Tin Anniversary

My husband likes to tease me that I don’t remember the first time we met.

I was sitting in the break room of the casino buffet where we both worked, reading a book. It was 2002, so it was probably Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He says I looked up, said ‘hey,’ and returned to reading.

He waited and engaged me again on another day when I wasn’t reading, because he is an excellent human, worthy of love.

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I fell too swiftly into love with him within a few dates and thought a lot about how to tell him, and when, and where. I remember still the humidity of his shoulder as I leaned against him in the backseat of a car while a friend was driving, the way my lips felt pressed together to hold the words back. It was physical, restrained. It wasn’t the right time.

Now we have been married for ten years and I tell him that I love him all the time, not just with words, but all the ways I’ve learned he likes. And not like that.

At least, not exclusively.

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But what he’s done, what he does still, makes me want to whisper to that girl in the dark car with a boy she assumed was all grown at 22, “you are so lucky.”

In the years before we were married he abided my unwashed state on his couch, playing through Morrowind and KOTOR and Fable; he taught me how to drive and was patient as I refused his help in learning how to cook; he bought me a sewing machine under the mistaken impression that I would develop an interest in darning socks. We watched the cartoons we’re still quoting. We shared our first home. He wore so many costumes because he must love me more than he hates them.

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In 2009, we were married in a seven-minute ceremony where we both cried and he crooned the lyrics to a Smashing Pumpkins song into my ear when we danced together for the first time as husband and wife.

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In 2010, I wrecked so many cars and he maybe regretted the financial repercussions of our nuptials but we’re still married, so.

In 2011, we lost a pregnancy in the first trimester and he held me while I wrapped my head around the heartache.

In 2012, we two became three and I knew, watching him hang cloth diapers to dry on the line within days of coming home from the hospital, that he was going to be not just a wonderful father but a partner in the hard work of raising a family.

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In 2013, our daughter consumed our lives and so much of my sleep but we folded her right into our adventures and couldn’t imagine it any other way.

In 2014, we had daughters, sisters, and more feelings than he can handle every year since.

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In 2015, we moved out of the first place we’d ever lived together, the home we’d grown our little family in, and into a place we’re still making our own.

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In 2016, he always let me leave the house to write whether I’d remembered to warn him in advance or not. And when my second book launched, he brought my girls to the signing and everyone was smiling.

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In 2017, he helped me help myself when my anxiety threatened to unravel everything, when my mother was sick. He was present in a way that no one else could be, and he still is.

In 2018, he showed me love and so much trust.

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And now, it is 2019.

I can only hope that I will continue to deserve his love and trust, his patience, his steadiness; that I will have earned hearing one of his three stories over again, or his genuine laugh when I tell one of mine. I started writing this for him, for all he’s done and all I love him for, but I think it’s really for me. That lucky girl swallowing words in a dark car wrote him a song and she sang, “never take me for granted.”

 What I also want to tell her? It goes both ways.

History Lessons

Shortly after I finished reading the entire shelf of fairy tales in my elementary school library, I moved on the full collection of American Girl books which was comprised, at the time, of only six stories each for Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly. I read and re-read their stories, which hit the absolute sweet spot of historical detail, plucky attitudes, and sweet, sweet merchandise for my nine-year-old self.

But I’m not here to tell you about buying myself a Kirsten doll before she was retired when I was twenty-five because they were outrageously priced when I was a kid.

I want to talk about the accompanying magazine, which I briefly subscribed to.

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There was a killer feature that encouraged readers to dig into their own pasts, learn about where their families came from and, most importantly, uncover enough detail to earn a coveted opportunity of being that issue’s paper doll. I immediately started asking my mom and dad questions, my grandma and my aunt, and found the pickings pretty slim.

My grandma grew up during the Great Depression, so we had one photograph of her as a child with her siblings. She was less than five at the time, and their clothes were dark, worn, roughspun. Nothing like the smart pinafores or heritage-rich dresses I saw in issue after issue when other girls were drawn. There were no other photographs of her until she was a teenager: a newspaper clipping from when she and a friend were in the Cincinnati Enquirer when she attended, in costume, some Halloween festivities.

And there were no pictures of anyone else, either.

I remember at the time just feeling devastated for a whole host of selfish reasons. My family members could talk vaguely about where we came from, but we didn’t have an immigration story like I’d read about at school or in the books I picked up from the library – we’d lived in Kentucky and the Ohio river valley for centuries. We’d been – we were – poor, but I had a limited understanding of what that meant because my lived experience felt rich. I loved my parents and my brother and my grandma in her floral house coat that smelled of Misty Lights. I loved watching Reds baseball games and Silk Stalkings with her and eating Ramen noodles and fish sticks. I loved the dirty rhymes that she taught us and climbing into the sofa bed in the living room when we all lived together, asking her to tell me a story or sing. I loved running wild in the woods all day and it felt to me a little bit what it must have been like for her, growing up in downtown Cincinnati.

The absence of documentation for who the girls that had preceded me had been was probably the first time that I felt the unfairness of poverty, though I didn’t make the connection at the time. I just gave up on ever being a paper doll because the history I had access to didn’t meet the magazine’s criteria.

But here’s where I need to check my privilege.

Now that I’ve had the opportunity to spit into a tube and learn a little bit more about where my family came from, I can browse family trees and gather names. There still aren’t many photographs. One artifact that did surface for me, though, made me feel like the whole bottom had dropped out of my understanding of who my family was. Yes, some of us did come down the Ohio river on flatboats that were never meant to make the return journey, ready to risk everything in the then-Kentucky wilderness. Others had a different experience.

There’s a will in the Clay County, Kentucky Deed Book from 1824, detailing one of my ancestor’s property to be willed to his widow, his sons, and his daughters. To his wife and each of his children he bequeaths an enslaved person. Their names were Peter, Milly, Mealy, Frill, Patsy, Judah, Clary, Ginne, Gin, Fillis, Jeffery, Abraham, Ran, Racher, and Aggy.

In every instance where an enslaved woman is named, “all her increase” is “entailed” to my ancestor’s heirs. What do these girls know of their histories? Did they read these books and magazines, too, and feel shut out? Did they feel the limitations of the verbal history available to them not because their ancestors didn’t have the education or the means, but because my ancestors owned theirs?

I haven’t known what to do with this knowledge, and one of the many terrible things about it is that I don’t have to do anything. I could just let it be history, distant, because it’s what I’ve always done. In trying to write about this with grace I read some other pieces, including one where the author states that their “mistake, typical of white Americans, was treating slavery as if it were a mystery buried in the past,” and another that affirmed for me why I needed to share what I’ve learned.

Whatever I have or don’t have now, or had or didn’t have as a child, is the result of someone else’s suffering. And whether I’d never read that will, or it’s only one man nearly two hundred years ago, I shouldn’t have needed an explicit document to confirm what I’ve known to be true about the history of my nation to be explicitly true for me and for my family, too.

To Bring to a State of Order

I’ve been writing quotes in my bullet journal this year to ground myself in not panicking about everything and stay focused on my word for the year, which is ‘discipline.’ The fact that I had to remind myself what my word was is a sign of how well I’ve been managing lately.

But, the words of others are sometimes giving me life.

“One painful duty fulfilled makes the next plainer and easier.” – Helen Keller

“I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on til I am.” – Jane Austen

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” – Corrie Ten Boom

“i am water

soft enough
to offer life
tough enough
to drown it away.” – Rupi Kaur

I love and hate my brain, really. It tells wild and wonderful stories on paper but it also tells stories when I’m trying to just take care of my children, take care of my house, take care of myself. I imagine dark things. I worry myself into inaction. My husband keeps trying to record me repeatedly sighing because I’m never not turning something over in my head.

When I was seeing someone for anxiety, she told me to let my troubling thoughts surface and then let them float away, that my mind was meant to think and that I couldn’t, shouldn’t, stop it. I remember asking her what to do when it was the same thought over and over; I remember that her advice was the same.

I am still learning how to let go. Sometimes I need a little help. I’d like to start visualizing something – like a many-petaled flower or a bunch of balloons – that lets me imagine that mean thought and release it again and again, to pluck it where its rooted and let it fall away. Writing and walking and loading the dishwasher every day, that’s discipline. But this is discipline, too.

Scene by Scene

Something I’ve learned about my writing in the past three months that I really should’ve already known: it’s not about sitting down to write only when I’ve got all of the details figured out. It’s about writing until the details figure themselves out.

Each time I write a book I feel like I find a new process. It’s probably why I can’t answer any of those useful questions folks want answered about how to start and finish a book. My first novel was a piece unearthed from an ancient draft, reimagined and written beginning to end with more of a focus on feeling than on impact – and it shows. It’s damned rough in spots and I’m damned critical of it, but I can’t put it back in my brain. There’s no room.

The sequel necessitated an outline because there were questions I had to answer, but it was tighter and better paced because of it. It was still reworked in a pretty major way in less than six weeks in advance of a deadline, and as stressful as that was, I loved the experience. It was like tearing the stitches out of something and reweaving it with the same thread.

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This story is one I have been playing with for about two years, supported by a number of conversations with my bestie and the best beta reader ever where I’ve felt it’s straightforward enough to just write without agonizing about it. But of course that’s exactly what I’ve done, because it’s what I do.

What’s surprised me most about this draft, though, is that I’m writing it scene by scene. Not necessarily in order, and not even one scene at a time. If I get stuck thinking on the next line of dialogue, I’ll switch to a scene earlier or later in the draft. If I’m not sure how to transition between one scene and another, I just don’t. I’ve forbidden myself pretty much every crutch I’ve come to rely on to not write in an effort just to get words on the page.

And it’s kind of working.

I wrote a lot of words in December and January – more than I’ve written in a longer time than I feel comfortable admitting. And I’m still writing. Some of them I am almost certainly going to trash, because they were the ideas I needed to work through to get to the ones worth keeping. There is nothing more daunting than an empty page, so I’m not giving myself the excuse of one. I can’t wait for you to meet these characters and explore this world. I’m one scene away from finishing a first draft for the first time in a long time, and that’s wildly exciting and surreal. Even knowing there are seams and gaps and holes and plotting pits of despair, I’m ready.

It’s going to be a bear to edit, but I like wrestling.

The Hero's Quest

For a dear friend, for Christmas.

The hero had a name, once. He quickly forgot it.

He woke in a field, head and heart and lungs heavy with the scent of flowers, of every kind of flower that grows in full sun. Petals pursed like lips to greet him, their whispered welcome bidding him tread softly. And so he took off his boots, savored one last tinkling of the bells threaded through the laces before he dropped them on the ground. He had loved that sound, once.

He quickly forgot it.

From the field into a wood he wandered and there the beasts spoke to him.

“A hero must have a quest,” said a buck, horns swinging with every word. “What is yours?”

“I don’t know,” the hero answered.

“A hero must seek knowledge,” murmured a hare, back paws pounding. “Where will you look?”

“I’m not sure,” the hero answered.

“A hero must be certain in all things,” a falcon cried, wings slicing the air as it alighted on a branch above. “How will you proceed?”

The hero didn’t say anything this time but studied his surroundings: the forest path beaten beneath his bare feet, the moss-furred trees, the little mushrooms that sprouted at their bases, red and white caps like heads nodding. He tried to remember how’d he come to be there, what he’d meant to do, but his mind felt only hours old. There was the field, the flowers. The smell of earth and the sound of bells.

And then there was something else, something hidden and nearly forgotten. There was a face and a pair of sparkling eyes beneath pitch-dark brows. There was a laugh like a bell but deeper, the kind of joy that stakes itself in the ground, a ward against sadness.

“I am going to find the princess,” the hero said, because every quest has a princess, he thought. She must belong to this one.

The buck and the hare and the falcon all inclined their heads toward him, and then as one looked down the forest path. They did not need to tell him the way would be hard. It was a quest. All ways are hard.

In the forest the hero encountered goblins and kobolds and trolls and orcs and spiders as large as three men. With the buck’s aid, he drew a sword from a boulder to slay them.

In the valley beyond he met with tricksters and thieves and liars and great temptation. With the help of the hare, he outsmarted them.

In the mountains at last he fought wights and ghosts and the shadows of all the things he feared the most. The falcon flew to him and cried courage from every peak, until at last the hero fell to his knees before the gates of a shimmering palace. The stones that made up its walls seemed in one light to be made of silver, another of gold or diamonds. The hero, weary from his trials, could only bow his sorry head when a pair of soft-booted feet approached. Gloved hands took his elbows and drew him up.

“I am glad you are here,” the princess said, eyes merry, teeth flashing. “I’ve been so bored and you look like you have a story to tell.”

The hero looked at the princess. He knew her and he didn’t know her. Her voice was familiar but her hair wasn’t right. If he closed his eyes he imagined the giddy shake of her head stirred feathers, not curls.

“I do,” the hero replied. “I do have a story.”

“Then come in and tell me,” said the princess, still smiling, still a little wrong. “We have plenty of time.”

The hero had a concept of time, once, of the brevity of his life and the rich joys he’d filled it with. He wanted to tell the princess of fires and songs and sweetness on the tongue. But this was a forgetting that had taken time. This forgetting was a quest.

So with their feet on cobbles radiant as pearls, her attentions and the thrill he felt with her hand in his, he forgot.

He forgot completely.

I Love Monsters

There was a werewolf used in some promotion when I was kid in the mid-eighties. I don’t know what he was for, only that there was a towering and rather terrifying cardboard stand-up at the grocery we visited. He loomed over my younger brother and I, hawking fear and maybe Dr. Pepper. I was both fascinated and repulsed, my whimsy and my good sense warring for control of my response to this menacing figure.

My parents didn’t help.

They told my brother and I we had to behave or the werewolf would visit us on Halloween night. I’m sure now that they were joking in the same way that my husband and I chuckle over things with our girls before we remember that sarcasm isn’t something they’ve quite figured out yet. Our oldest daughter has taken to repeating something I tell her when her dad says something particularly terrible:

“You’re not telling the truth.”

But for my brother and I, my parents were providing us with intelligence on how to avoid a potential encounter with that cardboard monster’s real-life counterpart. And I remember being scared, but also deadly curious.

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In the same way that I would later be enchanted with High Spirits, with the skeletal transformation of The Grateful Dead, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and with tearing my way through every Goosebumps book I could get my hands on, this werewolf was irresistible. I loved the feeling of being scared, and even as a six-year-old there was something weirdly attractive about scary things. I remember admiring my reflection in the rear window of my dad’s Z28, my brother and I laying in the back in our Halloween costumes after trick or treating at a local mall. I was painted up as a witch, my green face looking back at me with the moon beyond it like something out of a fiction.

I know I’m supposed to be scared, and of the truly monstrous, I am. But those aren’t usually the sorts of ghouls that haunt the stories I like. I’ll always cower a little before those creatures that sometimes surprise me with a hidden intelligence or human-like flaws, who do so without giving up any of their weirdness – but I won’t be able to walk away.

The Kapellbrücke

About a week before my husband and I got engaged, we were walking at dusk in St. Peter, in Germany, in the Black Forest. A cover band was playing Creedence Clearwater Revival at a lakeside festival, and I remember thinking how strange it was to hear pitch-perfect Southern rock interspersed with audience banter in German.

I remember stopping my then-boyfriend, holding his hands, his arms, his waist, and looking into his eyes.

“This is the time,” I said, and we both knew what time I meant. I was ready to be married, to be planning to be married. We’d been together for six years. It was July and his brother had gotten engaged the previous Christmas to his longtime girlfriend. I’d cried, happy for them and maddened for myself. I’d told him that it seemed like everyone knew what they wanted except for him.

He didn’t propose beside that lake. He waited, because he’d been waiting that entire three-week sojourn in Germany following my graduation, an engagement ring secreted away in a contact lens case in his backpack. He had a plan, because my husband always has a plan.

When we first began dating, we talked about Germany a lot. He’d spent a year there after high school, living with a host family and working in a hotel as part of an international program. I’d never been out of the country but it was something I’d always dreamed of doing. We spent a lot of time in coffee houses, where he was particularly fond of telling me stories about adventures he and his friend, another fella named Michael, would go on. Once they went to Lucerne, Switzerland, and drank hot chocolate in a café before a picturesque window with a view of the snow-capped Alps. I heard the story so many times I felt like I’d been there myself, for want of having been there myself.

So naturally, when we planned our trip to Germany, we aimed to pass through Lucerne and fly out of Geneva. We spent a day walking all over the old town walls and along the river with that very same friend, who now lived in Lucerne, crossing the medieval Chapel Bridge twice. The second time over the bridge he stopped us partway through. He didn’t get down on one knee, but what he did do was flash me a terrified grin and work his way through a series of sentiments that led to his asking me to marry him and me immediately bursting into ugly tears, shocked, and burying my head in his shoulder, ruining the photograph he’d asked his friend to take. I said yes, of course.

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We were married a little over a year later, and nine years ago exactly, today.

He told me later that the reason we’d walked all over Lucerne that day was because he was trying to find that café because he wanted to propose there, to have our own memory to talk of in that place where he had such a fond memory of his own. It’s the sort of thing that’s so like him: surprisingly, endearingly sentimental, even whimsical, for a man who often claims he isn’t, a man that I’ve loved for so long for knowing his own heart - even when I’m arguing that maybe he doesn’t.

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Here is a thing I am glad of: that it wasn’t the time, by that lake. That there was a time already ahead of us, just waiting.

Here is a thing I hope: we have a whole lot more.

I Dream of Dragon Con - Again

It’s that time of year when, despite the looming insanity of the holidays, I’m still near enough to my Dragon Con high to start thinking about what I’ll cosplay next year and fooling myself into thinking I’ll start sewing before February. And, despite the fact that I had more costumes than I could even wear this past year, I’m plotting three new ones.

My bestie had such a stellar time participating in the elf choir and the lantern procession this year that I’ve got to join her. After briefly flirting with the idea of cosplaying Merrill from Dragon Age II, I’ve decided I need to return to my roots. Or, more accurately, my first real fandom, and make use of the Lord of the Rings-themed sewing patterns that have been languishing uncut in my collection for more than ten years. While her velvet gowns are breathtaking, I’ve decided that Arwen’s grey riding dress from the flight to Rivendell is where it’s at – bonus, I get a sword.

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If you’re still sore about her taking over this scene from Glorfindel, come at me. Of the many things I appreciate about the film series is the agency Peter Jackson gave Tolkien’s female characters, especially Arwen and Galadriel.

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I missed my excellent MCU pals at the parade this year, and while I’ve typically marched as Peggy Carter, I’m ready to change it up in 2019. I’d like to do Scarlet Witch, and I definitely want my hands to glow with some potent energies. I’ll probably model my cosplay based on some earlier iterations of her costume, unless her look in the as-yet-untitled Infinity Wars sequel is too good to pass up and/or not beyond my skill level.

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And finally, inspired by an adorable cosplay I saw at the Cincinnati Comic Expo this past weekend, I’d like to cosplay Sophie from the end of Howl’s Moving Castle. I also plan to make a glowing Calcifer to float in my hands, likely using similar construction to however I’ll get Wanda’s hands to glow. Double the opportunity to play with LEDs, naturally.

We’ll see if all of these happen. It occurs to me that I’m now planning on every single cosplay next year including a wig - and I really, really, really hate wigs. Maybe I’m just not wearing them correctly?

Or maybe I have an overly sensitive head.

It’s probably that.


Dragon Con is for Dancing Andorians

This past year was my fifth Dragon Con, and absolutely the best one yet. At the very least, it’s the first year whose awesomeness warrants calling out my top five moments.

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After seeing a post on Facebook about a Romulan winning the Miss Star Trek Universe Pageant in a previous year, I wondered if I hadn’t been wrong to avoid the pageant given I’d assumed it was, basically, pageantry. And it was. But it was nerdy pageantry, which means it’s amazing. This year one of the contestants was the daughter of the black slime that killed Tasha Yar and they crowned an Andorian whose talent was doing the Vote for Pedro dance from Napoleon Dynamite. I will never miss this again.

I went to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog: The Musical, Live & Onstage for the first time, and was just absolutely delighted with the energy and enthusiasm from the cast and from the audience. I guess this was the first time they’ve actually performed, rather than just sung along, and I’d go see it again in a heartbeat.

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I have marched in the Dragon Con Parade every year and there’s such an outpouring of love and good vibes that I can’t miss it – even when it means getting up really early after dancing much too late. This year I marched as Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, which meant there were a lot of smiling faces approximately my age shouting about field trips and also the cutest kids ever holding out their hands for high fives. Best moment was when I encountered a tiny Miss Frizzle and nearly cried, she was so cute and I missed my own girls so much.

Parties at Dragon Con are, at least for me, hit or miss. But this year I joined friends at the Yule Ball and had an absolute blast. The music was the perfect blend of cheesy and dancey and the crowd was full of witches and wizards. What’s not to love?

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When I learned that Mira Furlan was going to be at the con this year, I knew I had to make an effort to get to one of her panels – and I managed through sheer luck and stubbornness to end up in the front of the Babylon 5: 25th Anniversary Media Panel, close enough to appreciate all of Furlan’s and Walter Koenig’s shared smiles. Hearing them talk about what it was like on set and how Furlan’s experiences with war informed Delenn’s character was just so special. The show has always felt deeply political to me, and when Furlan talked about “empathy and compassion” being what we’re missing most in our current social climate, and how these things aren’t feminine but belong to “all of us,” just. It was very, very cool and affirming.

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Honorable mentions include getting to oh-so-briefly meet Travis McElroy and have his arm around my shoulder for a friend’s shared photo-op, and the Pawnee Goddess meet-up on Thursday evening. Treat yo’ self.

Also, Naomi Novik gave a reading of a work in progress and spoke about what it was like to write original fiction and fanfiction and, just, she’s perfect. She talked about how when she's writing the most, she's writing both, and that she'll take whatever comes out of the spigot. She's not going to shut it off because it's not what she's supposed to be working on. 

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I wish I could just nap for six weeks or so and then do it all over again, but alas, we have to wait a whole year. Did you go? What was your best or favorite moment?