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.


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.

Replaying = Rereading

Sometimes I turn the difficulty down on games so I can enjoy the story. I bristle when this is called “casual” mode – because there’s nothing casual about an immersive gaming experience. I’ve noticed recently that some titles are referring to this as “story” mode, which is a whole lot closer to what I am trying to get out of my games.

I sat on the couch in my parents’ living room as a kid and cursed into an empty soda can watching my dad play The Legend of Zelda on our Nintendo. I’d later swap controllers with my brother, working our way through Resident Evil 2 – because, survival horror. Safety in numbers, right?

I spent as much time playing Morrowind and Knights of the Old Republic as I did writing papers as an undergraduate in literature and creative writing, and I got through my Master’s thesis raiding Karazhan.

Games, and RPGs especially, I just. love. them.

I was talking with my husband recently about the replayability of certain games, not unrelated to the fact that I am working my way through Dragon Age: Inquisition for a fourth time. I know, I know. He's judging me, too.

But the interesting thing was, we weren't quite in agreement about what makes a good replay. I might deviate slightly from the choices I made in my first - or second or third - play-through, but often, I'm replaying a game like I might reread a book. I want to experience the story I grew to love again, just the way I experienced it the first time. I would imagine my husband, who often makes entirely different choices and pursues different outcomes, is more typical in his desires. It's not that I don't want to see more of the world. It's just that I identify so strongly with a particular narrative thread that I can't let it go.

This is probably a good explanation for the allure of fanfiction, too. There's just always more between the lines of dialogue and morally defining moments of choice - I don't want to miss anything.

What about you? Are you a replayer?

64, 54, 34

My mom had a coloring book before coloring books for adults were cool. I remember visiting a family friend, her kids and my brother running in the sprinkler outside and hollering and hooting and what I wanted to do, instead, was sit and watch my mother at their kitchen table carefully coloring a picture of Snow White. She was probably younger then than I am now, her slim fingers selecting pristine crayons from a well-kept box of 64. She had her own coloring book, and her own crayons, because even though I was an observant child, I was still a child and clumsy and like to lose or break or color my favorite colors down to flat nothings.

And besides, she frequently offered me dollars to select coloring books of my own when we went to the grocery store. It's probably why I can't resist picking them up for my girls.

I can still see her hands, their strong, brightly painted nails and the rings she liked to wear featuring her favorite gemstone: amethysts. I decided that it was my favorite, too, lamenting that we didn't share a birth month, as though only those born in the bitter cold of an Ohio February could appreciate that glittering, purple beauty. But I was born in October to my 20-year-old mother, giving her, according to members of my family, something to build her life around. She had always wanted children and my brother and I have probably broken her heart about a thousand times, so it's only fair that she's breaking mine now.

She's in the hospital and she's not wearing any rings. She showed me her toenails, though, painted purple with sparkles. She felt well enough to paint them, a few weeks ago. But not today. Not now.

I am thinking of the last time that I saw her well and whole, when my mother held my youngest in her arms and her grin was so wide, such a perfect expression of delight, that she's wearing it in every photograph from that visit. We went to the pool, the zoo, she read the girls a story in the little toddler bed, everyone in pajamas with clean hair and fresh faces.

She's 54.

She's very sick.

She might not get better.

I'm 34.

And I'm not ready.

She isn't, either, and we're still coming up short on answers and appropriate sentiments. She's home with my auntie, now, but still so far from me. I am telling myself, regarding distance, not for long.

I am telling myself, regarding time, for a lot, lot longer.

Happy Christmas from the Internet

I promised I would begin sharing silliness yesterday, but if I can't break arbitrary promises on the internet, where can I? There's considerable nostalgia at Christmastime, and it makes sense. It's a magical time of year for the youngest of us, and while I do believe it's possible to make very merry as a grown-up, I remember the holidays of my youth with a ruby glow, Making liberally glue-sticked and cotton-balled construction paper Christmas decorations with my brother, helping my mom string lights inside the house and my father out, obsessing over the TV guide and when the classic holiday specials would be on television, drinking hot cocoa on Christmas Eve and driving around looking at lights. We still do this last with our children. And perhaps when they've grown up a bit, they'll keep themselves up too, too late singing Christmas carols in bed, as my brother and I did, waiting for Santa Claus.

Love this imagining of a favorite classic from Tom Whalen.

I've had some sweet moments as an adult, too. One year my husband, then-boyfriend, surprised me with Nenya, and my excitement certainly approached that of the engagement ring he slipped onto my finger a few years later. The year after we were married I obsessively tried to acquire a hodge podge of bride's tree ornaments. I made stockings for the two of us and one each from the same pattern for our girls when they arrived. We've watched them grow into the wonder of the season, and anticipate many years of fun to come. I believed in Santa Claus until i was nine, and I had to be told that he wasn't real. Either my parents were really, really good, or my imagination just wasn't ready to let go. I expect a little bit of both.

And as my community of friends and the source of some of my joys has grown online as well as off, there are some digital delights I revel in each year, such that it doesn't even feel like Christmas, really, until I have. So I thought I would share them with you here. They're not going to change your life, but they might make you smile. And this year, I know I need that more than ever.

Enough with the preamble. I'm giving you two treats today, because I failed you yesterday.

    1.  Every year that I can remember as a child we watched A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the past few years we've watched it with our daughters, too. This year my youngest asserts that every piano solo is "Charlie Brown." But what I don't watch with them I certainly giggle to myself over, and that's this classic performed by the cast from Scrubs. Probably only funny if you watched this show and wanted for a hot minute to be one of the cool kids a doctor, but still.
    2. I grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation. So this gets me every year.

To Boldly Grow Up

The cutest, right? nnaj on DeviantArt has a lovely sense of humor. I'm sure I'm not the only nerd writing about Star Trek today, but reading these memories from other fans of the franchise on its 50th birthday got my warp plasma flowing.

I didn't grow up with TOS, but rather, TNG. Thanks to my dad, I was lucky to be the kid who watched Reading Rainbow and wondered what Geordi La Forge was doing there, rather than the other way around. I remember Riker without a beard, though whether it's from initial viewings at 5 years old or later reruns, I can't tell you. I definitely recall with terror and wonder first contact with the Borg, whose soulless assimilation has informed my understanding of true villainy to this day.

I was of the tender generation who never found Wesley Crusher to be obnoxious, but instead a character who created a space for somebody like me on the bridge of the Enterprise.

As I grew up, other series attracted my interest, most notably Voyager and Enterprise, the latter of which I will not tolerate any bitching about unless you've actually seen it in its entirety. As a writer, I found their plot lines and character dynamics the most compelling, and resistance to my love of this series is futile. Voyager I watched on Netflix well after it aired, and it gave me the female captain I hadn't known I'd always wanted - and a bit of a grudge against my dad for not introducing me to Janeway when I had been a teenager much in need of a boss lady bending the Prime Directive under duress.

One of the most powerful sentiments I read regarding the franchise was this:

"The show delivered good news: there might be a future that included peace, hope, and bold adventure, and it came in bright colors, featured space travel, and was fun!"

This has always been the thing that I have loved best about Star Trek, that human beings could overcome all of the nonsense, violence, and bigotry to be better, to be a force for peace and friendship in the galaxy. I appreciated seeing the trope of invading alien species uniting us against them turned on its head, with humanity's first contact with the Vulcans instead revealing all that we could be and aspire to, rather than disparage and fear. I grew up with a series that embodied what a society fully entrenched in this kind of noble stability could look like, and to this day it is the utopia that appeals to me the most. It's what I hope for when I see people doing good for the sake of doing good, making sacrifices for others without recognition or compensation, when our ugliest impulses as human beings are forgotten in moments of compassion, creativity, and selflessness.

We have the opportunity now to be bolder than ever, 50 years later.

Books to Grow On

Writers are always readers first. In a Dark Dark Room and Other Scary StoriesIt's Children's Book Week, and I'd been thinking all about my girls and what they love to read before a post from my best library reminded me of my own favorites as a child.

I distinctly remember making a weekly visit to the library in my hometown (it was such a small place it was actually a home village) and checking out as many books as my mom would allow - and beginning to read them in the car despite her warning that if I finished them all before the week was up, I'd just have to wait until we could make it back to the library again. I was used to lingering in the early readers, repeatedly checking out In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories because my oldest daughter didn't get her Wednesday Addams tendencies from thin air.

I was in third or fourth grade when I decided I wanted a BIG book, and pushed a stool against the shelf of juvenile fiction and selected the largest tome I laid eyes on among the As. It was Avi's Bright Shadow, and in addition to being the longest book I'd ever attempted to read, it would be my first fantasy, too.Bright Shadow

I remember the book feeling mysterious and dark and possible, the magic delicious and different, and I remember, too, the extreme satisfaction of finishing. Even just seeing the cover again gives me tingles. There'd be no going back to Cam Jansen, now. I'd seen what a character-driven narrative arc could do, and I wanted more.

Favorites in later years included Julie of the Wolves, A Wrinkle in Time, Island of the Blue DolphinsThe Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, The Boxcar Children, Pippi Longstocking, Heidi, Little House in the Big Woods, The BFG, and so many more. As a child, I was not a particular reader - I would read anything. My mom and dad would pick up stacks of books for me at yard sales or flea markets and within fifteen seconds of thanking them I would be invisible behind the spine of one of my latest acquisitions. I enjoyed, and still do, books about uncanny girls and strange happenings and compelling, believable settings, whether historical or otherwise.

There's still something about that Avi, though. A young girl? A friendship? Struggling with how to spend the last five wishes in a whole kingdom? Feels to me like the beginning of just the sort of thing I'd spend the rest of my life hoping to write.

Down the Rabbit Hole

As a child, the start of every month would mean I'd wake, gummy-eyed, and mutter softly to myself before saying good morning to anyone, Rabbit, Rabbit. Before the age of Google and despite having been rather a voracious young reader, I heard this on Nickelodeon, and latched on to it as I always had and would always be terribly superstitious. I had no notion of why I was doing it, only that if I didn't, I was cheating myself out of a very real opportunity to plot the course of the next thirty-odd days with a little more luck than I would have otherwise. And I felt - jinxing, horoscope-reading, avoiding stepping on cracks even when I was very, very angry with my mother child that I was - that I needed all of the luck that I could get. To earn better than a B on my math tests. To get picked to play the xylophone. To hold hands with a boy. To turn invisible when it was my turn to do a somersault in gym class (or dribble a basketball, or get picked for kickball, or climb the rope).

Now a new month just means I get paid and can, after paying my credit card bill, break my financial fast from iced coffee and frozen yogurt. I am especially guilty in the summer of finding very little to look forward to but autumn, each month one nearer to November - which is when it comes to Ohio, these days. There is nothing so wondrous or flexible as the faith I had as a child that something small I did could change the whole course of things, unless it's averting an argument with my husband by loading the dishwasher. How grim and dull adulthood is.

I think that's why I write.

Carry All

It's spring, and because I'm a girl and an American - sadly not, despite much wishing on the part of my nine-year-old self, an American Girl - this means two things. One, I will ignore the mismatched bikini tops and bottoms that have already gone on sale at Target because they've been out since February; and two, I will move all of the necessaries from my little winter clutch into a big, cross-body boho bag for all of the adventures I imagine I can have out of doors, in coffee shops and bookstores and cafés. I feel entirely ridiculous when I claim that carrying a new purse has an inane power to make me feel more powerful, but it's true. The thirty-seven bobby pins that rattled about in the bottom of the old one are returned to the ceramic bowl in the bathroom, where they'll take the next few months to distribute themselves as I take my hair down and put it haphazardly up; my keys and cell phone and iPod and laptop mouse find pockets all, and the promise of ease of use (it won't take but a week for everything to end up in a jumble-fuck at the bottom of the bag). I don't have to choose between my Kindle or my journal or my Netbook. This bag is a productivity love fest. I feel like I can go and do and be for as long as I don't realize I'm lugging eight pounds over one shoulder.

When that happens in July I'll just dump it out and start over again. It's really the solution to more than one would think.