Friday, December 18, 2015

Celebrate Yourself this New Years

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
My mother has never liked New Year’s Eve.

Oh, she has no trouble with the fireworks, or eating a special meal, and she’s always happy for any excuse to have the family get together. But she feels like New Year’s exists solely to celebrate how fast time slips away from you, and while she accepts that she’d rather not think about it too hard.

While I understand where she’s coming from, I’ve always been more philosophical about it. I try to see the holiday not so much as a celebration of time lost as a chance to sit back and reflect on where I am after the year that’s past, and if I want to keep going in that same direction. Admittedly, that’s not really celebration material, but it’s a nice opportunity to pause and reflect.

And that doesn’t mean you can’t party. Even if you don’t want to celebrate the time that’s past, celebrate everything you’ve accomplished. It doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be something you can look back on and feel good about. You don’t have to compare your accomplishments to anyone else – whatever you’ve done is worth appreciating if you feel like it is.

If it’s been a tough year, celebrate the fact that you made it through without breaking down or attacking people with a chair. Yes, 2015 might have been a miserable time for you, but the fact that it’s behind you means that it didn’t win. You were strong enough to get through whatever happened, and if that doesn’t deserve a few fireworks in your honor than frankly I don’t know what does.

I know some people see the new year as a time of hope, imagining that what's coming will be better than what's already happened, but it's important not to just sit back and wait for some picture in your head to materialize. Not that you can't imagine better things are coming – if 2015 was terrible for you, you almost have to in order to avoid going crazy – but you're probably going to have to give that hope a little help. Do what you can to make things better today, whether it's taking better care of your health, being kinder to yourself, or finally ending a toxic relationship.

Even if it's just a first step, taking action now will make you feel more in control of your life and may actually even increase that sense of optimism. More importantly, the start of a new year isn't the only time you can make positive changes in your life – if you're not ready to tackle everything now, just pick one thing and work on it. When you feel you've got a handle on it, move onto the next thing, no matter when it is. March or May or August or whenever is still the perfect time to celebrate the hope of a brighter future.

Any time is also a perfect time to celebrate you, no matter what the reason. So when you see those fireworks, or listen to the people cheer, tell yourself they're not for some set of numbers on a calendar. They're all for you. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Dreamless":calling all fan artists!!!

My new novel, "Dreamless," will be out next February, but it's currently without a final cover (the one currently attached to the book on Amazon.com is definitely not it). Sadly, I can't make the decision on what the final cover will be, but I can ask any lovely fan artists who are out there if they would be willing to dip into their creative stores and whip me up the cover of my dreams.

For inspiration, this is the back cover text for the book:

For most princesses, a sleeping curse means a few inconvenient weeks unconscious followed by a happily-ever-after with their true love. Seventeen-year-old Elena's curse, however, was designed without a cure, which means that she's getting a century-long nap for her 18th birthday whether she wants it or not. After years of study she's still no closer to finding a cure, even with the help of an undead godfather and an enchanted mirror-turned-therapist. 

With only a year until the deadline she's learned to accept her fate. Sadly, there's one prince who doesn't seem to have gotten the memo and who’s continually trying to activate the curse so he can be the one to wake her up again. Only slightly less annoying is Cam, her new bodyguard and former childhood acquaintance who disagrees with Elena at pretty much every turn. When the curse threatens to come early, however, stealing her consciousness at random moments, they both realize that fate is a lot more complicated than they'd ever imagined.

And this is the link to the draft version of chapter one I posted here all the way back in 2013:

http://jennifferwardell.blogspot.com/2013/11/sneak-peek-exclusive-look-at-dreamless.html

Since this won't be the final cover, the covers will be in the category of fan images and therefore open to interpretation. I'm open to all kinds of art, from drawing to photo manips. The winner will be used in my marketing for the book (fully credited), and will receive a "Dreamless" eARC the moment I get my hands on them. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Disney, "Man from U.N.C.L.E." and adding your own twist to the story

Photo courtesy of Disney

“That’s not how I would do it.”

How many times has that thought crossed your mind? Whether it’s a movie you watched, a meal you ate, or a work project you’re involved in, we’ve all come across things we would have done differently if we were the ones in charge. No one’s tastes are the same, and it’s part of human nature to want things to match our own tastes instead of someone else’s.

But what if you actually got the chance to redo whatever it was? It’s rare that we get the opportunity to remake something according to our exact specifications, and even if we did we’d risk the same scrutiny we gave the original whatever it was. There’s also all the work it would take to create a new version of something that’s already been made. Would it be worth it, just to be able to experience a version that’s absolutely perfect for you?

Answering that question has made me take remakes a lot more seriously.

Because yes, there’s a certain element of marketing and cash grab when it comes to latching a movie to an already established property, but money is the ultimate goal of everything Hollywood does. There are also remakes that are flat-out terrible – the shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho” is one of the better-known examples – and ones that have hit their remake limit. (Please, Hollywood, give us like 15 years before the next “Spider-Man.” We need a break.)

But you know who else does a lot of remakes? Disney. The majority of their best-known movies, from “101 Dalmatians” to “The Little Mermaid” are simply their versions of stories someone else has already done. They just made their own tweaks – changing a depressing ending here, enriching an emotional relationship there – until they had a version of the story they liked. Even “The Lion King,” one of the most successful Disney movies ever, is just “Hamlet” re-told with talking lions instead of people. Speaking of “Hamlet,” even Shakespeare’s stories were mostly just revisions of stories that had already been written.

I’m not saying that the remakes Hollywood has given us in the last 10 years are anywhere near the level of Shakespeare or even classic Disney. But that doesn’t mean that the creators didn’t have a legitimate vision of their own for the material. When Guy Ritchie brought “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” to the screen, he shifted the focus from the spy hijinks to the banter and growing bond between the main characters. That was the part he was interested in, and didn’t feel the original had enough.

“The Transporter: Refueled” seems at first like a knockoff of every European action movie ever made, but the fact that the hero is trying to save his father is actually quite a twist for the genre. Historically, it’s the token female who gets to have a father involved in the movie, usually as a powerful figure that the daughter is being used as a pawn against.  The hero is usually involved to protect the helpless female, and if there’s no sex scene there will be at least one heated look.

But getting the hero involved because of his own family? Someone who isn’t female, or in a traditionally “protected” category such as a younger sibling, romantic partner or child? Having the emotional motivation not be romantic or sexual in the slightest? I don’t know if the movie will be any good – it’s not being screened for critics – but that’s still the kind of remake I can respect. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

New Short Story: Hazard Pay

“Alpha Thirt ..., report.”

Gleeb, civilian researcher temporarily assigned to the Intergalactic Exploration Corps, stopped short at the words echoing in his head.  Those idiots – he was just on a survey mission.  Couldn’t they leave him alone for five minutes?  “Alpha Thirteen, reporting.”

“Req ... t status rep ... t.”

He tilted his head slightly, hoping to get a clearer signal.  The radio waves on this stupid planet were playing havoc with the inner ear communicators.  Which, now that he thought about it, wasn’t necessarily a bad thing .... “Sorry Mission Control, your signal’s breaking up.  I’m losing you ....”

A moment of silence, then, “How’s that, Alpha Thirteen?”

Gleeb sighed.  “Just perfect, sir.” He maneuvered his data recording device back into position.  “I have moved on to the second phase of my mission and begun a survey of the initial level of territory surrounding my base camp.  Though there are no signs of the advanced civilization reported to be living here, I have already logged in several species of absolutely fascinating native fauna and flora ....”

The voice on the other end cut him off.  “Any resources we can use?”

Gleeb bristled, his antennae twitching in righteous indignation.  What, did they think Prolovium deposits just sat out in the open air, waiting for any idiot to smack into them?  No – you needed a professional.  “As I was saying, I have begun a very thorough survey of the area, but I still have a considerable distance to cover.  The foliage, mainly long, flat stalks that do not appear edible, grow thickly over most of the area, blocking my view and impeding any readings I attempt to take.”

“Have you tried climbing them?”

He could feel his sides begin to quiver, never a good sign when one was attempting to avoid risking insubordination.  “They aren’t sturdy enough, sir.  Besides, sectional budget decreed that we weren’t to be allowed jet packs on this mission.”  He looked down.  “And it’s not as though our bodies are designed for climbing ....”

“Understood.  I’ll transfer you to Lieutenant Trang to finish your report.”  Translation: now that I know you don’t have anything I want, I get to move on with my life.

There were a few clicks, and another voice appeared in Gleeb’s head.  “My man Gleeb, how’s it hanging down on the dirt heap?”

At the sound, Gleeb could feel himself settle, his outer casing fitting comfortably for the first time in what seemed like days.  “Trang, buddy, next time I decide I need to go make something better of my self, tell me to go stick my head up a slime cleaner.”

“Consider it done.  So, what’s up?”

“Not much – I haven’t even found the local water source.”  He slid backwards a bit to allow a six-legged creature passage, with a slightly different back marking than the one he had already catalogued.  “And definitely no sign of those ‘alien death crunchers’ that space creeper was going on about. I told you that guy had just been hit with some bad froom juice.”

Trang chuckled.  “I know that feeling.  Still, unless you come up with something more interesting, that’s gonna be the story that goes around. You know no one ever bothers reading the report.”

“Too true.  I ....”  Noticing something in the distance, Gleeb narrowed his eyes.  “Hold on a minute, I think I see something.”

“What is it?  A Prolovium deposit?”

“No – it’s too roughly grained for that, though the readings register as a mineral compound.  But the geometric shape suggests construction, and there appears to be immense pale towers in the distance .... ” He moved closer, almost despite himself.  “I’m going to get a better look.  Alpha Thirteen out.”

Gleeb cut off communication before Trang could tell him to stop being a fool and get the glorp back to camp. He wasn’t going to do anything dumb like trying to approach the natives, of course, but if he didn’t get something useful out of this mission he was never going to get government funding. The space creepers had only gotten themselves in trouble because they hadn’t known what they were doing.

Trying desperately to remember the stealth section of the manual, Gleeb took a deep breath and slid forward, thankful that he had few inner organs to cause him problems during such stressful moments.  He did, however, briefly gave in to the very unscientific wish that he had been issued a weapon, another thing that didn’t seem to fit in to this year’s budget ....

“The foliage ends at the edge of the unidentified material, which looks to have been manually cleared. The proximity to the massed foliage suggests a farm of some sort, or perhaps a preserve.  I’m moving into the open area now.” Gleeb scanned his new surroundings, perplexed for a moment. He was so certain the towers had been right there ….

A rumble cut through the air. “Eeeeek, Mommy, a snail! Do something!”

Gleeb had only mere seconds before the shadow fell over his head, exactly like the one the space creeper had seen over the heads of his men.  Some inner instinct told him that this had not been one of his more brilliant ideas.

He sighed. At least he wouldn’t have to write the report this time.

Squish.

The mother, after a quick glance to make sure that the creature that had offended her daughter’s delicate sensibilities was dead, wiped her shoe on another part of the sidewalk.

“Great.  I thought the gardener had already sprayed for that sort of thing.”  She shook her head.  “I hope this isn’t the start of an invasion or something.”

Friday, October 16, 2015

New Short Story: Dressed to Impress (AKA The Elves Are Coming)

www.aradanicostumes.com/elf_ears
The elves were coming.

Morena Montclair, whose husband had made his money in the magic mirror business, was in an absolute tizzy. No one in the neighborhood had hosted elves before, and if she pulled it off it would be a social triumph that would far surpass the fact that Gertrude's second cousin was a Baron.

She absolutely had to dazzle them. Morena spent a solid month getting ready, decimating the local potted tree supply in an attempt to recreate a forest in her dining room. She insisted that the cooks use only elven recipes, tasting and retasting them until they were as delicate and ethereal as she had always imagined elven food to be.

It was her outfit, however, that took most of her time and attention. It had to be perfect, elegant and magnificent all in the same breath, so these elves would know that she'd been born human only by accident. She was worthy to be one of them, and would be an excellent addition if someone happened to invite her to an elven party or two.

(She would also be an excellent addition if one of them happened to be looking for a wife. Leonard was perfectly pleasant, but also the sort of man one didn't hesitate to leave for brighter horizons.)

By the day of the dinner, she was resplendent. Her sleeves belled out four full feet, the leaf-green silk trailing on the ground behind her. She piled her hair on top of her head and wove small branches into it, though the bird was nixed after an incident that forced a thorough hair-washing and restyling. Elves didn't seem to wear a lot of jewelry, tragically, but she'd purchased two different sets of emerald combs to wear in her hair.

When they came, gliding in through the front doors like they were walking on air, Morena bowed so low she needed a maid's help to right herself again. "Honored guests, welcome to my humble abode."

When she looked up, the lead elf's expression was as placid as his waterfall of golden hair. Perhaps they simply hid their admiration better than humans did. "Thank you. Your husband said the meal would start soon?"

That was the most she could get any of the elves to speak to her, even after they sat down and started eating. Morena tried to engage them in conversation, asking them about the length of their sleeves and whether it was fashionable to wear small pumpkins in the fall, but they only gave her the briefest of answers before returning to some sort of business discussion with her husband. 

Finally, in the middle of the dessert course, one of the lesser elves turned to her. "I must ask - what is that fascinating accessory?"

Morena brightened. It wasn't the attention she'd hoped for, but she'd take what she could get. "Do you mean my headpiece?"

He shook his head. "No, the overrobes your staff wear." He gestured to one of the serving girls. "Those pockets would be most useful."

"'Overrobes?'" Morena stared at the serving girl, confused, then her eyes widened in horror. "You mean her apron?"

"Apron." The elf said the word slowly, as if committing it to memory, then nodded in satisfaction. "Most excellent. I shall have to see about acquiring one."

Immediately after dinner, Morena demanded one of the maids' aprons and put it on. No one commented on it. The following spring, aprons became a common fashion accessory for the more practical-minded elves.

When she heard the news, Morena refused to leave the house for a week. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Being a teenager is terrifying

My hands shook all the time when I was a teenager.

It wasn’t because of a medical condition, and I never checked whether I had anything like anxiety disorder. The fine tremble was so familiar to me that I never even thought about it much, and when someone asked I would brush it off with a “oh, they always do that.” Never once did I think about how strange it was, and alarming, that an average day could make my hands do something a human body is only supposed to do at its most frightened or emotional.

The emotion and fear weren’t exactly new to me either, with every day a desperate effort to prove myself to classmates I was certain hated me and a father and grandparents who looked at me and wished for a different girl in my place. It was like every morning was the biggest test of my life, and I was dogged with the constant, terrible feeling I was failing no matter what I did.

Adults forget how terrifying being a teenager can be. It’s like inching slowly out onto an impossibly high diving board for the very first time in your life, Olympic-level judges critiquing your every step and hesitation. People are screaming suggestions and other critiques to you from both the sidelines and the water, along with dire warnings about what will happen if your dive isn’t absolutely perfect. There’s some encouragement, but it either gets lost in the shouting or makes it seem like you’re being a coward for not just jumping in.

When you get in the water, it’s always easier. True, we still have people shouting at us from the sidelines, and sometimes the other swimmers try to drown us, but it feels like there aren’t as many people paying attention. Even more importantly, the water is familiar to us now – even climbing back up and jumping in again isn’t as frightening, because we know what it feels like to fall. We’ve done it before, and we know what to do with our bodies.

If you’re still up on that diving board, it’s okay to be scared. Being young is incredibly overwhelming, and though those of us down below mean well we don’t really understand. Just be as good to yourself as you can be, and know that when you get down to the water you realize that the shouting doesn’t really mean that much. All that really matters is that you get down here without hurting yourself, and figure out how to keep your head above water once you’re here. The rest of it is just noise.

I don’t know when my hands stopped shaking – I only noticed the strange stillness afterward. But whenever something stressful or frightening has happened in the years since, I can’t help but look down at my hands. Surely this is bad enough to make them shake, I always think. Surely what I’m going through has to be scarier than just being a teenager.

But they’ve never shaken since. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Conquering it all, one step at a time

You can’t do it all at once.

It’s one of the hardest lessons to learn, whether it comes to weight loss, quitting smoking, writing a novel or getting your dream job. Primed with that first, wonderful burst of determined enthusiasm, we rush out to conquer whatever’s standing in our way with all the fervor of the newly converted. For a little while, at least, we’re sure we can do anything.

But whatever mountain we’re trying to climb inevitably outlasts that first rush of enthusiasm, because no matter how much we want something there’s still only so much our fragile human selves can do at once. The more worthwhile and life-changing a goal is, the less likely it is that you’ll be able to knock it out in a few weeks or even a few months. If the mountain you’re trying to tackle is big enough, you might not feel like you’ve made any progress at all during that time.

After working that long and hard for something that still seems so far away, you’ll start worrying that you should never have bothered making the climb in the first place. There will be a moment when your energy fails you, and you look at your treadmill or the alarm waking you up for your morning jog and loathe it with every fiber of your being. When you find yourself with a cigarette in your mouth, despite your best intentions, or you stare at your resume and wonder if you should just delete the file completely.

This is the point where so many people give up. They see a slip and a fall as the same thing, and take either as a sign to give up on the mountain completely. Some get sick of the work they’re putting into it, but others turn around because they feel like they’ve failed some kind of test. If they were a better person, the kind of person meant to accomplish whatever they’re trying to do, they wouldn’t be feeling so lost and discouraged by now. They lose hope, and let their doubts talk them into walking away.

But there’s no one, anywhere, who has ever raced to their goal with an easy stride and a song in their hearts (and if there are a few rare blossoms out there who have, do the world a favor and don’t admit it to anyone). Achieving your dreams, no matter what they are, is a long, slow and often painful process that takes the kind of raw determination that isn’t nearly as pretty or fun as enthusiasm.

The kind of people who accomplish their goals still curse their clock’s existence, think longingly of cheesecake or a cigarette, and cry and swear and kick things where no one can see them. And then they get up and go for the run anyway, or say no to whatever they’re craving for the thousandth time. They grit their teeth and suffer through the misery, because they want what’s at the end badly enough that they’re not going to let anything stand in their way.

That doesn’t mean they don’t stumble sometimes, earning scraped knees, heartache and grief instead of another step forward. When that happens, because it inevitably will, they pick themselves up, wipe their eyes and forge ahead. Falling a thousand times doesn’t mean you won’t get to the top of whatever mountain you’ve set your sites on.

You’ve just got to take it one step at a time.  

Friday, September 4, 2015

Older and wiser vs. younger and dumber

If a genie came along and offered to make me young again, I'd say no.

Admittedly, I'm not yet as old as I could be. I don't yet have to worry about aching bones and strange sleeping schedules, but gray hair is already a significant part of my life. My metabolism and energy levels are pale imitations of what they were in my 20s, as are my sense of adventure and opportunities to meet new people.

Your world starts shrinking when you graduate from college, right around the same time your waistline starts expanding. I stopped being anything vaguely resembling "cool" a long time ago, a fact that the use of the word "cool" no doubt confirms.

Technically, rewinding the clock would give all that back to me. I'd be skinnier again, with bright eyes and smaller shirts, and when I looked in the mirror I'd only see dark hair. I wouldn't have to worry about my blood pressure, cholesterol levels, or squeezing some extra exercise into the day. I wouldn't feel time looming over my head, reminding me every day that there's less and less of it left to accomplish the things I want to do. The world would be awash in a sea of possibilities.

I would also be clueless about what to do with any of them. I knew exactly nothing when I was 20, either about myself or what life was really like. I didn't appreciate my smaller waistline or my hopeful young face, always comparing it to the girls around me who were skinny and pretty and everything I thought I wanted to be. I had boundless energy, but not the slightest idea of what I really wanted to do with it. I was scared of things that I later learned didn't matter at all. I made myself bleed wanting things that I later realized I didn't really need.

There is nothing in the world that would tempt me to trade the mind I have now for the one I had when I was 20. The years I lived between then and now were full of irreplaceable lessons, experiences and insights that ended up changing my view of the world. They reshaped me into a smarter, happier person, more at peace with myself than I ever imagined I could be when I was younger. All of those lessons only came because I was in the right place at the right time to understand what was being taught. All of those lessons built on each other, reshaping me as they went.

Even if I could go back in time and tell 20-year-old me everything I've learned since then, I suspect  she wouldn't believe any of it. Even if she did, she wouldn't have known how to use any of it. Only time, and living, can teach you things like that.

So, even if someone could turn back the clock, I'd have to pass on that particular miracle. It took long enough to get where I am today – the last thing I'd want is to have to do it all over again.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

New short story: Fine Print

The sorcerer held the pendant in his outstretched hand, the red stone giving an eldritch gleam in the dim light. "This was forged in the fires of Hades by the artisans of the damned. Wear this, and you will be unstoppable."

The richly dressed man on the other side of the table reached for it eagerly, but stopped when the small woman next to him cleared her throat. She was wearing a suit and a politely disinterested expression, and the sorcerer hated her instantly. "Not yet, your lordship. There are a few points of the contract I need to go over with Mr..." She flipped through a few of the pages in her hands. "Dread Dank Darin."

The nobleman sat back in his chair, disappointed. The sorcerer – Darin to his friends – narrowed his eyes at the woman. He definitely did not approve of the way she said his name without a shred of awe. "Contract? There is no contract. I have to summon a demon if you want one of those, and I'll need a case of alcohol and 48 hours advance notice."

The woman gave him a long-suffering look. "No, I meant the implied contract that comes with ownership of the pendant you are trying to sell my client. For example – you promise him that he will be 'unstoppable' if he purchases this, but what precisely do you mean by that?"

The sorcerer's brow furrowed, not sure what she was getting at but definitely not willing to admit his confusion. “Exactly what it says on the tin. Unstoppable. Cannot be stopped.”

“By whom, exactly?” The woman’s voice was just polite enough to be infuriating. “Individual opponents? Entire armies? Gods? If he takes possession of the pendant, will he be capable of stopping himself should he choose to? Or could he, for example, eat himself to death without intending to? And what definition are you using for ‘stop’? Defeat in battle? A halt in his rise to power? Death? And if it is death, does it mean he can’t be killed or that he can’t die?”

“I knew an immortal once,” the nobleman said suddenly. “He mostly gardened. Said he was bored of everything else.” He shuddered. “I can’t even imagine.”

The sorcerer gaped at them both for a moment, caught without an answer to even a single one of the woman’s questions. Then he shook his head and focused his attention on the nobleman.  “Unlimited power is almost in your hands, your lordship! All you have to do is pay me!”

The nobleman hesitated for a moment, giving the pendant one last hungry look, then shook his head. “No, sorry. Can’t do it. My grandfather got himself killed in one of those ‘no man can defeat me’ loopholes, and that was before there were so many lady knights about.” He pushed himself away from the table, standing. “No good rising to power if you make it that easy on people to stop you.”

“But… but….”

The woman tucked her papers into a briefcase, then stood as well. “I would advise you to look into researching your products more thoroughly, Mr. Dank.”

By the time he had recovered enough to correct her, they were gone.  

Friday, August 21, 2015

New short story: Vampire Ball

Annabelle covertly adjusted her corset, wondering how it could still be so infuriating even though she technically no longer needed to breathe. She had been promised that, as a vampire, she would be a goddess among mortals, but she was quite certain that no goddess had ever stuffed herself into one of these ridiculous tubes and paraded herself around for strangers.

"I should have let Lionel bite me instead of you," she sniped, sweeping a glare over the dancing crowd before turning it to the tall, elegantly dressed gentleman standing beside her. "I could be out running under the moonlight at this very moment, free and gloriously naked."

Reginald, the gentleman in question, pursed his lips briefly in distaste. "With blood and entrails matting your fur, no doubt."

"I would not care, and the forest is blessedly free of pinch-faced busybodies who would insist on caring in my stead." She yanked the comb out of her hair, letting it spill down around her shoulders as she tossed the offending piece of jewelry into a darkened corner.  "We are creatures of the night, Reggie. I let you turn me to get away from ridiculous games like this. Forgive me if I'm horrified by the thought of being trapped in them for the next 500 years."

He gave a patient sigh at the acid in her tone, tucking an errant lock of hair behind her ear. "Lionel and his kin spend their time in the forests because biology demands it of them. They hunger for the dumb woodland creatures, the violence of the chase." He sniffed. "Savages."

She raised an eyebrow at him. "And which of you has the higher body count?"

"Irrelevant. When we vampires eat, we eat with dignity." He swept a hand out to take in the swirling dancers before them, lips quirking upward. "An entire buffet spread out before us."

Annabelle followed Reginald's gaze, the light slowly dawning. "Ah," she said after a moment, her own lips curving. "I take back everything I said."

He looked amused. "I thought you might."

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Short story: De-stoning

https://www.etsy.com/shop/godo
For gorgons, getting someone to de-stone whatever poor buggers tripped across them at home was somewhere between spring cleaning and a community service. Medusa had them come by once a week, rather than once a month or even once a year, which told you all you needed to know about the kind of person she was.

"Looks like you're having a pretty good week this week," Beauty said conversationally, carefully gluing the tip of a bird's wing back in place. If you did the repair work while they were stone they always seemed perfectly whole after the potion had taken effect, and she'd decided a long time ago not to think about the details too much. "I've been coming here for months, and I don't think I've ever seen the numbers this low."

It took Medusa  a little too long to respond.  "Yeah." Another pause. "It's been good."

Beauty looked up at the gorgon, the sunglasses they both wore making it harder to see the expression on her face. But she could tell that her shoulders were hunched, and the snakes were hissing quietly as they brushed back and forth against her cheeks. "What's wrong?"

Medusa hesitated. "Nothing," she said finally, trying to brush the snakes away from her face. "I'm fine. Just tired."

The snakes weren't having it any more than Beauty was. "Nope, sorry, still don't believe you." She used the eyedropper to apply the de-stoning potion to the top of the bird's head, waiting until it had transformed and flown away before straightening. "Do it for your snakes, if nothing else. They're clearly worried about you."

Medusa sighed. "They can tell how stressed I am." She curled in on herself even more tightly. "Please don't tell your boss about what I'm about to show you."

Beauty tensed. "Is this the kind of thing that could theoretically get us arrested?"

There was far, far too long a pause. "Maybe not if we found a nice judge?"

Now she had to look, if only because it was rude to leave nice people alone in the middle of a disaster. Beauty followed Medusa back into the house, her brain cycling through all the possibilities of exactly what she might be about to see. "You know the constables won't care if you turned a burglar, right? They consider it self defense, and include the de-stoning cost as part of the bail."

The utter silence from Medusa quickly dashed her hope that the problem was that simple, and she braced herself when the gorgon finally stopped at a particular closet and opened it. Inside stood the stone figure of a man with longish hair and a shocked expression she could see even through her darkened lenses.

 Beauty didn't recognize him, but it wasn't as much of a comfort as it might have been. "Who is he?" she asked, lowering her sunglasses. "An ex-boyfriend?"

"Sort of." Medusa thunked her head against the side of the door, sounding miserable. "Remember when I told you about Perseus?"

Ah. He and Medusa had dated briefly, at least until he'd tried to chop off a handful of her snakes for a quest his prospective father-in-law had sent him on and she'd found out it was all an act. If he'd tried to chop off her head, she could have had him arrested, but it turned out the law was fuzzier on the question of living hair.

"Well, that explains a lot." Beauty turned to Medusa. "How long has he been like this?"

"Three days," Medusa said, voice slowly growing more indignant. "I know I shouldn't have, but he actually offered to pay me to kill some of my snakes. Of all the--"

Beauty held up a hand to stop her. "Sorry, but I'll be able to lie better if I don't know too many details." Then she moved forward. "How far away from your house do you think we'll be able to carry him?"

000

Perseus blinked, staring blearily up at the trees and Beauty's smiling face. "Where am I?"

"In the middle of the woods, and you're lucky I found you." She put on her best "innocent citizen" expression, which had been judged moderately successful by those who didn't know her that well. "A basilisk has been seen in the area, and you must have ticked the poor thing off."

He slowly sat up, still blinking in confusion. "I don't remember a basilisk. I was... I was going to meet someone...."

So she might have dropped statue him with excessive force. The chunk from the side of his head had been surprisingly easy to glue back on. "I don't think anyone lives around here." She held out a hand. "That'll be 50 credit slips for the de-stoning."

His brow furrowed. "Excuse me?"

She shrugged. "This stuff is expensive, and the boss is going to make me account for every drop. The Enchanted Forest Service sent me out here for animals, not you."

Still in a daze, he gave her the money. The following week, she gave half of it to Medusa.

000

Note: Beauty later appears in "Beast Charming"

Monday, August 10, 2015

New Short Story: Sleeping Potion

www.carnivalheaven.com
Rita didn’t understand why anyone bothered to wear hooded cloaks to hide their appearance. In the middle of a perfectly nice day like this, having your hood up pretty much shouted “I am up to something nefarious!”

She refrained from actually saying any of this, however, as the customer slipped into the shop and threw back the hood of her cloak. Once the young woman made eye contact, she practically raced to the counter. “I need a sleeping potion. I’ll pay anything!”

Rita gave the woman an evaluating look. “I take it you’re not talking about an insomnia cure.”

“That’s not enough.” The young woman laid her hands flat on the counter as she leaned forward, desperation in her eyes. “Anything less than six months won’t be enough. I’ll take a year if you have it.”

“I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place.” Rita kept her voice even as she reached under the counter, wrapping her hand around the wand she kept on hand for emergencies. The young woman looked harmless, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. “I sell healing potions, stuff to help you around the house. You’ll want to go to a licensed Evil Witch for the potion you’re looking for.”

The customer’s eyes filled with tears. “I can’t trust them! And if I go home….” She pressed a hand against her mouth, fighting back tears. “I won’t survive.”

Rita hesitated. She wasn’t interested in breaking the law, but if the girl was using it in self-defense…. “Your father? Or your husband?”

She waved a hand. “Oh, he’ll be fine. He just loves her, and thinks it’s all a big misunderstanding.” She wiped her eyes. “Of course, he’ll be horrified that I was arrested for homicide, but I’m sure she’ll keep him busy telling him how right she’s been this whole time….”

Now Rita was lost. “Wait.” She held up her other hand to stop the ramble. “Who are you talking about?”

The young woman clunked her forehead on the counter. “My mother-in-law. Her house got destroyed in an ogre attack and she’s moving in with us.”

Rita turned the startled chuckle into a cough. “And you think dosing her will keep her out of your hair for awhile?”

The young woman’s head shot up. “No!” she said, horrified. “That would be rude.”

Rita let go of her wand. “Then who were you planning on using it on?”

The young woman’s shoulders sagged, and she dropped her head into her hands. “Me.”

This time, Rita couldn’t stop the chuckle. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Adventures in wildlife, part 2

Photo courtesy of pbs.org
You know those moments when your gut tells you that something is happening, but your brain doesn't really want to deal with the complication and keeps deluding itself for a few more minutes?

Turns out I do that waaay more than I'm comfortable with.

I was sitting just outside the front door of my apartment on the darkened walkway, surfing the internet by the glowing light of my computer screen. It was inching on 2 a.m. and I really needed to go to bed, so I finally made myself surface and shut off the computer. That's when I looked over and saw this ... shape on the walkway not more than a foot away from me.

Staring at it through the darkness, I could almost hear my brain think the words "Oh, it's probably just a leaf." Now, this shape looked absolutely nothing like a leaf, and I knew that as I stared at it, but if it was anything else I would be forced to actually do something. So, still telling myself it was a leaf, I reached over to touch it.

It was warm and just a little soft, like the skin of a particularly fuzzy peach. I was forced to accept the fact that it was most definitely not a leaf.

As if in agreement with the thought, it chose that moment to chirp.

Well, the only thing to do at that point was to scramble upright, tuck my laptop out of the way of whatever was about to happen, and turned on the porch light. There, lying on my walkway, was the most adorable little brown bat I have ever seen. It was just plastered against the cement on his belly, and I was suddenly afraid the poor little thing I'd just heard the poor thing's final chirp when it started to move around.

Now, this was not my first encounter with local wildlife. I've hauled to safety several birds who tried to kill themselves in my hall closet, but this was different. The little guy wasn't imposing on me at all, but my apartment complex is full of idiot kids, even more idiot teenagers, and drunk people, all of which could easily show up before I got outside in the morning and none of which I wanted anywhere near this little guy.

So I Googled, the one information source that doesn't care what time it is. I desperately started searching on my tablet, standing outside on the off chance I could keep him from getting stepped on (in the city, drunk people can literally show up at any moment). Most of the information was about what to do if they were flying, but as my little guy was still plastered against the ground that was clearly not the issue.

Not that he wasn't mobile. I turned off the light, in case it hurt his eyes somehow, then jumped dramatically like a minute later when something warm and soft bumped into my foot. I immediately flipped back on the light (with apologies, of course) to see the little guy crawling along at a pretty impressive pace. It thought about going off the edge of the walkway for a few seconds (not a comforting thought – I'm on the second floor), then clearly decided against it and turned around.

By this point, Google was telling me that the best way to move the bat was to urge it to grab onto a stick and carry it around on that. I was short of actual sticks – there are very few convenient branches in the city – so I grabbed a very dull-edged decorative sword (yes, I know. The only excuse I have for grabbing that instead of oh, I don't know, a broom, was that it was 2 a.m.) and ran back outside to find that the bat had crawled about 2 feet up the brick wall right by my front door and settled in for the night.

Now, I was really tempted to let him stay – like I said, the little guy was adorable – but that was still very much grabbing height. So I tried to get him interested in the sword, but unsurprisingly he wasn' t having it. I found a grabbing arm with a nice metal pole, but he wouldn't grab that either. In the end, I got desperate and used the grabbing arm to gently urge him into an empty, lidless cool-whip container (apologizing the whole time). Then I carried him to the one strip of relatively protected green space for like five blocks and wedged him into branches a few feet off the ground. When I went back to check on him a few minutes later, the container was empty and he was gone.

I went back the next morning to check again, but there was no sign of anything (I shooed off a cat, just in case). Clearly, I'm getting a little bit of a reputation amid the smaller portions of the animal kingdom. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Our Perception Makes Our Reality

Our sense of time passing is an illusion, determined largely by how quickly our brain processes what's happening around us. Color is another thing determined by our brain, each specific shade determined by the way our brain interprets information received from the cones in our eyes. Our taste buds actually do relatively little to tell us about the food we eat – instead, our brain takes the information received by our nose, adds in backup data from our tongue, and cooks up an entirely new sense known as taste.

Most of what we perceive as reality, in fact, happens inside our head. Even when other parts of our bodies are what's actually receiving the data, it's useless to us until our brain translates it into something we understand. And, unlike computers,  each set of neurons and stem cells is even more unique than our fingerprints. It's more than a cliché that no two people see the world in exactly the same way – it's scientific fact. And, when you're human, how you see the world determines how your world actually is.

That's even more true when it comes to less tangible things. If brain waves determine color, taste and even time itself, then they're definitely in the driver's seat when it comes to things like beauty, goodness and wonder. That's why everyone's taste is different – what one set of neurons sees a beautiful may not be what another set of neurons sees as beautiful. So if someone doesn't find you attractive, that's says nothing about how you look. It just means that their way of perceiving the world simply wasn't compatible.

It can't change the data of your life – horrible events will happen, no matter what our attitude is – but it can change how you translate that data. It's the inside of your head that tells you whether to focus on the good things or the bad things in your life, or if a particular challenge is something you're capable of overcoming.  You don't get to decide what happens to you, but you do get to decide what it all actually means.

It also determines how we see ourselves. Your perception of your own attractiveness has an effect on how attractive you actually are to people, because it changes how you carry yourself and the confidence you project when you interact with others. If you see yourself as brave, you won't get intimidated by challenges that come your way. You will, in fact, will yourself into bravery.

If you see yourself as stupid, you'll get easily frustrated by tasks and give up on things you decide are "too hard." If you see yourself as smart, on the other hand, you'll set yourself to the challenge of problem solving because you know you're intelligent enough to succeed. You'll be more likely to solve the problem simply because you were willing to use all of your energy and intelligence to tackle it. Your IQ and skill sets don't change, but the results do.

We can help program our brains, shifting our perceptions inch by careful inch. It's not easy, and sometimes you need help in order to make it happen, but you can literally change your life by adjusting your mind.

There's an entire world being built inside your head. Make sure it's the one you want to be living in.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

More important than being “tough”

As far as I can tell, it’s not easy being a guy.

Yeah, I know they have it better in a lot of ways, but they’re really not very good at taking care of themselves. Society tells men that they’re supposed to be tough to the point of being invulnerable, and any hit of weakness or needing help should be avoided at all costs. They’re told never to acknowledge that they’re slower than they used to be, or they have a worrying cough, and heaven help the man who dares to wonder if they might be depressed.

Men, I’m here to tell you that society is straight-up lying to you.

Trust me – society lies to women all the time, so we know what we’re talking about. Living your life in order to satisfy the expectations of the media, complete strangers, or even casual acquaintances, leads to nothing but frustration, disappointment, and potentially a heart attack. None of these people have enough investment in you personally to be worth listening to, and won’t even notice if you are listening to them.

Besides, have any of them given you proof that they know what they’re talking about? The media, for example, thinks that the Kardashians are worth obsessing over, which isn’t the best sign of either their intelligence or their good judgment.

On the other side of the equation, there’s this little thing called science. Science’s opinion on the matter is that men are human beings just like women are, subject to every infirmity, illness and medical condition. Having something wrong with you doesn’t mean you’ve failed; it means that biology is holding all the trump cards. There was nothing you could do to stop yourself from getting sick.

What you can do, however, is focus on getting better again. If your car breaks, do you drive around on it until it collapses or lights on fire somehow? No, you figure out what’s wrong and fix it (or you take it to someone who does). Your body is a lot more valuable than your car, and there are a whole bunch of experts who can help you get it running smoothly again.

Mental health issues are a trickier situation, but in some ways that just makes them more important. Having depression is just the same as having any other illness, including cancer, and if left untreated it can mess up your life just as much. Being depressed doesn’t mean you’re weak – it means the chemicals in your head went out of whack. Talking to a professional, and maybe getting medication if you need it, can absolutely change your life for the better.

I know it can be tough to admit you need help, no matter what the problem is. But the people who love you don’t need you to be Superman, no matter how much you wish you could be that for them. What they need is for you to be there, for birthdays and weddings and graduations and everything else that will happen for the rest of their lives. They need you to be healthy a lot more than they need you to be “tough.”

So go to the doctor for regular checkups. Get some help if you need it. Because it might be scary to admit you can’t do it all on your own, but doing something scary for the people you love is pretty much the definition of being a superhero.

Ask them. They’ll back me up on this. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Representation, or finding our place in the story

We all deserve our own stories.

For a long time, I didn't realize that so few of them were made for me. I was never really the princess type, too stubborn and loud and average-looking for the lost princesses who filled the stories of my childhood. There were only a few warrior women and lady knights, but they didn't really work either – I wasn't strong, I wasn't noble, and I always thought there was a smarter way to fight than charging ahead with a battle cry. They were all good characters, but there was no place in their lives for someone like me.

But oh, I loved the thieves, the pirates, the charming rogues with a secret heart of gold. They didn't necessarily have to be attractive – a way with words was so much more important than how they looked. They didn't have to have powerful muscles – their brains did most of the work, and sometimes they could even best big, scary swords people without blinking. They didn't have to be even particularly good – they thought rules were bendy, twisty things, but they were usually at least helpful to the hero and sometimes even stood on the sides of angels.

When you feel like you're different from everyone else, it's too easy to also feel like there's something wrong with you. Like you're broken, or even just meant to fade into the background while the "hero" goes off and lives an exciting life. For a little girl with a plain face, a facile tongue and a squirrely mind, these characters felt like I had a place among all the pretty people. There wasn't anything wrong with me – I was just meant to be a charming rogue.

But ... all the charming rogues I had ever read about were boys. I wasn't a boy – I didn't even want to be one – and so for a long time I was just a lost girl in the corner with dreams she could never quite figure out how to reach. It took me years to steal the role, to cut it up and piece it back together into a shape fit an angry little girl. It took me even longer than that to find the self-confidence I'd lost so many years before, letting the rogue's boldness sink into my skin and teach me everything I'd always been meant to know.

And I was lucky. There are so few white girl characters when compared to boy characters, but there's even fewer for people of color or those who aren't heterosexual. They don't have the luxury to care about personality – they're grateful for the few they can find, and cling to them because they don't have anything else. And inside, they end up feeling that there's no place for them in the great story of life.

Feeling like there's someplace you're meant to be can change your whole life. No one deserves to only see their own faces, their own hearts, as background characters or villains. Or worse, to not see them at all.

So please, write more stories. Give your heroes and heroines your skin, your history, your fears. Give them your dreams, and in turn you pass those dreams onto all those little boys and girls who want a story to live up to.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Give me more variety in female characters

Copyright 2015 Disney
I came to the horrifying realization recently that most of my favorite characters were men.

This, of course, doesn’t count for my original characters, who are at least 50 percent men (and the women are all ever so slightly more my favorite – sorry, guys). But in other media, in the books, movies and TV shows that I devour in great piles, the characters I’m the most drawn to are nearly always men. Sam Vimes from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Tony Stark from the Marvel movies, Dean Winchester from “Supernatural,” Malcolm Reynolds from “Firefly”….

These are all wonderful, beautifully created characters, and there is nothing wrong with loving them as much as I do. But I’m a woman, and I champion the need for more female characters in … well, pretty much everything. So why had I not given my heart to the handful of characters I had?

The truth is that I like every one of those women, and have a special place in my heart for Natasha (aka Black Widow from the Marvel movies). But the intensity of my love for any of them doesn’t quite match what I feel for the boys I listed, and I wondered if I had somehow failed my sex as a whole. Was it some sort of internalized misogyny that kept me from truly embracing them? Was I wrong, to love the characters I did and not these magnificent ladies?

Finally, I figured out that the problem wasn’t with me. It turns out that the characters closest to my heart are usually a very specialized breed of asshole, quick with a sarcastic comment and putting a brave face on the fact that they’re so desperately broken inside. I like the cons, the rapscallions, the ones who bend the rules until they're pretzel-shaped but deep inside are blood-loyal to their chosen few. I like the bastards who stomp through the rules, who shout at people and are convinced they’re not a good person even though they always try to help people. I like characters who are an absolute mess, but always get back up with a smirk and a good solid punch to the jaw.

Apparently, most writers don’t feel women can be like that.  The closest I’ve been able to find is my dear Black Widow, and though she’s a wonderful, damaged dork inside she usually masks it with a cool and collected exterior. I’m pretty sure I am physically incapable of being cool and collected, so as much as I love her I feel a little more affinity with “Mr. Cocky Swagger and Terrible Decisions” Stark.

Where are my female pirates? Where are my female thieves, for that matter? “Leverage” is the only show that’s ever given me lady cons, and I loved that entire team with an equal ferocity. Where are my female gangsters and monster hunters? Where are the snarky, grubby, sarcastic bastards that happen to be the same gender I am?

And why stop there? “Jurassic World” was good, but the main cast had exactly one token female. Unsurprisingly, she was the one in heels and a nice suit. Why couldn’t any of the security people have been female? Why couldn’t any of the people who worked directly with the dinosaurs have been female? Look around in zoos and wild animal parks, and you’ll see so many women working directly with the animals. No matter what the directors thought, it would be no different with dinosaurs.

Real women are lawyers, doctors, police officers, teachers, mothers, garbage collectors, drug dealers and everything in between. They are elegant, cruel, sarcastic, kind, gentle, anti-social, friendly, angry, loving, brave, tough, fragile, dangerous and everything in between.

Let us see the women we are onscreen. Let us be messy and unlovable. Stop insisting that we only come in a few versions, that all we are can be so neatly packaged. “Female character” is not a real category. “Strong female character” isn’t, either. There are an infinite variety of us, and you’ve barely scraped the surface.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

No shame in loving "dumb" movies

© 2015 CTMG, Inc.
I have to be very careful sometimes when I talk about movies I like.

When you’re in any group of “serious” movie fans, those of us who talk about awards season like people in movies talk about horse races, there are certain standards you’re expected to uphold. Anything that won a major award is usually acceptable – the Academy Awards or the Golden Globes are always safe, though you get extra points if you can get something slightly more obscure.

Even better is if the movie was nominated, but lost to something that wasn’t quite as “good” but came from a bigger studio. In general, your favorite films should be mostly dramas, though Wes Anderson’s movies (“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Moonrise Kingdom”) get a special exemption.
Major blockbusters may be liked under certain circumstances, but only if they’re well made. It helps if you can spin some explanation of how, for example, all the explosions are really symbolic of the destruction of modern society. (It goes without saying that you have to say all of this with a straight face).

I’ve seen many of these movies, and there were some of them I actually liked. As a former English Literature major, I can talk about the thematic significance of nearly anything, which meant that even if I didn’t like a movie I can talk about it in appropriately serious tones.

But I’m tired of hiding the fact that there’s a part of me that absolutely adores dumb movies. Though I haven’t seen the sequel, I actually liked “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” (I actually had to physically fight the urge to go back and delete that sentence out of embarrassment, or qualify it with something like “even though I know how stupid it is.” Truthfully, I’m still fighting it, and it’s hard enough that I’ll be amazed if this entire paragraph makes it online).

I love the most ridiculous action movies, the kind that defy both common sense and the laws of physics, and want to be able to gush about my love of “Furious 7” without apologizing for how wonderfully absurdist it is. I want to be able to watch Reese Witherspoon use a terrible Texas accent (at least, I think it was a Texas accent) and fall over stuff in “Hot Pursuit” without having to pretend I wished it were something like “Wild.”

I will admit that Witherspoon was really good in “Wild,” a tough, searching movie about grief and self-identity. But do you know one thing it wasn’t? Fun. And sometimes, all I want to do when I go to a movie is switch my brain off and watch idiots crash into each other onscreen.

So if you honestly want to see a movie, go no matter how many insults movie critics or your “serious” movie friends pile on its head. Even if I’m the one lambasting the movie, feel free to ignore me if that’s what you want. If you end up deciding I was right, e-mail me and we can trash the movie together.

But if it turns out that you love it – or even like it just fine – there’s nothing wrong with that. Shout your love from the rooftops.  No matter how “dumb” the movie is, there’s absolutely no reason to be ashamed.

Yes, even if it’s “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.”

Friday, May 8, 2015

Getting to Know You: Beauty (the Kat Dennings edition, not the Emma Watson one)

Photo from katdennings.com
Because I like to torture my characters in small ways as well as large ones, I will occasionally make them fill out those “getting to know you” questionnaires (this one came from http://www.signupgenius.com/groups/getting-to-know-you-questions.cfm).  This one is from Beauty, one of the lead characters in my new book “Beast Charming.”

1. Who is your hero? 

My older sister, Grace. She pretty much raised me, and is definitely the reason I haven’t been arrested yet.

2. What was your favorite family vacation?

Technically, being abandoned in the woods probably doesn’t count as a family vacation, but the ogre that found us was incredibly nice. He had some absolutely hilarious stories about his grandchildren, and was really good at making cookies.

3. If you could choose to do anything for the day, what would it be?

Read. Drop me in the middle of a well-stocked library with snacks, and you won’t see me for a week.

4. What did you want to be when you were small? 

A dragon. The idea of having teeth and claws, as well as being able to fly, all appealed to me even when I was a kid.

5. Do you like or dislike surprises? Why? 

Strongly dislike, because when you work with dragons, knights, witches and sorceresses on a regular basis there’s at least a 30 percent chance the surprise will kill you. And even if it doesn’t, it usually does something like turning you green for a week. I definitely don’t recommend the experience.

6. What’s your biggest complaint about your job? 

Well, like I said – the potential for death is annoying. But not quite as annoying as getting locked in a tower with this one particular shut-in who keeps coming up with fake jobs so she can tell us all about the sweaters she knits (with her own hair, apparently – don’t ask).

7. What’s your favorite thing about your job?

It’s hard to get bored when you’re picking armor out of a dragon’s teeth one week and helping a group of dwarves baby-proof their home the next week (they’d decided to adopt a human girl. I’m hoping for everyone’s sake that she grows up short).

8. Who would you want to be stranded with on a desert island?

For company, I’d have to say Beast (I’ll admit, I’m a little prejudiced). But for practicality, I really should say Waverly – he’d figure out a way to get us both back to civilization before nightfall hit.

9. What was your first job?

Technically, it wasn’t a job, but Father would dress Grace and I in rags and sneak us into the palace to pretend we were serving girls. I’m not exactly sure what the next step was supposed to be – no matter how much he likes to think otherwise, Father really isn’t that great at planning.

10. Who is your favorite author? 

Jenniffer thinks that she’s being so clever by putting this one in here, but I’m not about to let her get away with it so easily. So I’ll say Terry Pratchett. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

My superhero (for a few minutes, at least)

Sometimes, the smallest things can have the biggest impact on people. You may never even realize that you've done anything at all.

I was at my second signing of the day for "Beast Charming," an independent bookstore that had barely anyone in it. The few people who were there couldn't have cared less about the book, a fact that become even more ludicrous when they insisted I still do a reading. The seats were absolutely empty, except for my best friend in the front and the one dude who'd taken over planning the event (which was no help. It was literally his job to be there.)

So I started the reading, feeling profoundly stupid and just trying to power through it. Occasionally someone would wander through the back, not even slowing down slightly on their way to wherever they were going. I kept going – the people who'd asked me here still clearly wanted me to do it, no matter how ridiculous it was – but I told myself I could stop whenever I just couldn't take it anymore. Every paragraph, I was sure I would give up at the next one.  

Then I saw a guy in the back – clearly following his girlfriend around – who actually sort of looked like he was listening. His girlfriend couldn't have cared less about the reading, her focus clearly on whatever book she was looking for, but the guy's head was cocked in a certain way that happens when you've got an ear on something that's not in front of you. And when she left, wandering on to another section of shelving, he actually stayed and listened. Not even halfway this time – body turned completely to me, focus on me, leaning a little against the edge of a bookcase like he'd settled in for the duration. 

I have no idea why – he was actually on the complete opposite end of the spectrum of the book's potential target audience, so I can't imagine he was actually interested. But the fact that he was there, honestly listening without being obligated to (another employee wandered over after he did), was such an immense shot of comfort and courage. I went all the way through the reading I'd planned, and it was all because of him.

If it hadn't been so wildly inappropriate – like I said, girlfriend – I would have hugged him. As it was, I hope he had an amazing rest of the day. He deserved it.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Monsters

They say monsters
have no reflection.

But why bother making one
if you can't punish it?
The world is full
of shiny surfaces,
and every distorted glimpse
of who they'd once been
will whisper "monster"
far more loudly

than torches. – j.w.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Night owls, sleep, and making peace with mornings

http://cliparts.co/sleeping-clip-art-free
Sleep and I have a complicated relationship.

I’ll admit, I’m much more fond of it than I used to be. Going to bed was the worst kind of chore when I was a kid, somehow worse than doing dishes or even weeding the garden. I had to lie there, close my eyes and do absolutely nothing, because if I talked or read or sang that meant I wasn’t sleeping. I thought that sleeping was the most boring thing in the entire world, and I resented giving up every second my precious evening I had to give up in order to sleep.

Now, though, there are some nights when I’m utterly, gloriously relieved to collapse into bed. When I don’t have the physical or mental energy left to do more than stare at walls (or late night television, which is only slightly more interesting than the blank wall at times), sleep can feel like a glorious reward for a job well done.

Still, that’s only on some nights. If I have any kind of energy left, I’d much rather be reading a book, catching up on the DVRd episodes of my favorite show, or talking to a friend. Sometimes, I’d even rather be cleaning, because there are some nights when 1 a.m. feels like the perfect time to scrub the sinks or sweep the kitchen floor. You might question the sanity of the thought the next morning, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that your house is now slightly cleaner

Like many night owls, I’ve even made my peace with having to be functional the next morning. We have all kinds of tricks to make it through the first half of the day, most of which involve snooze alarms, large amounts of caffeine, and trying to arrange your schedule so you don’t have to do any complicated thinking until after noon.

You also get good at narrowing your sleep schedule as far as you can get away with, sneaking out a few extra minutes of consciousness anywhere you can. I’ve gotten really good at knowing exactly how much sleep I need to be a reasonable facsimile of a human being, and mostly try to stay in that general area. As long as I sound relatively coherent, no one seems to notice.

The thing is, though, that I notice. Living like this means that, while I get to keep my nights, I’m sleepwalking my way through at least half my morning. There’s a lot of stuff you miss when you’re only at 50 percent capacity, or even 75 percent, and most of that are those nice-but-unnecessary things that help make life worth living. I’m convinced that nights are better than mornings, but what if that’s because nights are the only part of my life I’m fully awake for?

So maybe I’ll start considering sleep a priority instead of an annoying chore I’m forced to do. I don’t want to give up my nights completely, but if I hand over a little bit of them – by going to bed at midnight instead of 1:30 a.m., maybe – then maybe I’ll have a little more brainpower to experience my morning with. Only then will I really be able to judge whether sunlight is worth all the fuss everyone else seems to make over it.