powdered donuts
  • Not having any donuts
  • Not having any cinnamon rolls
  • Not having any pancakes
  • Not having any sugar
  • Being cold
  • Typing with cold hands
  • Being tired
  • Not having enough energy to type more

via Daily Prompt: Candid

imposter syndrome

There are a number of people that would say that the month of November in the year 2016 rocked them to their core. It rocked our country from our perch of democratic superiority. It rocked the notion that ours is a progressive society, on the brink of achieving racial and gender parity. I, too, was rocked but because of more than just the presidential election (and I cannot overemphasize how rock-worthy that was). I became pregnant with my son in November of 2016. The confluence of these two events rocked and socked me. This is the world into which I am bringing a new human? With this guy as the leader of the free world? And I have to stop drinking? Now?? I had no idea how to be pregnant or be a mother in the most ideal of circumstances. I had no idea what to do about any of this. For some reason, I felt like a fraud.

I think it’s fair to say that most people get hit with imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. Questions like “How did I get here? What am I doing? How long before everyone else figures out that I don’t belong here?” swirl around in your brain and inevitably churn down to your stomach. It feels as fun as it sounds, doesn’t it? I have long struggled with my writing and whether or not it’s good enough for anyone to read. Ok, that’s a lie. I know it’s “good enough.” But there are lots of “good enough” writers. That’s never been what I wanted. I have never wanted to be “good enough” at anything. I want to be the best. I want you to think I have the best words (wink). If it’s not “the best,” I don’t share it. I don’t write for public consumption nearly as much as I want to because coming up with “the best” takes time and energy I don’t think I have. My imposter syndrome tells me “I can’t be the best so I’m not going to this at all.” I struggled to come up with the best words after the presidential election. I so desperately wanted to say SOMETHING. I wanted to say SOMETHING about being hopeful. As the months passed, I wanted to say SOMETHING about being a woman, SOMETHING about refugees, SOMETHING about believing in science, SOMETHING about the importance of public education. Everyone around me was saying lots of somethings: prominent writers, politicians, celebrities, friends on social media. Over time it became painfully obvious that none of it was making a difference. So many things which I hold dear in this country got a turn at the top of the President’s agenda and then got beat down, like a progressive Ferris wheel of doom. It wouldn’t stop. All of the somethings being written by others just became echoes of angry voices agreeing with each other. I felt like my voice wouldn’t add “the best” of anything. So I contributed nothing.

In the midst of a country gone mad, I was growing new life. There were times I was overwhelmed with that beauty and its power. Most of the time my feet hurt. Thanks to my pathological need to be “the best,” I dove into the books, the classes, and the mommy blogs. I had to know what the others were doing so I could do it as well if not better. The imposter syndrome started to manifest here, too. With each new development in my pregnancy, I became mildly terrified. I had to know if this was normal. I had to know if others got nasal congestion, racing heartbeat, acne, migraine headaches, hip pain, knee pain, swollen ankles, swollen fingers or nausea from prenatal vitamins. I Googled absolutely every question that popped into my head when it popped into my head. What kind of food should I eat to keep my blood pressure low? Should I sleep on my right side or my left side? How much could the baby really hear (read: should I make my husband stop cursing so much)?  I accidentally ate feta cheese – WAS IT GOING TO GIVE MY BABY LOW SELF-ESTEEM? Oddly enough, none of my questions were unique. While this was a great relief to my worried mind, it was strange to realize how ordinary this extraordinary experience really was. As badly as I wanted to talk about it, I felt silly vocalizing any questions except for a few very close friends and family members. How am I being “the best” if I’m complaining or asking the most basic things? Of course, writing about any of this was absolutely out of the question.

I spent a lot of last year alternating between fear of writing and guilt over not writing. My outlet became reading Twitter. Lots of Twitter. I heard someone on a podcast say that tweeting can feel like writing. It turns out that reading tweets also scratches the same itch. I fell into a cycle of feeling guilty about not writing, reading Twitter, and then feeling better. Guilt, Twitter, better: repeat as needed. I thought this was working…until I impulsively signed up for a writing workshop. My wonderful English teacher from my senior year of high school recently published a book. I was so thrilled for her and I wanted to support her so I registered up for her workshop at Changing Hands Bookstore. I truly was not signing up as a writer – I was signing up as a former student. I’ve always been a good student. The writing thing had been dormant for months. Remember, I had Twitter. Still, I brought a pen and my favorite Moleskine notebook. I waddled my nearly nine months pregnant self into community room at the bookstore. I took a seat very close to the front because, as I said, I’m a good student. The Marvelous Sandi Marinella (I graduated school thirteen years ago and it’s still weird to use her first name), spoke so beautifully about her journey to and through writing her book. She encouraged us to recognize that we all have a story to tell. I loved having the opportunity to be able to sit before her and learn from her yet again. I love being a good student, you guys. Then, she presented the evening’s first writing exercise: brainstorm some excellent metaphors. I hesitated briefly and looked around the room. Everyone else had already pulled out notebooks and tablets. I was sitting up front. And I’m a good student. So I took a breath, took out my Moleskine, and just WROTE. And it was…glorious. I’ve never been the type of writer to have words just pour out of me. It’s more like they spit out in rapid fits and starts. I’ve always liked it that way. I’ve always liked the moment of “OOH, that’s good!” jumping through my steady thought processes. In this kind of setting, there wasn’t time to sit and think and let those moments jump out. I just had to let my fingers go. The “that’s good” moments were smaller – more “ooh” than “OOH” – but there were lots of them, which surprised me considering how rusty I was. It was exciting. Hell, it was fun. Too quickly, Sandi (yup, still weird) was telling us to wrap up the last prompt. I wanted to end on a high note. I had only managed a few lines this time but I liked what I wrote. It was about the night before I found out I was pregnant. It was meaningful. It sounded like me. It was even a little funny. So I squashed the imposter syndrome under the considerable weight of my very swollen foot, and volunteered to read aloud what I had written. These weren’t my best words. These were just the first words I could jot down in a few minutes. I opened my mouth, and before I even really realized what was happening, I was done reading. I sat back, beaming. I could have done a tap dance if I had tap shoes that would have fit my giant feet. Of all the things I went without last year – beer, margaritas, soft cheese, caffeine – I had no idea that writing was the thing that was truly missing.

So, I’m writing again. I’m writing because as frustrating as it is to come up with the best words, not writing anything is actually worse. I’m writing because it feels better than retweeting. I’m writing because it’s an election year and there is work to do. I’m writing so my son will have something special to read. I’m writing because I’m tired of reading stories that I felt like I could have made better. I’m writing because I have settled for being “good enough” and I can’t ignore that anymore. You can call that pride if you want to – I call it being self-aware. At the risk of sounding like a character in a Lifetime movie, I’m not being my best self if I’m not writing.

I do have SOMETHING to say after all. I’ve got something in stacks. Stacks on stacks. You might not like it. It will not always be the best. I will hate that.

But I’m still going to write it.

taco thursday

If I see that stupid picture of Donald Trump and that pile of food he calls a “taco bowl” one more time, I will vomit. And then cry. And then yell. And maybe cry again. I will do something.

I could see the absurdity the first time I saw it on Facebook. I could see why people thought it was funny the next three times it popped on my wall. Then it took over my wall. Then it was on Twitter. Then it was all over Twitter. Then it was on the New York Times. Then CNN. Then the BBC. Then AZCentral. It has ceased to be even slightly amusing. I suppose I shouldn’t blog while angry, but it’s happening.

I’m glad people are making a big deal out of this, because it is a big deal. But I can’t look at it anymore. I can’t stand in mocking solidarity with those who are outraged or find it absurd. It’s hurtful to look it. This is causing me pain.

I’m going to try and do something which may prove to be impossible. I’m going to try and describe what it’s like for me to be discriminated against. Keep in mind, I am speaking purely from my own personal experience as a “mixed race” Latina.

The first and only time I ever had a school playground altercation was when I was in the fourth grade. Some classmates and I were standing around talking about what we “were.” We understood that we were all American, but we were talking about the part that makes us hyphenated. One girl was French and Italian-American. One boy was German-American. I said was Italian-American and Mexican-American. One boy said Mexicans were stupid. I kicked him as hard as I could and told him to take it back. Through his tears, he obliged. The group conversation ended right there. I wish I remembered more of what came next. I think that in itself is pretty telling. No one told on me. I know I didn’t ask them to keep it a secret. Maybe they agreed with me. Maybe it was just one of those kid things.

Modern discrimination usually isn’t that blunt. It’s subtle but deep, which makes it more painful with time. It’s passive-aggressive, which makes you try to talk yourself out of it, like they didn’t mean it or you must have misunderstood. Make no mistake, there is no misunderstanding. I’ve heard stories of people asking my uncle if he was “an illegal” before signing a contract with his flooring company, which he owned, by the way. I listened to my grandfather tell us how he had to convince the bank he was a veteran when he was trying to buy a cabin because they didn’t even believe he was a citizen, despite all the paperwork showing he was born in the United States and lived here all his life. I waited my turn to try on some jewelry with my mom at the silver cart at the mall, only to have the woman working there slam the case shut when we were next and tell us not to touch anything. I’ve sat with my hands gripped to a theater seat as a white actor in brown make-up played the part of Ritchie Valens in a musical, affecting an exaggerating Latin accent and shimmying across the stage. Any 90’s Latino kid knows Valens was born in California and didn’t speak a word of Spanish. The mostly white audience gave him a standing ovation, in case you were wondering. I’ve listened to my mom tell me about how her polling place couldn’t find her name this year, despite having gone to the same place for over a decade now. I’ve seen the scars on my family members who were physically attacked. I’ve missed family members while they were in jail.

Modern discrimination starts out feeling like righteous indignation. I have that first flush of “how dare you,” which is probably what made me kick that kid when I was nine. Then it sort of burns into embarrassment. See, this kind of stuff usually happens in a public setting. Even though I did nothing wrong, I know other people are watching. The situation is out of my control. I don’t want it to escalate. So my mom and I back away from the silver jewelry display case and timidly point at the ring I like. But now, by ignoring the moment and continuing to engage in the situation, I’ve allowed it to happen. I made it seem okay. Then comes the shame. I feel trapped. I want to take the moral high ground but what am I going to do? Storm out of a live theater performance? So I sit. And I stew. That’s when I have time to think.

I remember every other time I’ve felt like this. Anger, embarrassment, shame, and for what? What did I do? I was born with brown skin. My family was born with brown skin. That’s why the police tried to shove a stabbing under the radar. That’s why a life was derailed when a public defender pushed the plea deal because didn’t think he could defend against drug charge on someone who looks like that. That brown skin. Our skin. Our blood. I can’t change this fundamental part of me. Why should I want to? Why should I have to? This is ME. This isn’t self-love; this is existence. It’s like air. I didn’t put it there, but I need it to survive. And THIS is what THEY think of ME:

I’m not to be trusted. People who look like me are not to be trusted. Nope, back up: people who are darker than me are not to be trusted. See, I can “pass.” So I shouldn’t worry, right? I shouldn’t be upset when a certain presumed presidential candidate says people who look like my family are rapists and thieves. I shouldn’t be upset when he calls for a wall to enforce an arbitrary boundary that is less than 200 years old. But I am upset. So what’s a presumptive presidential nominee to do? Oh, I know! Take a picture with some misshapen mass of food that’s supposed represent my cultural heritage. Hey, everyone, check out this awesome gringo! He loves Hispanics! I’ll just go take this pathetic piece of pandering and sit my Latina ASS DOWN!

I recognize that racism in this country has, to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, gone from latent to blatant. My experiences are nothing compared to the atrocities committed against others. For one, I’m still alive. I am grateful. I recognize my privilege. I will use it. I will do something. I will speak up. I will advocate. I will vote. I will try so hard not to let my feelings end in shame. I will try so hard not to let this anger evaporate into the void. I will channel it into something helpful. And I will not look at that picture anymore.

#OscarsSoWhite

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I don’t think I can add anything substantial to the conversation about #OscarsSoWhite. I agree with much of what has been written already. I suppose I should be more outraged, but that would require some kind of element of surprise. When I heard about the nominations, my reaction was more along the lines of an eye roll and a heavy sigh of “oh, typical.”

In my own specific part of the world, in which I am a minority, I am, in fact, surrounded by white males. It isn’t necessarily surprising to me to see so many of them in my neighborhood, in businesses, on television, or in the movies. The Academy of Motion Pictures has just over 6,000 members, 93% of whom are white and 76% are male. I have to imagine that for them it’s also unsurprising to be surrounded by other white males. It’s unfortunate. It’s also largely systemic within the northwestern hemisphere.

This problem runs so much deeper than this one awards show. So many people, consciously or unconsciously, see white as the default race and the default human experience. Neil Gaiman touched on it recently on his Tumblr page regarding one viewer’s experience of his book Anansi Boys. A fan had asked why Neil Gaiman didn’t explicitly describe the main characters as being black, because the fan didn’t realize they weren’t white until after reading the book multiple times. Here is Neil’s response:

“I’m sorry you read Fat Charlie and Spider and Mr Nancy and their families as white on first read, but that might have something to do with the way that people’s heads reading a book can default all characters to white, if other information is not immediately supplied, which is a very bad habit, and one I hope Anansi Boys might help people to shed.”

The thing white folks need to realize is that while they default to a white mindset, non-white folks don’t. There was a fantastic article in the New York Times last week which shared a number of anecdotes about what it’s actually like for non-male, non-white people to work in Hollywood. I identified with a lot of the comments made by Eva Longoria and America Ferrera. Truthfully, nothing was earth-shattering. No one in the article had been physically harmed by the industry, but a series of small indignities really add up over a lifetime. Microaggression is real, folks. If it seems inconsequential, it’s because you haven’t experienced it. Don’t dismiss another person’s experience – this world is in desperate need of empathy these days. It’s part of the whole putting-yourself-in-someone-else’s-shoes thing (rest in peace, Harper Lee).

I will watch the Oscars tonight, along with thousands of other people. I’ll get a kick out of it like I always do. I can only hope that all of this talk about inclusion doesn’t die after the last statue is passed out.

2016 goals

So, I’m supposed to be a girl doing stuff and I said I was going to do some stuff this year. We’ll call them “goals” because “resolutions” sounds too much like “solution,” and I am not a problem to be solved. I posted my GOALS on December 31 on Facebook so you know they’re official. Like relationship statuses.

  1. Learn to play the ukulele
  2. Write
  3. Run a half marathon
  4. Some surprises. Expect great things from me. ‪#‎livingthatLinlife

That hashtag refers to Lin-Manuel Miranda and his android-like ability to get shit done. Like, all the shit. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just Google the man and see the overflowing cornucopia of awesome that pours out.

In honor of Lin, I’m going to provide a Hamilton playlist for you to enjoy as you read through these updates. Each song gives some insight as to where I am in my progress.

1.Learn to play the ukulele.
For your listening pleasure: “Wait For It

The title of the song says it all. I haven’t started on this one just yet. The first thing I need to do is research what kind of ukulele a beginner should buy. So hey, if you have any ideas, send them my way. I know you’re all waiting for me to debut my newfound ukulele prowess, but in the meantime, you can settle for listening to that tasty Hamilton jam.

2. Write
Theme song: “Non-Stop

Even now as I’m typing thing, I’ve got “write day and night like you’re running out of time” on a loop in my brain. I’m not actually writing day and night because I still have a day job, and I volunteer a lot, and I read a lot, and I just started playing Uncharted, and unpleasant life things happen, and it’s really easy to get carried away watching Buffy. What? It’s research.

I actually am writing a lot…and it’s HARD. I’m trying to keep up with the blog (duh) and I’m working on story things that hopefully might get published. Maybe? Possibly? I have to try. I have – no exaggeration – about seven different ideas which I’m trying to get down on paper. Or in a Word doc. Technology! Anyway, yeah, it’s hard. It’s really hard. Most of the ideas are currently living as a little family of amorphous outline doodle blob monsters in my Moleskine notebook. I find that I am really easily distracted and my mind spins around like a three-year-old hopped up on cotton candy, which ends up crashing onto my notebook pages. Because, see, this one idea could work for one story so I write it as part of that outline. But then I think I might want to save it for a different story so I draw a little arrow that says “save this for later.” Then I decide no, it works better for the first story so I scribble out the line. And then I notice that the scribble kind of looks like a raptor walking on a tightrope and she needs an umbrella. And a hat. And something to eat. Like a rabbit. But I can’t draw rabbits. I can’t draw raptors either so who can tell? And then I stop and FOCUS and right down REAL ideas until my brain eats more cotton candy and…doodle blobs. I have never been able to write anything until I know the general path that the narrative will take and how it’s going to end-ish. So I have to write down ALL my cotton candy mind vomit, and thus, the doodle blob monsters breathe and feed. Sometimes I think I should probably name them, but naming them gives them power, and I don’t think the world is ready for that. Apparently, John Irving also doesn’t write until he has an ending, so I’m in good company. I doubt he draws raptors, though.

Believe it or not, I have a couple of stories which metamorphosed out of the doodle blob monster phase and emerged as beautiful rough drafts. They are the roughest of drafts with misspellings and split infinitives, but gosh by golly, they’re going to make it Mexico and winter with all the other finished stories and…this monarch butterfly metaphor isn’t working. See, I told you this was HARD.

3. Run a half-marathon
Motivational track: “Guns and Ships

“I’mTAKINGthisHORSEbytheREINSmakingREDcoatsREDDERWITHBLOODSTAINS!” It is actually impossible not to have adrenaline pumping when you hear Daveed Diggs rapping at 80 words per minute. When I’m running and I think I need to stop and walk, this song helps me go just a little bit longer. It’s short and fast-paced so I think, “I can just make it through this song.” Kind of like how Kimmy Schmidt can turn that crank for just another ten seconds. I am nowhere near ready to run a half marathon tomorrow but oh, I will be ready by May 8. I’ll be doing the Tinker Bell Half Marathon at Disneyland, and yes, I’ll wear fairy wings. In the meantime, I signed up for the Phoenix Marathon 10K on February 27 which should help me determine how much harder I’ll have to work to get to May.

4. Some surprises. Expect great things from me.
Building suspense with: “The Room Where It Happens

Like any girl who wants to do stuff, I want to be in the room where said stuff happens. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a good thing that I’m sympathizing with Aaron Burr, but it happened so I’m rolling with it. I recently signed up to volunteer at Phoenix Comicon this year as a panel moderator. No, I don’t know which panels and I wouldn’t be allowed to tell you if I did. That’s pretty much all I’ve got so far. I have plans, of course, marvelous plans but I’lllllll keep all my plans close to my chest (did you listen to “Non-Stop??). But I will tell you this: they do not involve birthing children. While I take pride in my biological potential to bring forth life unto the world, both Husband and I have other stuff to do first. Please stop asking. Kthanks.

I’ll check in again around March with some updates on that 10k. Hopefully there will also be more ukuleles and fewer raptors.

Who am I kidding? There will ALWAYS be more raptors.

girl doing stuff

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I was recently hit by a perfect storm of inspiration which threw me back into being a Writer. I used caps there because it’s an important and serious proper noun. Like Congress. Or the World Series. Or a Monte Cristo sandwich. Anyway, one of those sources of inspiration came from a tweet from Lena Dunham. She had linked to a truly brilliant essay by Claire Watkins entitled “On Pandering.” Take a few minutes to go read it and then come back. Here, I’ll make it really easy for you: http://www.tinhouse.com/blog/41314/on-pandering.html

Did you read it? Why not? Ugh, just do it. You’re like those people who smile and nod and then do nothing when I tell them Jane the Virgin is amazing and they should watch it. You’re missing out. Read the essay and then come back.

Did you read it this time? Really? Ok, good. Slacker.

I had my biggest “whoa” moment after I read the section called “Watching Boys Do Stuff.” I, like Claire, have spent a good chunk of my life watching boys do stuff. I too have watched them bang drums and wail on guitars. I have watched them play most of the sports (including a most reluctant day at NASCAR but that’s another story to be told at another time). I have watched them work on cars, light fixtures, and IKEA furniture. I have watched them drink too much, eat peppers that are too hot, and subsequently watched them be sick. I’m not knocking on any of it – except maybe the being sick part – because I enjoy things like going to concerts and the sports. That wasn’t the “whoa” moment. The “whoa” moment came when she started talking about watching writers. I didn’t think immediately of actually watching male writers like she did – I thought of reading and watching male characters. I realized that a good portion of my fangirl life has been spent watching boys.

I watched a bunch of hobbits go there and back again. I watched the evolution of a young Jedi and, less enthusiastically, watched the demise of his father. I watched not one but TWO wizards named Harry battle evil forces time and time again. I watched Batman, Superman, Spider-man, Iron Man, Captain America, and all their daring-do. I’ve watched Shadow and Sherlock, King Arthur and Arthur Dent, Frankenstein and his creation, Dr. Grant, Captain Nemo, Captain Kirk, Rick Grimes, Mark Watney, Parzival, Jon Snow, Atticus O’ Sullivan, Kevin Flynn, Marty McFly, and that’s the abridged list. And how about all the video games I’ve played? Those times I was a boy saving the world? I’ve been Link saving Zelda over and over again, Sora fighting Organization XIII, a Hero from Albion, Master Chief, Mario, Jack, and Cloud Strife. I plan to be Nathan Drake if I ever get a turn on the PS4 in my house.
I can’t emphasize enough how much I love all of these characters. I. LOVE. THEM. I have a Mace Windu lightsaber and a Harry Potter wand. I was even Marty McFly for Halloween last year (and I nailed it). Still, I get tired of wearing these boy glasses so very often. I get tired of how these boys and men see the women around them because that’s not how I see them or how I see myself. I get tired of the women around them acting like nags, damsels in distress, sassy know-it-alls, evil temptresses, or wide-eyed ingenues. Honestly, I get tired of being in dudes’ heads with all their dude thoughts. I’m not saying these that I want these scif-fi and fantasy stories to be different. I like them because they work – in so many ways – just as they are. What I want is a new story.
Don’t think I’ve forgotten about the badass female protagonists out there. I love Katniss and I especially love Jennifer Lawrence’s take on her. There’s Buffy, of course, Princess Leia, Daenerys, Elsa (oh yeah, I went there), Emma Swan, Joanna Archer, Samus, Ripley, and now Rey just joined the club. Of course, there are other strong ladies who aren’t the focal point of the story or didn’t start that way. Hermione is a central character but none of those books are named after her. There’s Agent Carter and all the women in comic books who are finally getting their stories fleshed out (and I’m not going to touch on the female counterpoints to established comic book heroes like Supergirl and Batgirl. The guys were there first and you know it). For the sake of this particular argument, we’re going to focus on just the Leading Ladies who started as Leading Ladies. So many of them aren’t heroes in the same way so many of the boys are…and it’s because their heroes’ journeys are somehow framed by boys’ journeys. Much of the time, female protagonists become the protagonists because they fall in love with some dude or they’re going to find some dude to marry. I’m talking about Bella, Sookie Stackhouse, and essentially every woman in A Song of Ice and Fire. Then there are the pesky love triangles which become essential to the plot as they do for Katniss, Claire Randall, and pretty much every fantasy/sci-fi/speculative fiction series to be turned into a movie in the ten years. I can’t understand why things like war and the apocalypse aren’t enough drama to carry a story; no, the real dilemma is that she can’t decide which Hottie McHotPants to love!
And yet, Luke didn’t fall in love with a woman in order to become a Jedi. Harry had Ginny but he was marked as the Chosen One long before they coupled up. Now, to be clear, I do appreciate a really good love story. I heart Snow and Charming so hard on Once Upon a Time, Stardust is one of my favorite books ever, and I will always be Team Angel. Also, I’m kind of, you know, LIVING one. Duh. But my own story didn’t start or end with the falling in love part. I can only think of a handful of Leading Ladies who did not begin their journey because of romance and I’ve already named them. Can you think of any more? And for bonus points, can you think of any more who aren’t children? Once the girls hit puberty, it’s all boys boys boys, we like boys in ca-ars. Then, in certain sadistic turns of events, some of them even get punished for it (poor Susan).

I want to watch more girls do stuff. I want to BE a girl who does stuff. I want to watch awesome, capable, brilliant women do stuff just as much as I watch the boys. I want to watch them do the hero stuff and I want to see them do things that GO HORRIBLY WRONG. Women can be all brooding like Rick Grimes, too. They can make epic Frankensteinian mistakes. I want to read about a woman who is just strong. Period. I don’t want to hear that she “holds her own,” as if what makes her strong is that she does well compared to dudes. If you know of stories with women like this, please tell me! I want to find them. I want to make them known. I can’t find enough of them.

 

why we’re nerds

I was a little late to the Harry Potter bandwagon. Everyone around me seemed to be reading them in middle school, so naturally, I avoided them. I’ve always been reluctant to jump on the really shiny bandwagons. I was late to the Game of Thrones party, too, and Dresden and Hunger Games and Firefly and Buffy…and now I’m in danger of losing my nerd card. Sometimes, when I do get on board, the thing fails to meet my expectations (see: Twilight) and then I get to sit up on my highest of horses and say “I told you so” in the singsong-iest of voices.

Sometimes, though, I end up kicking myself for not joining sooner. I felt that way about Harry Potter. I finally got the books at the start of high school, right before the first movie was about to come out. I remember Barnes & Noble was having a sale of the first two books in paperback so I shrugged and figured “what the heck?” If I ended up hating them, I’d only be out a few bucks.

I finished Sorceror’s Stone that same day.

I gleefully dove headfirst into the world JK Rowling had created. I finished the first three books in a matter of weeks. I explored the world of online fandom on MuggleNet and The Leaky Cauldron under the handle CaputDraconis (10 house points if you know the reference). I slowly savored Goblet of Fire as I had learned that the fifth book had no publishing date in sight. I’m a visual thinker so I spent a lot of time getting the perfect mental image of Gryffindor common room, the Great Hall, of Harry, Ron, and Hermione and all the characters. Once the movie came out, I spent a lot of time scrutinizing the casting choices. Harry’s eyes looked too blue, Ron wasn’t tall enough, Dudley wasn’t blond – I had a bone to pick with them all. Except for one: Alan Rickman as Severus Snape.

Alan Rickman perfectly matched my mind’s eye of Snape, but he still managed to change the way I understood the character. In the books, a lot of of Snape’s dialogue ends with exclamation points, which I naturally interpreted as shouting. Alan delivered those same words in that trademark baritone and gave them whole new meaning. In the later films, he managed to steal scenes with just a single word. One of my favorite bits of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is during the montage of Umbridge’s slow creep takeover of Hogwarts. He answers her question with a simple “Obviously,” but he drawls it out, dripping with impatience, disgust, and condescension. Even his body is radiating disdain even as he hardly moves, doesn’t face her, and heck, his mouth barely opens. I had to find the clip online because describing it doesn’t do it justice.

For years, I was a card-carrying member of the “Snape is Evil” camp. I mean, the man KILLED DUMBLEDORE. (If that was a spoiler, then you really just shouldn’t be reading this blog. I mean, at all.) I was so sure that he was Team Voldemort, I made an embarrassingly profane Facebook page asserting my claims. Once Facebook opened up to the internet public outside its original college base, I had to beg the admins to take it down. Anyway, I had pages and pages of evidence from the books supporting my side. There was, however, a single image which kept a small flicker of doubt alive in my mind.

It was Alan-as-Snape jumping in front of the trio to block them from Lupin the werewolf in the third movie. This scene never occurred in the books yet it seemed so deliberate. Why do something so wildly out of character…unless it wasn’t? Turns out, it wasn’t. I was wrong. Snape wasn’t exactly one of the good guys, but he certainly wasn’t evil.

Fans will remember Alan Rickman for so many of his roles: Colonel Brandon, Hans Gruber, Metatron, the Caterpillar, Alexander Dane, Harry, Judge Turpin, the list goes on. For me, he will always stand out as Severus Snape and one of the best cinematic and literary examples of the power of enduring love.

This is why we’re fans. This is why we’re nerds. This is why we make up screen names, join forums, learn made-up languages, and buy t-shirts with catchphrases. We latch onto those moments of storytelling which tell us something meaningful – something that gives us hope and inspiration for how the world could be. We are grateful to the writers who create those stories for us and to the actors who bring them to life. Thank you, Mr. Rickman, for giving this gift to the nerds.

something sparked

I did a lot of pretty cool things last year. I got married, which has been delightful. We went to Hawaii. I snorkeled with sea turtles. We adopted two kittens. We bought a house. I was introduced to draft lattes. I read a lot of books. And, of course, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was bestowed upon us all. Ah, the wonders of life. It’s enough to give you hope or something.

One thing I did not do was write. I made a lot of excuses for giving it up, but one incident in particular pushed me to the breaking point.

About a year and a half ago, I went to a media training session. There was a very small group of us in a large, freezing room with a consultant. I had done a number of phone and television interviews in the past but I thought some professional training could be useful. The consultant spent the first fifteen minutes trying to turn on PowerPoint. He then proceeded to show us a series of embedded YouTube clips which he clearly found funny and topical. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t going to learn anything new in the next three hours. Still, I sat there in that small igloo, listening to the consultant talk about things like voice projection and enunciation. I took notes but mostly thought about how I wished I had a jacket. Or more coffee. Or both. Or maybe a blowtorch. Did I mention it was cold in there? Finally, we came to the end of the session: a lecture on social media. He explained how we all needed to be careful with what we post online because it can be used against you. He may have had a point but he seemed to be completely against the idea of having personal social media accounts at all. He was going to sit us down individually for a mock “grilling” interview. Since he had received our names and email addresses in advance, he said he did some digging on all of us online. I wasn’t worried because I have always been pretty careful with my social media and whatnot. I’m practically invisible on Facebook and I have the highest privacy settings possible on Twitter. I sat down for my mock interview ready to wrap up the session and thaw my extremities.

The consultant sat across from me with a stack of notes. He started with a few generic questions: what’s your name, what’s your professional background. Easy enough. Then, he asked me why I hate farm animals. My immediate reaction was to laugh because it sounded so absurd. He became stone faced and repeated the question. I hesitated for a few seconds because I was genuinely confused. I shook it off, smiled widely, and said that no, I actually don’t hate farm animals. He looked down at his notes and proceeded to read from my old blog post about the goose monster. Comprehension dawned on me as I recognized my own words. But he was only reading random bits and pieces of the story and it sounded ridiculous, not at all like the funny childhood anecdote I had written. The room suddenly defrosted as I felt my face start to burn. Behind me, I heard some of the other workshop attendees giggling. He stopped reading and asked me again about hating farm animals. I forced another smile and said something about silly childhood fears and reiterated that I do not in fact hate farm animals. Fine, he said, but would I then explain my grudge against Starbucks? Again, I drew a blank until he started reading from the blog, quoting me about pumpkin spice lattes, Frosty the Snowman, and the word “curate.” I sat there in shock as he twisted my words out of context, making me sound like the poster girl for self-involved millennials. After what felt like days, he finally looked up and asked me why I’m such an angry, hateful person. Cue more giggling from the jerks in the back. Still in mock interview mode, I started fumbling for a response. I had gone past any feelings of embarrassment and was now twitching with annoyance bordering on anger, which only looked like I was proving his point. With the best poker face I could muster, I calmly said that I’m not a hateful person. And I smiled. Again. Maybe a little too widely that time. I insisted all of that was written with tongue firmly in cheek.

Now would be a good time to mention that I have a terrible poker face. My discomfort must have been glaring from my eyes like a laser. The consultant got a smug, satisfied look on his face and set aside his notes. He said that clearly, I have a lot of work to do with my online presence. I was lucky he decided to go easy on me and not use my political posts. Posting nonsense on the internet will only come back to haunt me in the long run. He motioned for the next soon-to-be victim to take the chair. Fuming, I grabbed my things and left.

When I got home, I deactivated my blog.

I told myself it wasn’t because of anything the consultant said. I had already been thinking that the blog was pointless and it seemed narcissistic to keep it going. I wasn’t writing anything real anyway. Besides, if it could hurt my career, then I really should leave it alone. My job doesn’t have anything to do with writing anyway. That consultant clearly didn’t think it was any good. Hell, if I thought I was any good, I would have tried to get something published instead of just having a blog. I would have majored in creative writing because your job should be the thing you majored in, right? “You’re a good writer but you’re not a writer,” I told myself.

I swallowed any instinct to write and focused on other things. It worked for awhile.

I can’t explain exactly how or why that changed. Something just sparked. I wish the turning point was as good of a story as the breaking point. The idea of writing never really went away. It was always gnawing at me. Randomly, I’d think “maybe someday I’ll write the book for a musical with my sister.” I would read a book and get angry at the end because I thought it could have been better. Or I’d read a book and feel grateful that such a beautiful piece of art can exist in the world, and I’d desperately wish that I could do that myself. Ok, so I probably am a narcissist but that’s my truth. That’s what happens to me every single time I read. It always has.

That spark started to feed on something over the past several months. Maybe it was feeding on stress and wanting to do something new. Maybe it was born out of subconscious exhaustion of holding back. Maybe it was fueled by sheer joy. Like I said, so many fantastic things happened in 2015 (I’m not kidding about the draft lattes). I hear happiness can do wild things for your confidence, along with some well-timed words of encouragement. This is where I say thank you to Lin-Manuel Miranda for helping me realize that I shouldn’t throw away my shot. I also need to thank Neil Gaiman for retweeting this essay in November. Why can’t I be a writer? Why does having a job negate that? Why should I be afraid of what people think? Part of me wonders if I should be angry at that man with his YouTube clips for making me feel so small, but I can’t. I can’t because I’m more frustrated with myself. I can’t think of any other time I quit something because of what someone else said. That’s not who I am.

In fact, that’s never been who I am. Every time I decided I wanted to do something in my life, I went and did it. No matter how big, no matter how small – I just up and DID IT. I got a full scholarship to ASU. I got my nose pierced. I studied in Spain. I got tattoos. I went to Georgetown. I started dating this guy right before Georgetown and lots of people said that was crazy. I moved back to Arizona. I got a job in a museum. I became a runner. I chopped off my hair. I married that guy. Seriously, why can’t I be a writer if that’s what I want? And you know what? THAT’S WHAT I WANT.

I’m going to blog AND I’m going to write “real” things. I’m going write the kinds of things that I like to read. I hope you like it. Actually, I hope you like it a lot and tell other people about it. If you don’t, well, you’re entitled to your opinion but don’t expect me to stop. Cue smile.