Friday, December 31, 2010

Thoughts That Stretch From One Year Into the Next

Guys, I feel so good right now. I don't know why. I'm not drunk. I haven't inhaled any illicit substances. The only drug I'm on is caffeine. But I feel so excited, like something big is about to happen.

It's New Year's Eve, so that probably makes sense, but past New Year's Eves I haven't felt like this.

Driving home tonight from seeing a movie ("The King's Speech" - SO GOOD), I looked at the rooftops of suburban neighborhoods all shadowy under nightfall and lamplight and I thought, "Magic is everywhere." It's not in some foreign kingdom, and it's not stuck in the pages of some book. It's everywhere.

G.K. Chesterton, a wonderful writer, once said this of George MacDonald, one of my favorite storytellers of all time: "The commonplace allegory takes what it regards as the commonplaces or conventions necessary to ordinary men and women, and tries to make them pleasant or picturesque by dressing them up as princesses or goblins or good fairies. But George MacDonald did really believe that people were princesses and goblins and good fairies, and he dressed them up as ordinary men and women. The fairy-tale was the inside of the ordinary story and not the outside."

I believe that the world is full of magic. We're all of us more than what we tell people we are. More than our jobs or our roles or relationships. More even than our goals or hopes. You may be a queen under some kind of enchantment, a hero at a crossroads, the wise mentor dispensing advice to wayfarers. You may be in need of saving, or you may be the dragon someone needs saving from.

Magic is everywhere. There are doors leading to it all over. It's hidden all around us. It's hidden inside us.

And that makes me so very happy I could dance.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Muse

For Christmas my friend Rebekah bought me a quill and ink and this:



Beautiful, right? The figures are two muses - you know, the ancient Greek goddesses who inspire creation. Her idea was they could inspire me in my writing ventures. Really sweet.

So far they've inspired this...



...and this...



So here's to a creative and inspired 2011!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Darkest Day

I'm not Wiccan, but I find beauty in their sabbats and esbats - days throughout the year filled with symbolic meaning to represent the changes in nature. I've always thought my favorite of these was Samhain (pronounced "SOW-en" where the "sow" rhymes with "now"), which everybody else calls Halloween. This is the transition of fall into winter. The harvest is over, and now come the cold months. I never really cared about that aspect. It was always more the costumes, the eerie thrill of it all. It's hard to resist the lure of Halloween: shadows lurking, ghosts and beasties, so many mysterious things that can never be fully explained.

That, and the candy. You can never go wrong when candy is involved.

So yes, Samhain - Halloween, or All Hallows Eve - is still probably my favorite holiday to celebrate. Costumes, candy, spooky fun. You really can't beat it. But when it comes to what these special days stand for, I think my favorite is Yule. But why, exactly?

Pagan friends of mine are quick to rant about how ancient Christians "stole" the pagan festivals, moving church holy days to the same days to win converts and make the transition from paganism to Christianity that much more appealing. ("Look - you can still party. Just party with US now!"). It's true. Jesus was most likely born sometime in April, or September. Those are the two I've heard bandied about the most, but every scholar seems to have a different interpretation. Still, it's very unlikely he was born in December, and certainly there would be no way to know if it was on the 25th.

But whoever it was who decided to celebrate Christ's birth side by side with the pagan Yule festival was something of a genius. Symbolically speaking, they fit together like two corresponding pieces of a puzzle.

Pagan Yule is celebrated not on the 25th, but on the winter solstice, the 21st of December. This is literally the darkest day of the year. Light is at its shortest span, and night is at its longest. It is a gloomy time, cold and bleak. The land will bear no crop. The weather is harsh and unforgiving. This is the epitome of defeat, of the lowest one could possibly go. But that's why it's significant: because it's the turning point. On Yule you can know that though you live in shadows, you've reached the blackest, coldest, most difficult hour and survived. To rephrase a Florence and the Machine song: "The dark days are over."

Yule stands for hope in the midst of greatest despair, and Christmas stands for the arrival of salvation. Good news when you would least expect to hear it. The beginning of something better. The coming of the light.

I stood outside a couple nights ago in my driveway, staring up at the sky and cursing under my breath. There was a lunar eclipse - the first time in over 300 years that it's happened on the winter solstice - but you wouldn't have known it from where I stood. The night was moonless. There were no stars. All were hidden behind a thick blanket of clouds.

Which made the dark of this darkest night of the year press in a little closer. Which made me shiver, all the more aware of the cold. Which made the world outside feel for a brief moment like one giant empty room. I felt small and alone, dwarfed by the void, insignificant in the midst of it all.

But that was then, and already the days are growing longer. Already things are looking up. So I'll celebrate Yule and Christmas, celebrate hope and light. I'll hold my candle to the dark and watch it glow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mad Ramblings

I had a dream last night that freaked me out while I was in it, but it fled away in the morning (in the way of dreams) before I could remember what scared me so much.

Two things remain: the first, I had a daughter, or a young girl who was in my care. I'm not really sure which. She was at least two years old, maybe three, but she didn't have a name yet. Her parents - I? - had not wanted to name her until she earned a name. Some cultural tradition maybe? I have no clue. And I just kept thinking it over and over again: "Pax. Her name is Pax." As in, Pax Romana.... Latin for "peace."

It felt very angel-messenger-at-Christmas-y: "And you shall bear a son, and he shall be called..." Only in this case it was, "This girl has been given to me (or is mine somehow?), and her name is Peace." Only it's Pax. Which is weird. But whatever.

The second thing I recall: I thought she had really long, beautiful eyelashes, but at one point - while she was sleeping, maybe? - when I got closer I could see they were actually the legs of centipedes which were resting on her eyelids, and they started moving and fell off.

This really isn't blog-post-worthy material. I have a list somewhere of blog posts I want to write: my reaction to the announcement that Disney plans to move away from the fairy tale genre, a total rant about James Frey and his stupid ripoff of young writers/YA-novel-assembly-line "Full Fathom Five," and other things I can't remember now. But instead you get this weird dream crap, because I'm sick, and my sickness is doing the "bubble head" thing where I feel like I'm in a space suit staring out at people through that big shiny helmet thing. All the pressure in my head is definitely doing that - making me feel like I'm in outer space or way deep underwater. My throat isn't bad - yet - but my nose is being annoying, and mostly it's my head. My stupid frakking head. I wish I was Princess Langwidere from "Ozma of Oz," only instead of stealing heads from other people I'd simply remove mine for a little while until it decides to behave again.

Sigh.

NyQuil is not working. And neither is this. All I want for Christmas is to get rid of this damn sickness!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Sound

It's the strangest sound outside... a bit like the ocean, or a symphony of faintly chirping birds, but not really either of those things. So I go out in my slippers at 1:30am and look into the darkness. And it's ice - not soft enough for snow, just these tiny little crystals careening down, transforming the world into something glittering and sugar-spun.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ink on a Page

My days bleed away,
ink on a page
that never really had the time to dry
I try
to reign them in
and fail completely

This is irksome, this is tragic
all this nonsense about magic
with life
fragile as an eggshell
sliding closer to the ledge

I may rail at Ozymandias,
measure loss by absent Esthers,
think of light and fading embers,
make my lists and swear I’ll get to it all someday
But my todays
slide easily into tomorrows
and I’ve no idea when they will run out

The hourglass stands,
that old Time cliche
of sands perpetually running away
Our minutes in motion,
we watch the loss
as they sift down into piles below

But where do the minutes go?
Where is my other side?
If this life’s the top, where do lost moments hide?
I want to know.
What is there to show for it,
this hollow lie?

I may rail at Ozymandias,
measure loss by absent Esthers,
think of light and fading embers,
make my lists and swear I’ll get to it all someday
But my todays
slide easily into tomorrows
and I’ve no idea when they will run out

My days bleed away—
injured badly, gaping wounds,
and I carry my awareness, an infection
festering deep within my core
I have the questions
none of us can ever answer
We just ignore the elephant
and get on with the routine every day

But I’m losing my moments
my moments and hours
I’m losing whole days
and the months melt to years
I can’t banish the fears
that my years won’t last long now
until I’m a shadow
no sand left above

They talk about love,
but then, what do they know?
And words like eternity tossed about so assuredly,
with such sincerity
(or is it lunacy?)
I can’t—and none of us can ever—be sure

So I rail at Ozymandias,
measure loss by absent Esthers,
think of lamplight and shadows and slow fading embers,
blink in January, only to discover it's December,
losing here and now to thoughts of "soon" or "I remember"—
So I make my lists and swear that
I’ll get to it all someday
But my days bleed awaybleed awaybleedaway

ink on a page



Tuesday, December 7, 2010

School's Out Forever?

So, I really have no idea what this blog is. I often post really personal stuff on here, because it is a fairly private space. I have one "follower," to use the blogger-speak (Hi Ashley!), but I don't think of this blog as being read much. Which is cool. But then every so often I'll use it to write something like my last entry, and I'll link it somewhere (facebook, twitter, etc.) which reminds people that the blog exists, so any personal stuff I've thrown out there is not very far away if someone were to just click a few links here and there.

That said, I'm taking a risk. My mom is on facebook now, and this blog is linked both in the website section of my profile and on my wall right now (for "Said the Ocean to the Moon"). So she could very easily come here. If she is here (Hi Mom!), I can't really do anything about it. But I'm going to say something I don't necessarily want her to know.

I really want to quit grad school.

Let me rephrase. I really want to quit my current graduate program (library science) and apply for another program that actually holds some level of interest for me (I'm thinking literature). I'm not ready for a creative writing program yet. But I'm really interested in literature. In fact, I took enough lit courses as an undergrad for it to have been my second minor, only I didn't take a couple of the specific ones they require for majors/minors (like Shakespeare, or American Lit). So far in my library information studies, I've taken 12 hours (or 4 classes). Of those, literally half have been literature courses. Granted, they teach the literature within the context of librarianship (the two courses were Literature for Children and Literature for Young Adults), but it's still the closest thing you'll get to a literature class in this degree. I loved these classes, because for once we were talking about what was inside the covers of books. You have no idea how frustrating it is to sit for 3 hours in a classroom and have to talk about books as objects. I mean, yes, they are physical objects, but they're really portals. They're really other worlds tucked carefully inside a binding. They're characters, setting, plot, theme, words, images, ideas. And to sit there for three semesters' worth of discussions on budget issues within libraries, or the perfect temperature to keep a collection at to best preserve books, or how to catalogue a book.... BORING. So very very horribly ridiculously DULL.

I like working at the library. I like working with kids but not having to take responsibility for them like a teacher or day care worker would have to. I like shelving books, making bookmarks, coming up with displays, helping people find what they need, suggesting books. All that is great.

But I don't love it. I've found a job that suits me, that I'm fairly good at, that comes with this whole level of respect that I'd never anticipated ("You're a librarian? Cool. You must be all smart and stuff."), and it doesn't pay well but it pays enough.... for now. I'm extremely grateful to have this job and won't make the mistake again of quitting a job on a whim. But I'm not going to allow myself to mistake not-hating a job for loving it. I hated working at Borders. I hated working at Target. I hate my cleaning job (but it's easy money, so I won't give it up in a million years!). But I don't hate working at the library. I just don't see myself working there in ten years. I don't see myself there in 5 years, or even 2.

One thing they keep talking about in grad school is how this is a competitive field, how it's all about networking, etc etc. So there's one strike against it, as I kind of hate competition and don't have a networking bone in my body. But the other thing is this idea of working toward a goal, of wanting to achieve something. Nearly every guest speaker in class this semester would ask us to introduce ourselves by giving our name, where we work now, and where we'd like to work within a library system. You'd get answers like, "I'm working in HR at an office job right now, but I'd love to be a reference librarian at an academic library, possibly with an eye for becoming a branch manager one day." Or "I want to get into preservation and archives and possibly work with texts in museums." There was a goal, a plan, a reason they were in this program. Then you'd get to me: "I work part time in the children's department of a public library. And that's pretty much why I started this degree, so I could get a job working in the children's department of a public library." So the underlying idea is: what now?

I understand that this should be a no-brainer. It's a 36 hour degree, and I'm already a third of the way through it. If I get my MLIS, I'll be eligible to work at a library in all fifty states. Due to recent changes, now there are only a few states in which public libraries will hire anybody without an MLIS. So to have one would guarantee me the ability to apply for work at libraries in other states if I ever wanted to in the future. Which is the smart, responsible thing to do. Nevermind that if I keep up at my current rate, I won't graduate until December of 2012 (Classes are only offered evenings Monday - Thursday, and I work evenings Tuesday - Thursday, so I'm limited to whatever's offered Monday nights or whatever I can get online. Argh.)

My parents have been ridiculously kind. Realizing that school can be expensive, they've allowed me to move back into the house without paying rent for as long as I'm taking grad courses. Which is seriously wonderful of them. And which is also part of what's making this decision so very hard.

You know what I want to do? I want to write books. Like, get my act together and actually write good stuff, stuff that I can send away to agents and editors. I want to get paid to sit in my pajamas all day clacking away at a keyboard and filling empty pages with words and worlds. I want to put the stuff between the covers of the books that librarians learn how to treat like objects.

So I have this devious little idea at the back of my mind, which is where the whole risk-of-being-discovered part comes in. My idea centers around a lie. Lie and say I've enrolled in an online course without really doing so. Lock my door and slave away at my computer for several hours doing what my parents and friends think is classwork, when really it's me trying to write this thing.

But it's a risk. At the end of four months, I might have something presentable. Or I may have another NaNoWriMo mess on my hands. (Seriously, I was all happy because I finally made the wordcount, but in terms of stuff I'll actually use in something someday, I think other than "and," "but," "to," "for," "the," etc. the grand total is something like 3.4%. Seriously. It sucked majorly. Not in an I'm-trying-to-be-modest way. In an even-the-trash-can-I-use-to-throw-this-away-in-will-be-grossed-out-by-the-suckiness-of-it-all kind of way.) So if I have something, I mail it off and cross my fingers and hope that by this time a year or two from now I'll be on my way to being a published author. But if I just end up with another mess, then the gamble was in vain and I have to 'fess up that I've put myself a whole semester behind for nothing.

You know, somewhere in the world there are people who have actual problems. Who don't have enough to eat, or who fear for their lives, or who don't have basic freedoms to believe and act as they see is right. And then there's me, a whiny little brat who is bored, confused, and unsatisfied even though she has a perfectly great life.

I'm sorry.

Shutting up now.

:(

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Said the Ocean to the Moon

Once a while ago, when the earth was young, I looked up and saw your face. It was cold and unforgiving and the kind of pale that's almost ghostly. And yet your sad beauty won my heart.

When you move now, I move. When you wander, you tug me along after you. It's this constant back and forth with you, and I feel it like an ache, and I moan and howl and shush myself, ashamed at my foolish longing, and I toss salt-water tears to the wind.

They say life comes in cycles. They say life is ups and downs, the high point and the low all one circling whole. Well, my love for you is like that. All mountains and valleys - sometimes placid, sometimes heaving and crashing against every barrier that tries to hold me back.

When does the story end, my dear? When I've clawed away all that remains between us? When I render to rubble all that would separate? What then? I fear that to hold you would be somehow to harm you. For you possess great power when you dictate from afar - all gravity and aloof disdain - but what would you do with the nearness of me? With this desperate deluge of feeling?

There's far too much between us, love. And I imagine that you, cruel and constant and cold, would not have me even if I could reach you. But what's life without trying? Hope is always foolish. So I follow, so I crash, so I weep. So I long for you, and shall continue to long for you always, long after the earth's bones have been worn down to sand and blown away in a bitter wind.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Icicle

There’s an icicle inside my mind, wedged down deep.
It stabs.
Ice cold. It stabs.
I know such a shard should melt with the body’s heat,
but my mind is cold with thoughts of you.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Deathly Hallows Reaction / Up-All-Night Blog

Okay, this is getting kind of insane with the blogging-practically-every-day thing. I mean, you would almost think I had no life or something, right? Oh wait... you already know that to be fact.

What's prompting this is Deathly Hallows Part 1. I just got back from seeing it in the theatre. Which... well, I'll get to the reaction in a minute. Typing that just put this thought in my head that I want to pursue for a moment: tonight I went to the film with Aimee and Christina Gable and Christina's boyfriend. But who did I see the other films with for the first time?

Sorcerer's Stone was with my family. I remember, because my brother Zach fell asleep halfway through and started to drool. I also saw it with Rebekah, because she thought the way Dumbledore clapped was funny and we mimicked it many a time afterward.

I think Chamber of Secrets must have been with my family too. I couldn't drive then, so it wouldn't have been a midnight showing.

I don't remember prisoner of Azkaban. I suspect I saw that one with my parents as well. I think that was the one where we walked out of the theater and met Mr. Calloway going in to another movie, and he seemed surprised (perhaps even scandalized?) that "good Christian people" would have watched such a movie. (He didn't say that. I'm just inferring.)

Goblet of Fire I saw while at Elon. I saw it first at the theater up the road from the school (it was my first Harry Potter midnight showing!) then later on a group trip in which the school provided a bus for us to go see it in IMAX.

I went to the Order of the Phoenix midnight release by myself here in Charlotte, but I met some of my coworkers on the way out and had an awkward exchange where they kindly said, "We would've had you sit with us if we'd known you were coming." (They wouldn't, but it was polite to say so.)

Half Blood Prince I did not see on opening night, much as it pained me, because I was up visiting Rebekah in Montana. Instead, we went the second or third night I was there. She wore a "Mischief Managed" button pinned to the front of her very pregnant belly.

And then tonight - Aimee and Christina surprised me by inviting me to come with them. I wouldn't have pegged them as midnight release type fans... at least not for Harry Potter. But it's always nice when people surprise you. Christina's boyfriend (I think his name is Chris. Can't remember) has never read the book but has seen the movies. He seemed blown away by this one, and I don't blame him. It was... whoa.

Which gets us to the review. Only, I don't want to review it. I want to just like it. Because I did. I feel like because they had extra time, they didn't cut out details they might have (which made the plot less confusing) and they gave us some much-deserved quality time with the trio, who actually acted like real people for once and not like the cartoon characters they sometimes came off as. Sorry... I like the other movies, but it was always almost out of a sense of obligation. This one earned it. That goes for the emotional gravity too. When Cedric dies in Book 4, I was very upset. But in the movies, I couldn't cry. When Dumbledore died in Book 6 I was beside myself. I cried legitimately and with real grief for this fictional character. And since Coldplay's album had just come out that summer, I played "Fix You" on a constant loop, finding special meaning in the line "tears stream down your face / when you lose something you cannot replace." My first time watching the movie, I did not cry. In preparation for the Deathly Hallows release I watched all the films back to back, and this time I did tear up a bit - not at the scene where Dumbledore fell, but at the point when they all raise their wands in the air and the light overtakes the Dark Mark in the sky.

But Deathly Hallows is a whole new class of Harry Potter film. From the first death at Malfoy Manor, to Hedwig's demise and the sudden absence of Moody... I did not cry at these, but I felt them deep in my gut, emotional grief manifested as physical pain. But Dobby... I cried the most for Dobby in the book, I think, and I cried for him here as well. They earned every tear. It was real. It was powerful. It was beautiful. It was tragic. It was everything it needed to be, and I was grateful for that.

"Such a beautiful place here, with friends."

I think maybe Dobby's death hit me hardest for the same reason that it's Colin Creevey, out of all the list of the dead in the Battle of Hogwarts coming in part 2, that hurt me the most. That name stuck out in my head and wouldn't leave. Not Colin. Moody was a tough old warrior. Tonks and Remus were skilled wizards and knew what they were signing up for. Fred's loss was tragic, but again - he was an adult. He signed on for this.

I know both Dobby and Colin signed on for it too. They knew the risks and they took them anyway, knowing that the cause they were fighting for was more important even than their lives. But they are innocents. They are small, hopeful, silly, kind, enthusiastic. You never want a bad thing to touch people like that. So when they are taken from us, it seems that much harder. But Dobby went out a free elf. He was brave and so very good there at the end.

I'm glad Harry dug his grave. I'm glad he did it by hand, to honor him. I'm glad the filmmakers ended there, too, because we need time to process that death. At least I do. There will be many more of them, but this seemed like the best possible place to break off and I'm glad they did.

Smaller things: I was sad they left out the transformation we see once Harry treats Kreacher with kindness. I loved the scene where they were Polyjuiced in the ministry with Umbridge. The story of the Three Brothers was AMAZING. A-MAZ-ING. Xenophilius Lovegood was wonderful. Draco Malfoy in this movie is SO GOOD. He's not in a lot, but you can see it written all over his face. You can see that he's not a Voldemort fanboy anymore, that he realizes he doesn't want to kill people - even Harry, his worst enemy. It's one thing to taunt him at school, or even to kick him in the face and leave him to bleed under an invisibility cloak. But it's another thing when it comes down to you, when you're the one who has to put the name to the face and identify him and you know that doing so will mean certain death for him. He won't identify Harry. He's obviously uncomfortable when his aunt is torturing Hermione. When Bellatrix says "Call the Dark Lord!" he could have done it, but he steps back, grim-faced, and lets someone else.

The Bathilda Bagshot scene had people in the theatre literally screaming with fear at points. Ron rescuing Harry then destroying the Horcrux was phenomenal. Harry comforting Hermione with a dance was a beautiful addition. The other point in the movie that made me cry was Harry at his parent's grave. Dan played that so well. I wasn't bawling, but a few tears did slide down my cheek. And Neville - I think he had literally one line in this movie, but he OWNED it. Total bad-ass motherfucker! (I know the abbreviation is BAMF, but he deserves the uncensored version. BAD-ASS to the core.) The Death Eaters storm into the car looking for Harry and Neville stands to his feet and stares him straight in the eye and says in a voice sharper than Gryffindor's sword: "He's not here, so you can stop looking for him." BAM! I am so psyched for some snake-killing action in movie 2!

They earned it. They EARNED IT.

I forced myself to like the other films because they're Harry Potter, dammit, and I could see they meant well with their adaptations. But this one EARNED IT. I actually DO like it, very much, and of its own merit. Thank heavens.

Movie two is going to be action packed. They still have to track down Hufflepuff's cup, Ravenclaw's diadem, and of course there's the epic showdown with the snake. The dragon scene, the fire in the Room of Requirement, Snape's redemption, the whole Battle of Hogwarts. All of that squeezed into one little movie WHOA.

July, man. Seems so far.

And that reminds me of one other thing this movie has done. It's reinforced for me, again, that need to leave. To be done. I got excited this past week, with that blog post I put up a couple days ago, reminiscing, realizing I really do love this fandom. Reading the HPA emails in my inbox. Listening to all the wrock songs. Even seeing Darren Criss on Glee. Fandom stuff, and I love these people, and I think what has been accomplished in Harry's name is incredible. And I'm grateful to have been a part of this phenomenon.

But once a while ago I was a girl who loved a story. That's all. And in the rush of fandom stuff, I lost that.

Don't get me wrong. I'm going to revel in my wizard-ness these last few months. I'll help the HPA out. I'll go to wrock shows. I'll buy merch. I'll save up for that epic trifecta of awesome that will be happening next July. I'll write Jo a letter, because somehow this whole stage of my life wouldn't seem complete if I didn't let her know what her books have meant to me.

But when LeakyCon is over and I come home from the park and when I watch the movie (and potentially rewatch it with friends at home as well), that's it. I'm packing up my trunk with all my wizard gear. I'm taking the fansites off my favorites list on my computer, unsubscribing (maybe?) from many of my Potter peeps. I'm returning to my Muggle life. No Wrockstock 5 for me. No more.

"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live," a wise man once said.

Jo's story has had its time in my life, and I am changed for the better because of it. But now it's time to find my own story.

Maybe my heart will open at the close.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Bitter Behind the Sweet

Friends, if there's two things I'm kind of obsessive about, it's Harry Potter and chocolate.

Harry Potter because... well, duh. It's awesome. And chocolate because it's delicious melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Decadent, rich, gooey chocolate. Mmm...

But if you've known me long, I hope you'll also know that two things I despise include injustice and sitting silently by when people's lives, safety, and happiness are at risk and I can do something to help them.

So what do these things have to do with each other, you ask?

Right now the cocoa industry is in a shambles. It's horrific, really. Cocoa farmers receive pitifully low wages and often live in desperate hunger. The cocoa industry, all the big players whose brand names you see on the backs of your candy bar wrappers, do little when it comes to cases that involve children being kidnapped and enslaved, or people being beaten and forced to grow cocoa. It's gotten so bad that a recent study has even suggested that there will likely be a shortage of chocolate in the future, as farmers switch to growing crops that involve more money and lesser risks. Imagine chocolate being as rare and costly as caviar! But when a company chooses to go Fair Trade, that means they're saying they will go to extra lengths to make sure that the people who produce the cocoa they use in their products will receive fair pay and work under humane conditions.

Right now all Harry Potter candy - including chocolate frogs, fudge flies, cockroach clusters, etc - are not made under a Fair Trade label. But as Harry Potter fans, the very people these big companies are marketing to, we have the unique opportunity to make our voice heard. Just look at the Potter books and films. When Hermione finds out about the poor working conditions for house elves in "Goblet of Fire," she immediately begins to fight for their rights. Harry finds out over his seven-book journey that he should stand up for what's right, speak the truth even when others would silence him, and help people who may not be in a position to help themselves. It just makes sense that a product made in Harry's name should stand for the same things he does.

This is why the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA), a group dedicated to using parallels from the Harry Potter books to encourage people to fight evil in the real world, has sent a letter to Time Warner and NBC Universal, the companies who own the rights to the Harry Potter films and merchandising, to ask that they switch to Fair Trade chocolate.

But we need YOUR help for this to be successful. These companies need to see the support of thousands of fans, not just a single letter. So if you think it's a good idea that Harry Potter chocolate be produced as Fair Trade, please head over to this website and sign the petition to let your voice be heard: http://thehpalliance.org/action/campaigns/deathly-hallows/horcrux-1/

(Two things about the petition: (1) It asks for an email address. This is to send out a thank you note once all signatures have been collected. I've been told that you can opt out immediately for all future emails if you don't want to receive any more from the HPA. (2) It asks you to pick a Hogwarts house. If you know which one you support, feel free to pick it, but if you're at a loss I'm a Ravenclaw and I'd love it if you gave my house points! :) It's just a fun competition to encourage people to get involved.)

Thanks guys. And please spread the word to your friends!

Monday, November 15, 2010

End of an Era

Wow, this has just been a crazy month for blogging, huh? But I'm writing this because of a very timely subject: Harry Potter.

The seventh movie comes out 75 hours and 9 minutes from when I'm typing this sentence. WHOA.

There have been six previous movie releases, and there will be one more, so I don't know why I feel this way. I feel the way I did shortly before the book Deathly Hallows came out: excited, nervous, filled with anticipation, but also a little fearful and sad. It was bittersweet. Because this book, I knew, was it. Here we found out what became of all the characters we had grown to love. Here we reached an end. And I was afraid it would also mean the end of a wonderful, irreplaceable chapter in my life.

It turns out I had no reasons to fear. In fact, it was just the beginning. That summer I attended Prophecy 2007, a Harry Potter conference up in Toronto, and was introduced to the wonders of the fandom. Don't get me wrong - I'd been involved in the online fandom, mostly lurking at fan sites and on forums, not really ever brave enough to put my thoughts and opinions out there. I'd been an avid Pottercast and Mugglecast listener since the beginning. But listening to Melissa, Sue, and John on my iPod while walking across my college campus or hearing Ben and Andrew and all the others while trying to avoid homework in my dorm room is not the same thing as being surrounded by fellow wizards. I loved the programming, seeing my fellow fans in their costumes. I was blown away by the Hall of Remembrance where they had tables set up for all the characters who had died in the series so that people could leave tokens, letters, and gifts. I think the biggest thing about Prophecy for me was that it was the place I truly fell in love with wizard rock. I'd heard Melissa Anelli's reports about the artists on Pottercast, but seeing the live show - WHOA. The saxophone on the Remus Lupins' "Remember Cedric." The Death Eaters dancing to Draco and the Malfoys. And the Whomping Willows set - that was the first time I ever saw Matt play live (I've since seen him in six other shows) and I remember feeling so shy going up to talk to him and get my picture taken with him afterward. :)

At that point, my fandom focus really shifted. I still listened to Pottercast (I dropped Mugglecast around that time), and checked The Leaky Cauldron fansite religiously for news about the movies, but I suddenly became a great deal more interested in the music phenomenon that is wizard rock. I also was introduced to the Harry Potter Alliance around this time, an organization that takes the themes and ideas in the Harry Potter books and uses them to fight evil in the real world and to encourage young people to become involved in activism. I signed up to become a member after the meeting they had at Prophecy and kept tabs on certain activities the group was involved with, but didn't become more involved than that.

That was the year I had just graduated from college, and that fall/winter was really hard for me. I became seriously depressed and quit my job in November. Then I became even more depressed as I couldn't find work and basically sat alone at home all day. But there was this element of pride to my depression, like admitting something was wrong was a sign of weakness. I became suicidal, and had even picked out a day and method for killing myself. It was that out of control.

As a result, my involvement in the fandom took a back burner. I didn't really care about anything anymore. The whole of 2008 is like this great yawning pit, and me dangling precariously above it, trying to decide whether to let go or to try to claw my way out. There was a very important Harry Potter moment in all of this though. The day I had circled on my calendar was getting nearer all the time, when one day out of nowhere a tiny thought popped into my head.

Mrs. Weasley's boggart.

I hadn't seen any of the movies or read any of the books recently. I shouldn't have been reminded of it, yet there it was. I remembered how in book five, Mrs. Weasley faces off against the boggart and it takes the shape of her various loved ones lying dead on the floor in front of her. And I realized that if I went through with my plan, I'd be doing just that to my mother.

It would be an over-generalization to say that Harry Potter saved my life, but it was certainly that thought that finally got through to me. I went to the doctor later that week, and it was humiliating, and I cried like an idiot, and I felt ashamed. But that didn't matter, because I got help. And the day I had circled on my calendar passed, and I lived to see the next day, and the one after that, and I'm still here.

So most of the remainder of 2008 involved me getting on depression medication, pulling my life back together again, getting a job and trying to get a better outlook on things. Like I said, that was a dark, dark year.

But in January 2009, I happened to be watching videos on YouTube and I saw a vlog put out by the Harry Potter Alliance about a project they were doing called No New Stuff. Paul of Harry and the Potters and Matt of the Whomping Willows had pledged to go the whole year without buying anything new (exceptions being food, toiletry items, and art - as they wished to continue supporting independent artists), in an attempt to call attention to consumerism and promote a healthier, more conscientious way of thinking about the things we buy and consume. They encouraged HPA members to join them in their No New Stuff challenge for the month of March.

I loved this idea. Working at Target, I was disgusted by regulars who would come into the store and buy a new shower curtain (or new throw pillows, or new towels, or whatever) every few weeks simply because they were tired of how their old ones looked and wanted a change. What a waste! In terms of commerce, it was great for the store, but it really had gotten me thinking about how decadent we can be as a society here in the west. This project came along at just the right time, so I jumped on board. I made vlogs and left them as video responses, and I started noticing that two other users named Hope and Jenny Sue were participating as well. We became online friends and dubbed ourselves the "No New Stuff Sisters" and decided we would continue doing No New Stuff even after March ended, through to the end of the year.

Around that time, the HPA put out a call for applications for new staff members, and Hope encouraged me to apply for the writing position. Both of us got accepted onto staff, and a whole new phase of my Harry Potter fandom life began.

One thing I have to say about the Harry Potter fandom, is that it is one of the most loving, open, warm, creative, talented, funny, friendly, and passionate groups of people I have ever encountered. But in the past I had only encountered this in small concentrated bursts: videos online, episodes of Pottercast, attending the conference in 2007. Being welcomed into the HPA family was just that - like finding a family. Every day I'd check my HPA email inbox and there would be emails flying back and forth with ideas about campaigns and issues, encouragement and funny references, weekly updates about what was going on in people's lives both inside and outside the Harry Potter community. I met so many wonderful people there, several of which I went on to later meet in person and whom I consider to be good friends.

Also that March I attended the Whomping Willows' 400th show in Holly Springs, NC. This was my first experience of seeing a few bands play shows on a tour. It was also my first exposure to DANC (Dumbledore's Army North Carolina), and North Carolina wizard rock bands like the Blibbering Humdingers and Hawthorn and Holly. I also met a friend there named Debbie, who I continue to see at shows and conferences. She and her friends saw me standing alone and encouraged me to come over and dance with them. Again, just another example of how warm and friendly and positive this community is.

Two months later I went to LeakyCon, which needs a whole blog post in itself to describe, but where I got to meet up with Debbie again and also met many HPA-ers in person (Kate, Karen, Jenni, Malory - who was my roomie, Brenna, Haley, and Andrew) as well as Big Name Fans like Melissa Anelli, Paul DeGeorge (I thanked him for doing the No New Stuff vlogs as it had brought so much happiness my way), Frankie Franco, John Noe, and more. I also got to dance to "Mr. Blue Sky" by ELO right next to Hank Green of the vlogbrothers, which made me epically happy. New friendships were forged - people I met in programming, standing in line, on the dance floor. The last day I wandered with a group to the Boston Commons where we sat and talked and played games and refused to allow ourselves to admit that such a wonderful weekend was over. Many of those people are my facebook friends, and I love seeing what's going on in their lives every so often, even if we all live far away from each other.

Summer was the What Would Dumbledore Do? Campaign with the Harry Potter Alliance, and I was psyched to be able to do some writing projects for that, although unfortunately it coincided with a service trip I took to Bolivia and a visit to a friend in Montana, so I would squeeze in HPA work whenever I could without being rude to my friend.

The stresses of the summer started piling up though, combined with the fact that depression isn't necessarily an illness that is "cured just like that," but that can linger and affect your way of thinking even after more serious, suicidal tendencies are gone. I began to be frustrated with some of the way the communication was being handled within the HPA, but I wasn't very good about communicating this (I see the irony, yes) and just kept it inside where it became pent up negativity. Also around this time I applied to grad school and got in, so suddenly I was in class on Monday nights, which is traditionally when HPA meetings are held. Missing meetings made me feel even more isolated, so I signed up to work on the HPA archives, since this was a project I could do on my own time and still feel like I was participating. Unfortunately, I hadn't a clue as to where to begin, so I didn't do anything. But since I was so bad about communicating with people, I didn't tell anyone, until weeks later when I was asked for an update and didn't have anything to show for my time. It was then - around November, I think - that I kind of resigned while they simultaneously kind of fired me, cutting off my email account but not entirely saying, "By the way, you're fired."

November was Wrockstock. I roomed with Jenni, Hope, and Jenny Sue, and had one of the most incredible times of my life. Yet again I was overwhelmed by this community, this family of Harry Potter fans, and amazed by the truly incredible things they accomplished both musically and artistically. The drive there and back with Hope was great fun too. At the time it was miserable. We were delirious with fatigue and joy much of the way home, singing along at the top of our lungs with the Siriusly Smiling album until we were both sick to death of it, all the while wishing we could just be home already. But in hindsight, I'm glad we drove. There's nothing like bonding on a road trip, even one as insane as that one turned out to be.

So 2009 was very much the year of Harry Potter in my life. In January of 2010 I became involved with the HPA again, not on staff, but just as a member - tweeting like a madwoman in support of the various Ustream (or is it Livestream? I can't remember now) events they had to raise funds to help with the relief effort in Haiti. I also think I donated well over a thousand dollars bidding for various items, and ended up winning the signed Guild poster, which was very cool. Even more cool, though, was the excitement of watching as the final number raised grew higher and higher and knowing that it was going to such a good cause. Seeing the pictures of the planes take off for Haiti brought literal tears to my eyes. DFTBA, indeed.

Then, of course, there was the HPAFTW campaign, in which the HPA won $250,000 in the Chase Community Giving Challenge and we got to watch Andrew Slack jump into a pool fully clothed.

I've been to a few other wrock shows this year: two Whompy/JFF shows, Sonorus up in Virginia, and a wizard rock cookout at the Blibbering Humdingers' house to help paint sets for the Final Battle, the musical written by Lena Gabrielle Weinstein (aka the Butterbeer Experience) and Mallory Vance (half of Unicorn Blood). Hope and her friend Maegan drove up with me, and it was great fun.

Then about a week ago I got an email inviting me back onto HPA staff on the reserve team, a team set up for people who still want to help but may have less time to do so. I'm glad they apparently forgave me enough to welcome me back on board, and I look forward to being able to help with things in the future, even if it's in a lesser capacity.

Which brings us to now. And my fear about this movie, even though it's totally unfounded. Now, when I get to feeling this way next summer in the days leading up to LeakyCon '11? Then it may be more justified. I think that will truly be the end of an era for me, because at some point I'm going to have to stop devoting so much of my time, energy, passion, and love to Jo's story and start seeking out my own. That seems like a fitting point to cut things off. One big - HUMONGOUS - last hurrah. The last movie, visiting the theme park, and seeing all my friends again for one last epic conference. I anticipate I will be shedding many tears on the way home.

But for now I still have many months ahead of me where that is not a concern. Currently, I'm busy making one massive wizard rock compilation putting canon-based songs in chronological order. I'm getting involved in the Deathly Hallows Campaign, the first part of which involves petitioning the Harry Potter candy makers to go fair trade. And I will be standing in costume outside the theater in the hours leading up to midnight Thursday night.

My aunt sent me this quote from someone she knows who just saw the film, and it has me very excited: "I don't think all of the Harry Potter movies are that great - some are, some aren't - and I never thought I'd say this, but [Deathly Hallows] is one of the best movies of the year. I wouldn't be surprised if this one, or maybe just part two, gets nominated for Best Picture. It was SO gritty, and heartfelt, the pacing and acting and action were great. It had real moments of real life poignancy. It's definitely the best of the Harry Potter films, and one of the best fantasy films I've ever seen."

I am so excited. A little fearful? Yes. But this isn't the end of the era quite yet, and when that day comes I will grieve, but I will live. And I will move on with the knowledge that these past few years have been some of the best in my life, and that these people and this love we have shared will always have a place in my heart.

And life will happen. And all might not be well, but it will be an adventure into the unknown and unexpected, bringing new joys, surprises, challenges, and opportunities at every turn.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Lamplight

I thought it was about time I shared the poem that inspired the name for my blog. I wish it was someone else's poem, like John Green's "sparks fly up" or Melissa Anelli's "penbitten." But in my case, it was a poem I wrote my freshman year of college (spring of 2004) inspired by a conversation I had just had and the trip home to my dorm afterward, walking past Lake Mary Nell underneath the lamps that dot Elon's campus walkways after dark. The conversation was about stories, with a classmate and friend of mine asserting that it's important to not give them too much sway in your life. "They aren't real, after all," my friend said.

I was walking home with those words ringing in my ears, and I was looking at the night, and it was if the world around me was arguing back: "But the stories are real."

I know there aren't really dragons or hobbits. There aren't wizards and house elves and hippogriffs. Fairies and magic, other worlds, or things we can't explain in this world. I can separate fact and fiction. But just because something isn't real, doesn't mean it isn't true.

So this poem, to me, is my statement of purpose. It's capturing one moment, one night long ago that really shouldn't have been all that extraordinary. But it was. Because it gave me this idea that refuses to leave me: that stories are true, and the things in stories we love are a real part of us and our world, and they're worth fighting for. Not just the characters and situations on the page or screen, but the themes and struggles as they exist in real life as well. I can fight dark lords and stand up for people who can't help themselves. I can do the right thing even when it's the hard thing. I can face down my dragons, and maybe even come away victorious.

So here it is. The poem probably won't live up to the picture I painted in the intro, but that's okay. At least you know what it means to me. It's not that amazing. It's not even really that good. But it will always stick with me, this idea of lamplight and shadows, the notion that the stories I love are important if you only know how to see it.

LAMPLIGHT

Sometimes when lamplight settles still and heavy over the dark night
I think to myself that the world is alive again the way it used to be,
alive with shadow-monsters and deep magic
and heroes from Old Tales, swords in hands.
I become not just a person strolling swiftly through a summer night,
but a wayfarer and wanderer a million miles from home,
a sojourner upon a quest, with my pack in hand and staff at my side,
facing a perilous world beneath skies lit with stars like fairy lights,
beautiful yet sinister, fleeting and surreal.
In this moment it doesn’t matter that the lights are electric or the buildings made of brick and metal,
the kind that never would grace the illustrations of an Old Book.
It doesn’t matter that the path is pavement and that far to my left there is a road
where the streaming lights of automobiles bob up and down,
painting the night with threads of light like spiders’ webs.
Right now all I see is the dim shadows racing up the path the moon paints on the lake,
racing toward a dream I’ve always longed for. I want to follow,
I want to let this fiery magic consume me completely, to fade into shadow,
to pass into legend, to leave. Right now I could fly, I could push
and gravity would have no rights over me. Right now I could
press down with my feet, my toes curling under with the force,
and I would move up and up
and up,
up among the fairy-stars, winking, laughing, filled with gypsy bliss—
freedom and dissatisfaction all rolled into one.
                                                              Lamplight and shadows,
and stories everyone says aren’t real. But I am only as real as the shadows,
half here, belonging to another place. I think everyone is wrong.
The stories are real. The stories are true under lamplight.



Friday, November 12, 2010

Mary Shelley

Though dictionaries insist that mornings are beginnings, there is a finality about them that cannot be ignored. Most mornings start off by trying not to begin at all. The alarm clock bloats the room with sound, some announcer’s voice scribbling news of dawn showers across the black slate of pre-morning gloom. Mary Shelley once said every beginning is an end, a moment linked with something that has gone before. I think Mary Shelley wise on those six’ o’clock mornings when the alarm blares and I’m headed off to yesterday, catching phrases of dreams and fingering moments of memory like soft sweaters in a clothing store. The cotton mix caresses fingers, soft like the cloud settling over my brain as I realize I’m tired, I can’t think, I don’t want to do anything but dream. There’s a connection, like the weave of the threads, between the moonset and the sunrise, the stars fading and birds awakening. They lead to each other, feed each other, vines twisted into a living infinity symbol, rooted firmly in themselves.

I know a woman who says she controls her dreams, sits thinking to herself before her head attacks the pillow, pondering exactly where her thoughts should travel, what form they should sculpt. She says she used to see dreaming as abstract art, no thought, just random chance when eyes close to one place and open in another no memory can do justice. Psychology textbooks say dreams are just fragments of daily events sliced to shards by the resting brain and reconstructed, like a drunkard piecing together a puzzle, during the frantic rush of the REM cycle. So when the ancients saw dreams as portents of the future, were they only looking forward to a jumbled collage of the past?

And when the walls occasionally flit into view, where am I exactly? Green numbers glow ghostly, garish music flares, and again a hand that doesn’t appear to be mine fumbles to murder the noise. It’s all an overlap. The dream is the waking, or I’m waking to a dream, and, eyes closed, I’m confused as to which place belongs to me now.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Frankensteining

NaNoWriMo is, so far, a success. At least in terms of word count. Competing against Hope has gotten my competitive side activated, and it's surprising, knowing how apathetic a person I can sometimes be when it comes to winning, that with some things I really can't stand to lose.

But it's not a success in terms of... quality. I know they say, "Just write and don't care if it's crappy." And that's a nice sentiment. But what I've found in past experience is that you need both sides of the coin: freedom to make mistakes, but also something to live up to, a high standard that you set for yourself. If the bar is resting on the ground, there's no need to try a high jump. You can just step over it like everybody else.

But the reasonable part of my brain argues that NaNoWriMo isn't really about making art. It's about community, it's about coming together and creating something. It's about freeing up your mind and banishing your inner censors and just letting story flow out. It's about the mess that lives inside of us, and allowing it to creep out in words as narrative.

Some people will manage to make NaNoWriMo art, but my head is boxing me in here. I have this silly theory that writing is like structure - if your foundation is wobbly, you've got nowhere to build up from. It'll all come crashing down around your ankles before you're really off the ground. I hate my story right now, because I don't believe in any of my characters, I hate the situations, I don't think it does a good job of telling the story that's already there, the one that appeared in my head. It's like Michelangelo sees the angel in the block of stone, but instead of carving to free it, he settles for a chubby, misshapen cupid instead.

I'm writing this when I should be writing that. Hope is over a thousand words ahead of me, and I really can't afford to let her get too much of a lead or I'll lose her... lose any hope of being able to drive myself to finish it.

Today I had a breakthrough for the real story I want to tell, the one that I would never subject to the NaNoWriMo treatment. I know now that two of my hugest stories are really one story... connected in an unlikely way. And their characters - seemingly complete opposites - are in a way different facets of me. Anna, young, impulsive, golden, longing for adventure and fun, knowing there's a huge world out there and not willing to rest until she's gone out and seen some of it. Joan, also young, but cautious. Almost to the point of being fearful. She is reluctant to take risks because harm could come of it, and yet until she is willing to she'll never truly live. I was Anna, and now I'm Joan. And I wish I could tell you what happened to them both, because then you'd understand a little bit why this realization gives me great joy and yet also breaks my heart.

But no. Instead I must return to this dead carcass of a story I'm attaching spare limbs to in a sad attempt to bring the monstrous, shambling thing to some semblance of life. Halloween is over and done with, so why do I feel like Dr. Frankenstein? And, like what happened to him, will my creation break free from me and wreak havoc in the world?

I hope not. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010

It's that time of year again. November. National Novel Writing Month.

The past three years, I've participated and failed. Mostly due to a couple things: (1) allowing my inner copy editor to wreak havoc, insisting I comb through everything I've written in days past before continuing on with new stuff. (2) having it at the back of my mind that I had to write something good, something publishable. Allowing myself to (a) make grammatical errors, and (b) write total CRAP, has made this year much more freeing.

Last year, technically, I made it much farther than I did the first two years. Probably might have done a last minute sprint to the finish, too, if I hadn't fallen asleep at my computer and woken up at 2am on December 1st with keyboard marks on my cheek.

Ouch.

This year, though, I'm doing pretty well at making the daily goals. Plus, I have a little competition going with Hope, and trying to outdo her is helping me stay on task. Below you'll find a "word wars" widget for her and me. I'm about to pass her... BWAHAHA!



The other thing that really helped me was doing my "13 Days of Halloween" writing project where I had to post a new original short story with a spooky/weird theme as a countdown for Halloween. It was rough some days/nights getting it done on time, but it ultimately helped me loosen up enough to just get words out while also holding me accountable to get things done. You can see that website here.

But that's enough for now. I need to keep writing. I haven't passed Hope quite yet, and I need to get ahead while she's distracted with silly things like school and homework. Tee hee hee...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sanity

I didn't really know what to expect, but the concept sounded too perfect to resist: people coming together to say, "I'm tired of the extremism. I'm tired of living in a country where, according to the media, all liberals are socialist/communist, baby-killing, tree-hugging, terrorist-loving atheists and homosexuals, and where all conservatives are racist, bigoted, uneducated, gun-toting hillbillies and religious zealots. I'm tired of the animosity, how a difference of opinion is suddenly a call to war. I'm tired of the ugly talk, the suspicion, the refusal to compromise and work together, or to even acknowledge that the other side may have good intentions. Let's TAKE IT DOWN A NOTCH."

I'm sorry, but who among us hasn't felt that way in the past year or so? I don't care if it's Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann, Sarah Palin (Meh. Sorry. I'm trying to be rational, but I just don't like her!) or Wolf Blitzer or - well, really, how long do you have? The list could go on for a year and a day, because they've all, apparently, been drinking the Koolaid.

So I drove to D.C. Pulling up in the hotel parking lot, I saw cars covered in window marker messages about the rally. Checking into my room, I saw people wearing homemade T-shirts. And contrary to what I've been reading in media coverage, the people I saw weren't all white middle-class college students. There were some of those, yes, but a surprising diversity not only in race and social class, but more astonishing to me - in age. It wasn't just young people. There was even a seventy-year-old couple from Missouri there that I'd end up talking to at more length the next day when we shared a shuttle ride back from Union Station. And all these people, all here for this rally - all here, I assumed, because they too were sick of it and wanted to say, "Hey! Enough already!"

I made the comparison in a facebook comment to how I feel whenever I go to a Harry Potter convention. There are people who say, "Oh, Harry Potter, I like those books." And then there are WIZARDS. People who dress in costume, or listen to wizard rock, or write fan fic, or check the Potter websites daily, or work references to the books and characters into everyday conversation. And you know when you've found those people. Arriving in town for a Harry Potter event and seeing people walking around in robes and scarves, or with wands tucked behind their ears, or debating the merits of floo powder versus airline travel. You recognize your people. Comic book collectors probably know what I'm talking about. Fans of the same sports team. Or any member of a group with shared experiences or ideals, really.

It was like that. Walking into the place and realizing, "I'm among people who get it!" We were all there for the same reason, and we were all excited. There was a tangible buzz, a hum of energy.

That night I made some cute little signs. Here are some of them:



The next morning on the way into the rally I met even more people from the hotel who were headed there too. Here'a couple from Philadelphia and one of their friends. We walked together from Union Station down to the mall. Some rally volunteer gave us free towels:



When we got there, there were people everywhere. It was a bit overwhelming. People in costumes. People with stickers that said "Vote for Sanity." People waving all sorts of crazy/ridiculous/wonderful/inventive/silly/etc signs. I took many a picture trying to capture as many of them as I could, though I only captured a miniscule fraction of the awesomeness with my camera.



Random things that stick out in my mind: The oldest, fattest woman I've ever seen with a "You Tax It, I'll Smoke It" marijuana leaf button pinned to her cardigan. This sign: "BRING BACK 'ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT,' OBAMA!" Spotting Where's Waldo and Carmen Sandiego in the crowd. And Papa Smurf. And the Flying Spaghetti Monster. A zombie with a sign: "What do we want? BRAINS! When do we want them? BRAINS??" A Stephen Colbert/Keep Fear Alive poster that quoted the "Bed Intruder" song ("They're climbin' in your windows. They're snatchin' your people up...").

There were SO MANY DIFFERENT KINDS OF PEOPLE. I don't know how to stress that enough. If you're looking at the mall from above facing the stage, I was in the first section behind the press area, to the left of the stage. So I was only really aware of the people in my section and the one in front of me. It was only when they showed aerial shots of the whole mall that I realized how many people were there! So when I talk, it's only about the people closest to me that I saw. Still, there were frat guys behind me, a woman with a head covering in front of me, and to her right a guy who was military, I think (not in uniform, but I'm guessing from the way he snapped to attention when they played the national anthem that he's had military training of some kind). An elegant older woman with long silvery hair holding a "We need a Department of Peace" sign. Two thirtysomething guys, one white, one black, each wearing "Fox News: Keeping Fear Alive" buttons.

And there was me:



As a side note, I should add: though the rally was about taking it down a notch, calming down, stepping away from extremism, there were still nutjobs and people with hugely biased signs. There was a lot of liberal sentiment, since Jon Stewart is fairly liberal himself. But (a) the crazy people with Hitler-mustache signs were the minority, and (b) most of the "liberal sentiment" wasn't against the politicians, but the pundits. You'd see signs with Glenn Beck's face on them, or poking fun at Fox News anchors. One sign I particularly liked said: "I am happy you have your own opinion. But opinion does not equal fact." And on the back it had the "Fair and Balanced" catchphrase with a slash through it. In general, any "anti" or negative sentiments seemed directed at people who have been frequently guilty of extremist talk and generalizations.

But back to the rally. It started. The music was great, I like the Roots a lot, and John Legend has a nice voice. But for most people, you could tell we were all really waiting for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, so it was like, "Okay, this is cool, but... forty minutes? Really? And they haven't come out yet?" But then the guys from Mythbusters came out and did their shtick. I've been told by people who watched it on TV or the internet that this part was boring, but being in the crowd, it was actually SO MUCH FUN. When they did the massive wave that ran the length of the mall, it was absolutely exhilarating. They showed shots on the big screens of the wave trickling down to the very far end. That was the first time I'd gotten a feel for just how many people were there! And when we all jumped at the same time... I know the seismologist guy was making it out to seem like it was a small reading, but I felt the ground shiver under my feet... which is definitely not a normal sensation!



If you've watched the show on TV or the internet, you'll know what followed after. It was kind of like a hodge-podge of the Daily Show and Colbert Report antics mixed in with fun guest spots and musical numbers. It was entertaining and funny and definitely a good show. I loved the part where they gave out Reasonableness awards (to the baseball player who had a perfect record ruined by an incorrect call from the umpire and handled the situation with grace and kindness, the woman who had an opportunity to speak with President Obama and disagreed strongly with him without ever yelling or being anything but gracious and polite, the young man who snatched a gasoline-soaked Quran out of the hands of someone who was trying to burn it, and the professional wrestler who uses his fame from a very extreme/ridiculous day job to spread kindness and "stick up for the little guy"). I was a bit appalled by one of Colbert's competing "Fear Awards": the fact that ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, NPR, the New York Times, Associate Press, Wall Street Journal, and more, actually forbid their employees from attending rallies like this one. I'm sorry, but isn't the freedom to peaceably assemble in the First Amendment? Way to infringe upon your employees' Constitutional rights!

My favorite part of the rally, though, came at the end. There was the cute back-and-forth between Jon and Stephen about not making generalizations about people or ideas (Stephen: All robots are evil. Jon: What about R2D2? Stephen: Well... not *all* robots are evil.), but it kind of had the feel of an after-school special on "acceptance and understanding."

No, what I'm talking about is the heartfelt speech Jon Stewart gave at the very end. Trying to recap it, I'd probably end up messing it up, so please watch the video if you haven't already seen it:



Yes. YES!

Three things I got out of this:

(1) "We can have animus without being enemies." Animus, of course, being the Latin for "spirit" or "passion." We can disagree without hating each other. We can be gracious and civil, and not suspicious and fear-mongering and absolutely sure that "those people" are our enemies, out for our destruction. We can coexist.

(2) The media is broken. In college, our professors urged us to read the news, in the papers and online, to watch news stations, because the idea was that we should start to care about what's going on beyond the tiny little bubble of our individual lives. That we should take interest in affairs happening at a local, national, and international level. This is true. But they also painted this highly idealistic picture of the news as a noble profession where journalists live up to this code of integrity and chivalry, never blighting flawless fact with the ugly blemishes of opinion or subjectivity. That is, of course, a lie. No news is going to be entirely objective. BUT - that's not an excuse for journalists and news anchors to blur the line between fact and opinion as blatantly as they have been. Stewart's wonderful metaphors (the fun house mirror, the magnifying glass, the immune system) fit so very well. The "twenty-four-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator" is broken. It's perpetuating a false image of what America is really like right now. It's not by any means the cause of all our woes, but it isn't doing anything to help the problem.

(3) We are not what they say we are. Their image of us in the fun house mirror is way off. We don't lead our lives as Republicans and Democrats, but as people. My favorite part of that speech was the part where he shows the cars slowly merging into the tunnel. I'm probably venturing into "Beatles are more popular than Jesus" territory here, but it really did remind me of Christ's use of parables. How metaphors are sometimes far more powerful at explaining truth than just saying the thing outright. All those very different people with vastly diverse opinions and experiences are driving side by side down the same road. They're trying to get to the same place. And they have to work together, to make small concessions and compromises, to do it. Otherwise they'd go nowhere.

"A house divided against itself will not stand." But we are not as divided as some claim. And I was so proud to be one of over 200,000 people standing on the mall that day saying, "Enough. Let's be sane about this. Let's stop being petty and ridiculous and calm the heck down."

It was, I think, probably the only time in the 24 years of my life that I can recall ever feeling truly proud to be American.



After that, it was over. There were so many people there that getting out of there immediately would have been insanity. So we hung out a while by a tree, I journaled the experience a bit, and after about a half hour I braved the walk to Union Station. It was quite a long wait to get back to the hotel. The metro stations couldn't handle that many people and stopped the trains after a while. Taxis were impossible to come by. Fortunately the hotel had anticipated the problem and sent a shuttle on a continuous loop to and from the station. Still, with so many people having been at the rally, and the shuttle being a fourteen-passenger van, it took a few cycles (with the traffic, that equals a couple hours) of sitting there in the uncomfortably chilly D.C. air before I finally fit into one of them.

During this time I got to talking to other rally-goers heading to the hotel. The couple in their seventies I mentioned before. Several people from Canada who came down in support of the idea of a saner, more rational America. A guy from New York City who seriously looked like Don Cheadle with glasses and Einstein hair. A family (mom and dad in their fifites, son in his late teens, daughter about twelve or thirteen) from Atlanta. It was a weird assembly of people crammed into this one van; I was trying to picture any other circumstance in which we would ever be brought together like this and was hard pressed to come up with an answer. But we were chatting happily about our travels here, our favorite parts of the rally, how we felt about what he said at the end. No mention of politics or parties. No bickering. No assumptions or preconceived notions. Just several strangers reveling in the beauty of a shared experience. Of a shared hope.

I know I use lofty rhetoric. I'm not a politician, I'm a poet. I think poets are allowed a little bit of idiotic optimism. But isn't courage technically stupidity? Isn't faith a foolish risk? And isn't love the most irrational act of all? If we praise these things as admirable, if we cling to them as some of the highest achievements our species is capable of, then why can't I have hope? It is stupid, and idiotic, idealistic, and most probably wrong, but I can hope that one day our country will be healed. And maybe not all of them, but a great many others in that crowd of 200,000 share that hope.

A hope for sanity.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Angel

I'm avoiding this story like a plague. I think it's because I'm afraid of it. I think it's because I'm afraid there's something in it, there's something to it that I'll somehow destroy.

Michelangelo once said, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." I've often felt that way about writing. When I get really into it, into the zone, I think of it not in terms of words, sections, sentences, and paragraphs. I talk about the shape being wrong. I talk about the pace being off. I talk about the tone being strange. As if I were carving or dancing or singing, not writing a story.

But it does take shape. And it is like Michelangelo says. The story already exists, you just pick the words out from all the other possibilities that could have gone on that page. You're finding the shape, and - if you do it right - you're setting it free.

But what if you chip away too much, and you gouge off one of the angel's wings? Or what if you mess up the base so it topples over at every slight breeze? What if you don't shave away enough and the angel looks bloated, too pleasantly plump for its own good?

I think I'm afraid because I've heard the story like one hears a song coming from somewhere nearby in the dark. It is beautiful and a little sad and made all the lovelier by its mystery. And I'm afraid if I try to write down the notes, to bring it into a well-lit room and plunk down keys on a piano, that I'll be ruining it, that it will be marred too much by any association with me, that in trying to keep it alive I will have ultimately been the cause of its death.

I thought I heard somebody calling. In the dark I thought I heard somebody call...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Big Apple

I like New York, but we're just friends.

It's really nice, and it makes me smile. I feel exhilarated when I'm near it. It's gutsy, outgoing, loud - but in an endearing way. It's opinionated and unafraid to stand up for what it believes in. It's quick, constantly two steps ahead. Quirky. Creative beyond belief, humming with energy - and man, can it ever cook! It has its serious side too - smart, innovative. Sometimes it's a little sketchy, and it has its annoying habits. But I love it in spite of the downsides.

But New York, despite its history, and the secrets I know lay hidden just around that corner, or back in that alley, or in that building over there, and the many amazing things that have happened here - despite its many charms, my heart lies elsewhere.

Oh yes, I'll visit. We'll be chums. But I can't help but compare you to the love of my life, and every time you fall sadly short.

London.

A city of layers, stories built upon stories. The air must be thick with ghosts, and yet it's crisp if the weather's nice, or a pleasant misty gloom in rain. I've had people posit that it's the way everyone talks, or that it's such a literary city (poppycock! New York can claim that just as well), or that it's because it's Somewhere Else and not in the good old US of A. These are all things I like about the place, but the reason I love it is something else.

Think about someone you love. Not like, truly LOVE. Now try to think why exactly you love them. You can make a list of attributes or actions, and that's endearing - the sort of thing you see in the dramatic moment at the end of romantic comedies - but that's only part of it. There's just something inside of you that's drawn to something inside of them: like a magnetic force. There's no stopping it, there's no escaping it. It's magic. No - better: it's LOVE.

I love London. It's in my blood. It's in my bones. I'm the steel to its magnet, being tugged at full force.

But for now, me and New York - we're good.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hope

Hope is always ridiculous.
We have no right to it. We hold no claim.
It is a thing that is not promised,
a dream that is not sure.
And yet, if we are to live, it is
our only choice.

Hope is a thing so large
you cannot comprehend it,
and yet so small you can
carry it with you always,
even when your load seems
too heavy to bear.

Despair is sensible and small.
It is easy to understand but harder
to bear. And it is a lie.

Hope.

I cannot pretend to have
an answer for it, this four letter word
that holds such power.
Hold a flame to it and
the whole world glows

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Panic

.

I'm afraid nothing means anything. I'm afraid all is lost.

I'm afraid that hope is a fable and love is a lie.

.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

This Kind of Pain

Love, did you lose me?
Love, did you find me?
Love, did you know me at all?

This was a mistake.
This was a misstep.
This was a long, wrong road.

Fathomless depths cannot express
Absence can never contain
Darkness is never the remedy
for this kind of pain

Oh tell me you hear me,
Or that you can help me,
Or that this is worth it at all.

For the world is just one great
unknowing, a chasm into which
I find I simply cannot fall.

Oh, fathomless depths cannot express
Absence can never contain
Darkness is never the remedy
for this kind of pain.

Fathomless depths cannot express
Absence can never contain
Darkness is never the remedy
for this kind of pain.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mockingjay Video

I posted the lyrics here a little while ago, but I finally finished the video of my Mockingjay song:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Story Songs

Sometimes I find pieces of my stories in songs.

I think it's an interesting relationship; music and storytelling. Music is a great source of inspiration - it speaks a language words are insufficient to match. It paints pictures, sets scene and tone, conveys emotion. Music is its own form of storytelling. So when an author is writing a book or short story, the music they listen to must have some effect on their work, right? It does for me.

I have a playlist on my iPod called "Story List." It's where I keep the songs that have a direct correlation to a writing project of mine, past or present. In each of these cases, it wasn't a matter of sitting down and saying, "Here's a song I like. I'm going to write a story to go with it." Instead, each time I may have had a germ of an idea, an idea in a different manifestation perhaps, or maybe just the notion that I needed to write something, and soon. Then I heard the song, and it was like a spark suddenly blossoming to full-fledged fire. Something in the song drew the story out of me.

Sometimes it's nearly the whole song that fits. Sometimes it's barely a line of it. But something in the song, the arrangement of notes, the tempo, and most especially the words, makes the connection.

I'm going to give a few examples to show what I mean, mostly of past projects (because I don't want to give away things I'm still working on!)

EXAMPLE #1

THE STORY: A short story I wrote back in high school about a man kept in solitary confinement by a mysterious enemy army. His mind creeps into the realm of insanity, but he is able to hold on long enough to reality that when the war is over and he's freed he's able to piece his identity back together.

THE SONGS: "Glycerine" by Bush. "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane. "White Room" by Cream. "

SAMPLE LYRICS:

"I'm never alone / I'm alone all the time."

"When logic and proportion have fallen softly dead / and the White Knight is talking backwards / and the Red Queen's off her head / remember what the Doormouse said / feed your head"

"I'll wait in this place where the sun never shines / wait in this place where the shadows run from themselves"

EXAMPLE #2

THE STORY: A reluctant young mother is having trouble dealing with the fact that she feels no nurturing, motherly instinct at all for her child. In fact, she's afraid of it - to the point that she still calls her "it," and has nightmares where her daughter turns into some weird monstrous thing that attacks her. Over the course of the short story she finally comes to form a bond with her daughter, in an unlikely way.

THE SONG: "Plenty of Paper" by Eisley

SAMPLE LYRICS:

"Something's growing under that wing / I think a face is dawning" (Inspired me to write the opening nightmare in which the baby starts growing a second face in its armpit)

EXAMPLE #3:

THE STORY: It's pretty long and complicated, somewhere between a short story and a novella, but the scene that started it all was the idea of what it would be like for a ghost to be restored once more to a physical body, to be resurrected into physical being and life.

THE SONG: "Hide and Seek" by Imogen Heap

Sample lyrics:

"Where are we? / What the hell is going on? / The dust has only just begun to form / crop circles in the carpet. / Sinking, feeling. / Spin me round again and rub my eyes / this isn't happening."
(It wasn't just the lyrics, but the ethereal, urgent, mournful, and almost accusatory tone of the song as well.)

EXAMPLE #4:

THE STORY: A future world where trees are nearly extinct. People have to visit them in a tree sanctuary, which looks much like a zoo only for plants instead of animals. The story follows a terminally ill young boy who comes to see the trees, and one of the botanists who works there who has just discovered a secret that will change her life forever.

THE SONG: "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell

SAMPLE LYRICS:

"They took all the trees and they put 'em in a tree museum / and they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them."


So, maybe these examples don't get the picture across, but when I hear these songs now, I don't just hear these songs. It's like the world of the story comes alive inside me as they play, from the first chord to the very last note.

Somebody else's story inspires me to tell my own. I love that.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mockingjay (Original Song)

I'll post the video soon, but for now, here are the words...


There's a list of names in my head
that will never leave me
And nameless hordes of the dead
walk along behind me

The odds haven't been in my favor
since the day they called her name
And two arenas later
I'm still a player in their Games

Oh, what have they done?
What have they done to us?
What have I done to you,
done to myself?
There's no turning back.
I cannot run from this.
The whole world's on fire now.
This is what I've become -
your Mockingjay.

When I see what they've done to you
I choke on my screams
There's no one to rescue you
from the nightmares that are not dreams.

They want me to put on the suit
and be a pawn in their war.
My arrow is ready to shoot -
but what target should I aim for?

What have they done?
What have they done to us?
What have I done to you,
done to myself?
There's no turning back.
I cannot run from this.
The whole world's on fire now.
This is what I've become -
your Mockingjay.


What have they done to us?
I wish I could run from this.

Why is it I'm always too late
to save the ones I love?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Esther is Dead

I've never mentioned her before, but once, just a little while ago, I met a girl named Esther.

In these modern times we live in, "met" doesn't hold the same meaning it once did. We were never in the same room at the same time. (Actually, this isn't true. I think we were both in the same rooms at LeakyCon 2009, though I didn't know her then.) But Esther and I met on the internet. We were friends on YouTube. I'd comment on her videos. She was doing VEDA, only instead of "Vlog Every Day in April" it was "Vlog Every Day in AUGUST." And she didn't do every day, but she did most days.

Her last vlog ended with this wonderful moment where she looks at the camera and talks directly at you, and she tells you she loves you.

Esther died three days ago.

Esther died of cancer in the thyroid, a disease common to adults but very rare in children. And at sixteen, she was still very much a child.

I hate Time, and God, and the world, for killing her.

I knew her only a short while, and yet she was a giant.

She wasn't an angel or a saint. By no means perfect. But she was beautiful and funny and kind and nice. She'd reply to you even if she didn't know you. She'd give you a chance.

Once I talked about my life in terms of a "scrap heap of humanity." The idea that things that I misuse or abuse about my own existence might be better put to use in someone else's life. Well, I certainly would have given up 20 years off of the end of my own life, if only to keep Esther around for that much longer.

I tell myself that if David was right, if there is a "valley of the shadow of Death," that this is good news. For if something casts a shadow, that must mean there is light beyond it.

I am very drunk right now, and will continue getting drunker. Esther probably wouldn't have wanted that, but I'm doing it anyway, in her honor. A bottle of wine down, now I'm working on a cider, and I intend to finish another after that.

I'm sorry, Esther. I wish you could have my life. I wish you could still be alive.

I'm sorry, Esther.

I'm sorry you're gone.

You deserve so much more. So much more.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Prop 8

Prop 8 was overturned today.

I was happy.

I cannot tell my family this. Because they wouldn't be happy. They think it's the crumbling of our society, a complete 180 degrees from the truth of God's word.

I think about my ancestor, a man named Increase Mather. Increase was a prominent minister in New England during the Salem Witch trials. Many of his good friends made the decisions to put the Salem witches to death.

I think about what the Bible says about witchcraft. It says witches are abominations and should be killed. In society today, Christians oppose witches and think their religious practices are wrong, but we would never kill or harm a witch just for being a witch. The secular government set up by our founding fathers ("in God we trust" and "one nation under God," yes, but the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Bill of Rights pretty much clinched the fact that we would never be a wholly "Christian" nation), has even begun to recognize paganism and witchcraft as a religion. Even though the Bible says witches are evil and deserve to die, they are recognized as human beings with rights (a right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the freedom to believe as they wish) by the US Constitution.

I can't help but compare witches to the GLBTQ community. The Bible calls for the destruction of homosexual men and women as well, a mandate we ignore (except for some countries, like Uganda, that are enacting the Old Testament treatments of homosexuals... to ugly and horrifying effect). But our government is not a Christian government. I stress that again: it never really was a wholly Christian government. At one point the majority of its leaders were Christians, which led to a decisively Christian slant in much of the wording of our founding documents, in the legislation, court rulings, etc. But instead, our government was set up on the principle of equality--"that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." Over time we came to recognize that all men AND women are created equal. That people are equal regardless of race. And it snowballs from there: equal regardless of religion, age, education, social class.... so why not sexual preference?

Within the context of my religion, homosexuality is wrong. But within the context of my government, a lot of things that Christianity says are wrong are perfectly legal. I think that within the context of our nation's law, homosexual marriage should be legal... in ALL states.

So I was happy with today's result.

Shh... it's a secret.