Word Drops

When I think about my formative years, I think about crippling shyness, bad hair, worse poetry. What I couldn’t say out loud – which was a lot – I wrote and wrote and wrote. And I remember, too, making the conscious decision as a senior in high school that it was my writing that would define me. I claimed it when, in what seemed like the boldest of moves in my 18-year-old brain, I wrote and delivered a speech at our baccalaureate. And a big part of the reason why I owned my voice was because of my creative writing teacher, Ms. Calder.

She was a free spirit who wore fluid, printed tops and glass beads, who shared slide photographs of her trips to Egypt and Greece on the classroom’s overhead projector. She oversaw the regular publication of a collection of student writing, Word Drops in Literary Puddles, but mostly, she entrusted the bulk of the work to her most eager and interested students. And in my eleventh and twelfth grade years, that was me and one of my best friends.

Everyone in her writing classes had their work featured and it was our job to select from their submissions, to solicit a cover illustration and to design and layout each publication. There was a considerable amount of drama when someone turned in the lyrics to a Barenaked Ladies song, claiming it as their own, and when the just-right accompanying piece of clip art could not be found for my latest poem about heartbreak. Weren’t they all about heartbreak?

But Ms. Calder didn’t judge us as I fear I’d judge my melodramatic teenage self. She was patient, encouraging and had a wry, appreciative wit that I sometimes think was wasted on high school students. She regularly pressed us to submit our writing to a regional publication for student writers and celebrated with the class every time someone’s poem or short piece was selected for publication. When I graduated, she bought me a beautiful pen and a photo album. I still have the photo album but I’ve lost the note she’d tucked inside. I wish I could remember what it said.

Ms. Calder passed in 2013. I just learned that this morning, before I sat down to write this, to remember her and the ways she trusted me – taught me to trust myself.

She treated everyone like a writer before any of us were worth reading. It was a gift.

And so was she.

What the Internet is For

When I read Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet I was so delighted by her descriptions of how she approached marketing and promotion for The Guild, how everything was genuine, personal, and obsessively orchestrated by Day herself. As I stalked around my city on my lunch breaks hanging flyers in Cincinnati’s many coffee spots and libraries about my book's launch and signing earlier this month, or when I still stubbornly respond to every RT and send thank you emails, I like how close to the work that I feel. I enjoy being a part of a community of writers and readers and dreamers, and growing that community all the time.

There are a lot of demands around how to market oneself online and create a personal brand, and I feel grateful to have gotten first involved in an internet before this was a thing. I started blogging in 2001 on Diaryland. I was 18 and it was then, at least for me, about cultivating a voice and entering a conversation. I made friends then that I treasure still now, as I did in subsequent years on Livejournal. At some point, blogging became less about play and more about product, and I’ve always been a little sorry for the change. But social media came along to fill the void at just the right time, and for a few years Myspace, and later Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr, allowed for the same informal socializing online. We shared things. We got giddy about things, and sad, and silly.

The medium changes, but my approach doesn’t.

Thinking about Day, again. She has always felt so authentic to me, and so kind, and that’s exactly what I’ve endeavored to be on the internet. I want people to feel as heard as they would if we were sitting across from each other over coffee. I didn’t grow up with the internet, but it’s been part of my adult life for my entire adult life, which is probably why I balk at folks who are just a few years older than I am, in some cases, acting like the conversations and speculations we’re having online are any less real than the ones we’d have in person. If I’m engaging with you, I’m engaging with you. The same goes, I imagine, for so much of my peer group and folks much younger than me, too. I’m just barely a Millennial – I remember when I was growing up, we were called Generation Y, and I’ve always felt there’s a subtle difference for those of us born in the early 80s, old enough to remember the world before the World Wide Web, young enough to appreciate both worlds as they are.

As a writer and a human with stories to share, I am always going to want to talk to you, learn about you, learn from you. I am going to pursue honesty and whimsy and friendship as ardently in a virtual space as I would in a real one – because both are real.

Don’t you think?

Chores? Nay, QUESTS

I've become more than a little bit obsessed with HabitRPG. So much so that adding a To Do to write a blog means that I am here, writing it. Is that meta? I don't know. There's something about things that are meta that make me as irritable as hipsters chattering in my favorite coffee house. Probably because they both leave me feeling like I'm fourteen again and a little slow on the uptake (I was too busy worrying about what my mother made me wear that day and hoping I didn't have food caught in my braces). Remind me to tell you the story about the time in our sex education class when we all had to swish and spit into Dixie cups*.

Like most writers I know, I am an extremely skillful time waster. And like most writers I know, I lament this fact even as I'm collecting images of period gowns for an inspirational Pinboard on my latest project, perfecting my cold brew for the smoothest cup of iced coffee to accompany my morning writing, or "networking" on Twitter by fangirling about Doctor Who and retweeting Feminist Hulk. So anytime I've been able to incentivise getting shit done, especially when it comes to writing, I do it. It used to be a solid hour of writing meant a little gaming, but now that I have a baby who monopolizes most of my higher brain functions when she's awake and contributes an alarming amount to the dishes and laundry, there is no time for games. Which is why my achievement whoring heart loves HabitRPG so very much. I can collect experience points and gold for outlining a chapter? Washing a load of diapers? Writing a blog post? DONE.

But in all seriousness, it's really, really cool, and sincerely helpful in prioritizing exactly how you're going to waste time, if you must waste it, and how you're going to be productive. Sword-wielding, armor-wearing, wolfhound at your heels productive.

*Our gym teacher dumped everything into a glass pitcher so everyone could see what our water and saliva looked like all mixed up together, which is, I suppose, exactly what it would have been like if we'd all slept with the same undeserving eighth grade boy? A real gem of a girl pointed out the floaters and informed everyone of how they must've been mine, even though I brushed every day after lunch. 

Temper Tantrum

I have a temper that's mostly irrational and entirely inherited from my father. Which isn't to say my mom hasn't got a mouth on her, but I'm all short fuses and long strings of curse words directed at ovens/computers/motor vehicles, marketing campaigns, and my husband running the goddamned vacuum at ten to midnight. My dirty mouth is not attractive, and is the kind that's only entertaining in novels. But it's important. I can't take my ire seriously without it. And I didn't swear, not one word willfully, until I read Inherit the Wind.

DRUMMOND. I'm sorry if I offend you. But I don't swear just for the hell of it. You see, I figure that language is a poor enough means of communication as it is. So we ought to use all the words we've got. Besides, there are damned few words that everybody understands.

I remember citing this play as evidence to my friends in high school, who'd presumably read the same book in the same English class or at least enough to get by, but who likely didn't need the rationale I did to revel in bad words. Perhaps they hadn't let something slip at nine years old without meaning to during a particularly intense game of Super Mario Bros., or perhaps they had but hadn't spend the next hour hiding in the laundry room for fear their little brother would tattle on them to mom and dad. Maybe they didn't grin when late for class one morning and elbow deep in discarded homework at the bottom of their locker, they repeated 'shit' over and over again, rolling the word between tongue and cheek and lips like a dirty pinball.

I toyed with words, all words, because I could. I liked telling people that 'fuck' was one of the few true English infixes, and demonstrating just how versatile an utterance it could be. As a girl, cursing gave me an edge I mostly imagined, but whose novelty provided the very best of outlets for my rage against maddeningly dull teenage boys and government teachers (and let's be honest, machines). (My teenage love affair with RATM and Zack de la Rocha is another blog entirely). As a woman, I'm a little more sensitive, a little more secret, but there are few things that feel better than swearing when I'm hoppin' mad.

But I still won't curse in front of my parents.

Computer Monitors are not Crystal Balls

I was thinking that the good ol' days of my fortune telling was my infantile exploration of the internet at fourteen and fifteen years old: the widgets - did we even call them widgets then? - on personal Angelfire pages that would provide Tarot readings or random sentiments for luck; Ask Jeeves' maternal aunt Madame Jekaterina beseeched in a chat box regarding whether this boy or that one was worthier of my ardent affections or if foregoing AP Biology would really cripple my chances at a scholarship; the notion that the disorderly primeval ooze out of which true randomness slunk could somehow offer me direction and heart, that these things gave me what conversation and real world experience could not. Some other energy that could be heralded or blamed for when things went terribly awry. Or just plain terrible. But it didn't start then. I've liked looking for signs my whole life, though not in any of the usual places. It wasn't only that I enjoyed imagining patterns where there weren't any, or reading into things that probably weren't meant to be read in the first place, it was a comfort that of all the meaningless possibilities, this one was mine. That there were answers I could not find in a book, even if it meant I had to fathom them into existence. When K and I dared to ask Zandar or I rolled a pair of mismatched dice or looked up a dream interpretation in my secondhand almanac, what I think I always wanted was confirmation for the things I already knew anyway. Worst case scenario, the things I hoped were true or real or immediate.

Now I Google the truth. Over and over again until I've got enough right answers to shut up the part of my brain that wants shutting up, that's forever fourteen and in need of daily affirmations. Usually accompanied by the appropriate Yahoo horoscope and a Lisa Frank sticker.


It would be an inaccurate picture to offer only an excerpt of the following list, written somewhere in the range of fourteen or fifteen years old and found by me in a vain attempt to purge the many relics of my adolescence that fill moving boxes in our basement. This one's a keeper. Misspellings and a lifetime of friendship intact.

K and I are alike because:

We both love Ramen Noodles We both love Dr. Pepper We both hate tomatoes We both hate mayonaisse We both hate potato salad We both hate egg salad We both hate chicken salad We both hate deviled eggs We both hate peas We both love Long John Silver's We both love Captain D's We both love cheese sticks We both love doodling We both love Hanson (duh) Our telepathic moments saying something at the same time The word snifty (nifty) sensitive hyper moments shy sacastic sarcastic We like purple love to tye-dye love sparkles We are both pretty We both think we're ugly We both love music We both love art We both love shoes snifty hairwraps snifty power bracelets snifty rings We both have long toes bad concentration no boyfriends love nature & peace We love to smile enjoy chocolate We love monkeys & bananas (but not to eat) We both love drama We both love singing Winter of Fire (our favorite book) We both are abnormal We both love camaras We both love each other's pets We both love our own pets We both love Beavis & Butthead We both love Daria We both love Grease We both obsess over Hanson (duh) We waste money on magazines with Hanson We both love mail We both love paper games We are incurable klutzes We spill things daily We both call people evil (if they are)

Baba O'Reilly

An hour of my life was lost in the annals of my teenage self. There are a few things I would like to say to her. Sixteen-year-old self, chill. In a year you will be kissed by a boy for the first time and it will be unremarkable. It certainly will not be self-fulfilling or anything like when Joe Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow kiss in Shakespeare in Love, mustache notwithstanding.

Hellishness is a stupid word.

Your first boyfriend will be a douche. Thank you for not sleeping with him, or even entertaining the idea. And when you think it's a good idea to wear your vintage boy's button down shirt to the park, please remember to do up all of the buttons again, and properly, before he drops you off at home.

In three years you will meet the man you are going to marry. You are not looking to date anyone at the time, but you make an exception. The very best.

He is a remarkable kisser.

Unwives Tales

This morning a cardinal alighted on one of our patio chairs, his feathered tail bobbing like a lure. As a girl I would've held my breath, beginning a silent recitation of the alphabet. I'd read in an enormous tome of American folklore - one of many acquisitions from school book sales, where I'd find the book with the best amount of pages for my (mother's) buck - that when you saw a red bird land, the letter on your lips at the moment he flew away again was the first letter of the last name of the man you were going to marry. I would never have admitted to cheating, but the haste with which I spoke my As, Bs, and Cs or the languid lines of L and M and N and O and P had everything to do with the unlucky classmate I fancied and nothing with the familiar melody of the alphabet.

My romantic superstitions were not restricted to girlhood. In high school I bent the tabs off of Dr. Pepper cans while repeating the same, and kept a chain of letters on a cord around my neck, spelling the name of my beloved. Why pearls when you can have aluminum? K and I also revisited the book, our Avonlea sensibilities satisfied by the sweetest temptation of them all: swallow a thimble full of salt before bed, and dream of the man you will marry bringing you a glass of water.

I imagined, so ardently did I love at sixteen, that he would bring me whole lengths of rivers in his arms.

And so we did just that, of course, not the stupidest thing we'd ever done but certainly the thing with the farthest reaching consequences. Though I did not learn to cook for years, it was many years even after that I would consent to season anything with salt. We didn't see anything, and none of these boys grew up to be the man I married.

No matter how much growing up I do, there are still so very many ways to be foolish about love.

Greased Lightnin'

My general malaise regarding my CD collection has driven me of late to FM radio, though there are little gems to be had. Namely, the sweet nostalgia that launched me from the confines of my car into the street artist exaggerations of the opening credits of Grease. The movie was a perennial favorite of my childhood and adolescence, though I haven't seen it in years and found the ending bittersweet with every subsequent viewing as a teenager. Sandy and Danny float off in their car, singing and cuddling and sweet, but where are they going? As a child I was content that they were together, mouths busy with kissing and made-up words. At a sober seventeen, I knew they wouldn't be together forever, and even if they were so cursed, they'd just get married, have babies, and argue over who was meant to do the vacuuming. Love wasn't something experienced by my contemporaries, I felt, or worthy of any more of my attention than could be diverted from the truly important things: college, graduate school, and a killer job writing for a magazine. I wasn't picky about where I went to school or which magazine I'd write for, only when all of these things needed to happen, and the answer was Right Away.

Grease was the musical of choice in the spring of my senior year, and for all I was pure as the driving snow in virgin white and carrying a torch for abstinence until marriage, what I wasn't was a soprano, and so I was cast as Rizzo. I wanted the part, and in retrospect, I had more to learn from her than just her lines. I recall blushing at the notion of getting one's kicks while still young enough to get them, but I was in a hurry to grow up for different reasons. I've had the suspicion for years, whatever my degree of emotional stability in high school, that somehow I missed out on something. Probably making mistakes, but what I haven't got now is what I had then: an excuse.

Still, I'd like to think Rizzo ditched Kenickie after she'd had her way with him, invested in reliable birth control, and went to college. Or at least got a killer job in publishing.

Laa Laa Nostalgia

"What is this?" My husband and I are hauling Christmas decorations, at long last, into the storage room in the basement. The whole basement may as well be considered storage for as tidy as I keep it, but in this particular space he could be referring to absolutely anything.

"What is what?"

He thrusts forward a Teletubbie, his look incredulous.

"That's Laa Laa," I answer, holding my arms out, into which the yellow critter is deposited. M continues to eye me suspiciously, necessitating further explanation. Namely, that she was a Christmas gift from my mother. When I was in high school.

I haven't grown up any more than I had then, and am overcome with as much desire to squeeze her cute alien brains to bits as I was at sixteen. There's a photograph of me and one of K's cousins on her water bed, Laa Laa between us, each of us with eyes half-lidded not from the dope other girls our age might have been smoking but from the delirium that follows too many cans of Dr. Pepper consumed and the liberating atmosphere of teenage girls in the company of other teenage girls. I'm wearing a scratch-and-sniff Chinese take-out t-shirt from Gadzooks and my hair is a riot of ringlets. I am young and thin and imagine myself someday to be rock star, for all I spent just as much time on that water bed sitting across from K and writing as we did curled on the floor, playing the same songs over and over again on our guitars. Hers was big and blue and beautiful and the name, I feel like, started with a B. Mine is neglected now in our spare room for all I can still play, if poorly, "House of the Rising Sun" or "Wish You Were Here" when asked.

There's a shelf downstairs, too, wide and deep enough for two rows of the journals I kept between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. I don't like to open them, but I made sure to store them high enough that should the basement flood, they'll be the last of things to go.

I brought Laa Laa upstairs and added her to the small collection of toys we keep in the living room for the increasing number of friends and cousins with children. Her laughter was meant for the young.