Sunday, November 28, 2010


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:

(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


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.


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


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.


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


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.