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Small Worlds

April 29, 2011 5 comments

 

It’s funny, sometimes, to realize how small the world is.

Last night, I was out to dinner with my best friend, and we saw a mutual acquaintance of ours. Let’s call her Betty. We all parted on strange terms, but nothing acrimonious. We haven’t seen each other in about seven years. A small lifetime, I suppose.

At the end of the meal was when I noticed her. There was no way she couldn’t have seen the two of us, given where she was sitting. She said nothing. She didn’t smile. She didn’t acknowledge us, but she had the look of someone deeply put off (Betty was never a particularly happy person).

I did not say hello, because she was clearly avoiding eye contact. I don’t know why. And I don’t really care. It was just…strange. It reminded me of how small the world is, and how I always seem to run into people I don’t want to talk to.

Why is that? Some secret rule of the cosmos? I don’t know. It happens a lot.

Facebook is good for getting a glance at people you haven’t seen in ten years. Or more. I’m guilty of that. I’ll search for an old high school friend out of curiosity. Nostalgia, perhaps. Occasionally, I’m compelled to send a message to say hi. Others have done that to me, too. Sometimes, we rekindle a friendship, but only if we parted well. I’m not going to accept the invite from anyone who was overly mean, catty, or crappy. Why invited that into my life?

I’ll say it again, though: it’s funny, sometimes, how small the world is. And that counts for something. Because who reaches out, picks up a phone, or drops by – even if it might be awkward – matters. Who chooses to reach out with a genuine sense of [whatever], that matters. It says a lot.

Today, I’ve been thinking about who steps up to the plate when things are tough, or awkward, or both. Who hasn’t. Who I wish would, sometimes. It’s an odd thing to consider. Because when the chips are down, or things are bonkers, there are people we’d like to hear from. People who are part of our past, people who have the ability to make us smile, despite time and distance. Sometimes, that’s needed. A simple, “Hey, I heard about [whatever],” phone call can turn the world a bit and might it righter. (I’m shocked to see that Word believes ‘righter’ is a word. Is it really?)

So, yes, I know how small the world can be. And yet, despite all that – not quite small enough. (Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to figure out a way to remove “It’s a Small World After All” from my brain. DAMN YOU, DISNEY! *shakes fist*)

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A Big Old Dose of Huh?

April 27, 2011 8 comments

 

Most of the time, I’m that person. You know, the one who gets stuff done – who will get the turkey, because no one else wants to. I’ll bandage the horse’s tail, because he has an infection, and it looks like you’d expect from an infected tail: there are maggots. (I really wish that last one was a joke. Thankfully, that was over ten years ago. He recovered, fully.) I’ll do holidays, go shopping, make phone calls, schedule appointments, and generally Get It Done. And, no, I don’t know why I capitalized that, expect that I need more coffee. Desperately. STAT.

 Whenever I had to do group projects for class (even in grad school, gods save us all), I was the one who ended up doing the organizing, writing whatever part the Group Slacker forgot to do, and taking the proverbial bullet. I’m not a martyr. I’m not perfect. I’m just the person who steps up.

 It can be kind of exhausting, but that’s life. That’s being an adult. Five-by-five.

However, I’ve always had issues with people who take undo credit. Back in college, I once had a friend who created drama over and over again – just so she could swoop in and save the day. Never mind that the day would’ve been just fine, if she hadn’t muddled things in the first place. It was a habitual thing, and I was slightly relieved when we drifted apart. (Is that shallow? Bad? Am I not supposed to admit that? Er, oops.)

This morning, I had a rather surreal conversation. It went something like this.

Person A: This [Insert random thing here, involving phone calls, flaming hoops, and having to juggle clowns] needs to be done. (This is something I already knew needed to be done.)
Me: Okay. [Makes phone calls, braves the flaming hoops, and juggles the scary clowns] (Did I mention I hate clowns? Yeah, it’s kind of thing with me.) Alright, it’s done!
Person A: Yay, teamwork!
Me: …

Call me Ishmael crazy, but that’s not team work. That’s just shirking responsibility and dumping it into my lap.

I see that kind of thing happen all the time. People are unwilling to step up to the plate, and the responsibility falls to someone else. I don’t care for it. I don’t think it helps things. I think that we often need to do the exact thing that scares us. It helps us to be better. To grow. To be able to make the tough decisions and choices.

I know that this doesn’t happen to just me. And I’m not trying to posit myself as the paradigm of goodness or any such nonsense. This is me, ranting a bit. In the grand scheme of things, nothing will change. People are who they are, and it’s not likely that spontaneous maturation is going to occur.

Things like this make me realize who I am and who other people are. Sometimes, that makes life a little easier to handle – when you know where you stand, and who will run away (like Brave Sir Robin) whenever the mood strikes.

Friendship Rules and Myths

April 25, 2011 8 comments

 

Occasionally, I am a terrible judge of character. I’m also a really good friend. If you need me, and I can help, I’ll be there. It doesn’t matter if it’s three in the morning, or if I just got out of the shower. If you need me, I’m there.

I have limits, like everyone does. I have boundaries that should be respected. For instance, if you text me at three in the morning, you should be bleeding on the side of the road. Or your husband just left you. Or your grandma died.

Important and bad things need to have happened. Otherwise, it’s rude, disrespectful, and selfish. It’s also disruptive of whatever sleep I’ve managed to get.

There are some other things I won’t tolerate, but let’s go with what’s listed above. Today, I’ve walked into the Twilight Zone, apparently. A once-friend I haven’t spoken to in years – because she abused my friendship, exploded spectacularly because I wasn’t available to her at all hours on the night, and unspeakably cruel – contacted me this morning.

As if nothing had happened between us. As if we were just two people who had fallen out of touch.

So…that’s awkward. Needless to say, that’s not something I’m going to indulge. However, I do feel like it’s apropos to repost something I wrote years back.

Let’s get this out of the way, shall we? If you don’t already know, my name’s Ali. I like coffee, sarcasm, humor, chocolate, Italian food, books, music, poetry, getting into trouble, high heels, orange-scented lotion, honesty, and laughter.

I do not like liars, drama queens/kings, self-centered behavior, immaturity, bullying, lack of integrity, small minds, unnecessary meanness, cruelty, red meat, people who fail to yield and use turn signals, the Boston Red Sox (I’m a Yankee fan), and math. Math IS the Devil’s arithmetic, and I firmly stand by that.

I believe that people above the age of twenty-five should know how to navigate a relationship with at least a modicum of maturity. Due to a series of unfortunate events, I’ve realized that this is not always true. And when it is not, shit happens. Bad shit. Shit that would make a great movie on Lifetime, and if Tori Spelling’s free, she could be the Crazy Friend Zombie out for blood, souls, and a good bit of drama that might make Shakespeare proud. If Shakespeare suddenly resurrects as a pathological nutjob, afflicted by a raging case of Munchausen’s syndrome, hailing from the planet Look at me! Look at me! (Yes, that’s a really long sentence. I’m tired and cranky. Shove off.) As for who would play me, I don’t know. Is Natalie Portman available?

So, let me just lay down a few very generic Friendship Rules.

  • Do not project. Do not accuse someone of ‘flipping out,’ if you are the one throwing a monumental fit. How can you tell if you are doing this? You send two incensed emails in a forty-eight hour time frame. The second one includes phrasing that would make the Cheshire cat say, “Oh, dear. Stay away from that one. She’s a little too mad for me.”
  • Hurling insults in response to a simple request is not going to get you the results you are looking for. If you call names, throw sand, steal my coffee, or try to guilt trip me, I will put you on the ferry Bugger Off – which takes you to the Isle of Misbehaved Friends. I don’t have endless patience, even though I am more patient than I should be.
  • If I say something like, “I am really busy. I can’t talk right now,” I do not expect you to text-stalk me. This is the adult(ish) version of repeating, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” on a three thousand mile road trip.

 Now, here are a few Friendship Myths.

  •  Friends should be at your disposal at all times. If you have a hang nail, a bug bite, a bad dream, or a gummy bear stuck to your shoe, it is acceptable to text message/email/call/send a fax/send a carrier pigeon with this information. Incessantly. NO. No. No. No. No. And no. Boundaries are there for a reason.
  • Guilt is an acceptable tactic, and it’s endearing. Again, NO. Guilt tripping someone, when you are in the wrong (clearly), isn’t mature. It’s not helpful. And it doesn’t make me want to hug puppies. Instead, it makes me want to ask how much crack you’ve ingested, have you recently hit your head, and why the hell are you allowed out of the mental ward?
  • Nothing, short of the world ending in a fiery blaze, is more important than you, your feelings, and responding to you. NO. You see, I have a life, responsibilities, and my own drama. If we have a good relationship, and you’re having a crisis, that’s an entirely different matter. If I don’t respond to you at the drop of a hat, because I am busy, dealing with my own crisis, out of town, with limited email access (and an even more limited amount of patience), I am not going to hop to it like one of Pavlov’s dogs. Not everything is about you. I know, I know – that’s entirely difficult to realize. And you might need therapy to slog through the implications.

 Alright, that’s it for now. I need more coffee. Or Johnny Depp. Does anyone have his number? *ahem* Feel free to share your own friendship rules and myths.

Moments in Buffy: The Chosen One was Just a Girl

April 21, 2011 5 comments

 

When the Buffy tv series started, I was a Freshman in high school. Buffy, of course, was a sophomore on the show, and I pretty much wanted to be her. (I’m sure there is a picture, somewhere, of a disastrous haircut, where I had layers – not good for my hair time or facial structure.)

That show had, and has, a lot of personal significance for me. It was a perfect storm of awesome.

There was wit, humor, compelling characters, character evolution, and a Doomed Relationship.

What? I’m a sucker for the star-crossed lovers bit. (Of course, I’m talking about Buffy and Angel. And, no, that’s not a spoiler. The show’s been in reruns for a long time now.)

I suspect that the reason Buffy resonated with so many people is that she was, at her core, just a girl. She was a girl dealing with circumstances she had no say in. She was fighting things that scared the laymen and, quite possibly, ate him. (I’m looking at you, Principal Flutie and Principal Snyder.)

Sure, Buffy was the Chosen One. She slayed things while wearing awesome leather pants. She burst into song because someone *cough* Xander *cough* accidentally performed a summoning spell.

But she also dated a total tool (Parker), watched her first real love walk away (Angel), and struggled with identity (who she was vs. who people needed her to be).

Buffy was a girl trying to do right in a world of wrong. She stepped up to the plate, even when it was the last thing she wanted to do. She did what any of us do when we’re faced with impossible, terrible, or scary things: she put one foot in front of the other. She took action. She didn’t let herself be defined by what the Hellmouth wrought.

So, why am I talking about this? It’s an odd thing to do – to draw comfort from a tv show, especially one that’s no longer airing new episodes. But I do.

I may not have ever tried out for the cheerleading squad, had to run my ex-lover through with a sword, or faced The First (from beneath you, it devours) – but I have felt lost, had awkward run-ins with exs, and been unable to speak (Hush was a beautiful episode).

Yes, in a narcissistic way, I see myself in Buffy. I think that’s the mark of a good, enduring character (literary or otherwise): she makes us contemplate ourselves. Feel. Identify. Commiserate. Remember. Consider. Grieve. Cheer. Laugh.

That moment, where Angel and Buffy stare at each other through the smoke (right after Graduation)? That KILLS me every single time I watch it. I’m seventeen, again, with the words of Sarah McLachlan rattling around in my head.

The episode where Buffy loses her mom? I’m a total mess. It’s just…raw. And honest. And real. It’s horrifying, because it seems to come out of the blue. It reminds us that death is always unexpected. No matter what, you can’t prepare for it. It isn’t possible.

The end of the musical episode where Buffy and Spike kiss? I want that to be wrong, but then I start rooting for them to make it work. Because it’s so bassackwards and insane, that it works. It’s so crazy that it makes sense. Two people who used to hate each other fall in love. The key in both of those things is passion. It’s apathy you have to worry about, there. Those two? Never apathetic about each other.

Today is a Buffy kind of a day. In fact, I’m putting the soundtrack on right now. Later on, I’m going to watch an episode or two. Because we can all use a little reminder, now and then, that we are capable of more than we know.

That you, me, and that chick in the back (the one with the great highlights) – is stronger than we allow ourselves to admit. We’re not weak, even when life seems like one big World of Suck. We don’t cower. We don’t back down. We don’t give up. We figure out what to do next.

That’s what true strength is.

“I don’t know what’s coming next. But I do know it’s gonna be just like this – hard, painful. But in the end, it’s gonna be us. If we all do our parts, believe it, we’ll be the ones left standing. Here endeth the lesson.” ~Buffy

Fire, Bad. Tree, Pretty.

April 19, 2011 5 comments

I wanted to write something smart today, something witty. Something inspired by this post written by Kat Howard. I wanted to talk about women in ficiton. I wanted to talk about being the geek kid, sitting alone at lunch. And I wanted to laugh about Unicorn Sparkle Zombies, because that is a funny concept.

Unfortunately, my brain is currently mush. I did not sleep last night. This morning, my puppy punched me in the face (not kidding), and there is a lot going on. So, my intelligence level has been reduced to “fire, bad. Tree, pretty.” I’m not sure if I can be coherent, but I’ll try.

Kickass, strong female leads tend to do very well in television: Wonder Woman, Xena, Alias, Buffy, and hell, even Gilmore Girls. Those are some of my favorite shows. (I will admit to completely loving the Buffy movie. Am I the ONLY person who loved it? Possibly.) Compelling storylines, witty writing, and a girl with moxie? I’m there. I’m sold. And so are a lot of people.

So, why aren’t there are strong female protagonists in epic fantasy? Sure, there are a slew of them in urban fantasy. Holly Black‘s Tithe comes to mind, immediately. (I met her once, a very long time ago. We went to the same college. She has always had awesome hair. I don’t think she’ll even remember me. I was an undergrad at the time.) Libba Bray‘s Gemma Doyle triology is one of my favorite things, even (I’m not quite sure that’s urban fantasy, but it’s fantasy). Cassie Clare’s Mortal Instruments series is a lot of fun. Hell, I even have a complete and utter love for Phillip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials series.

Female protagonists are awesome. So, where is our Lord of the Rings? Where is some epic orc-killing, badass witch chick, who has a personality unique unto her — and fights the hordes of evil? Where is our literary She-Ra (okay, she’s not epic fantasy, but she is awesome)? I don’t know. I wonder if anyone’s written her yet. As Kat pointed out, there’s Joan of Arc, who had a magic freakin’ sword. So, Arthur gets an entire canon of literature, but Joan of Arc gets…what? The movie with Milla Jovavich? (Don’t get me wrong — I love LeeLoo.)

Here’s the thing, though. I’ve been happily reading fantasy novels since before middle school. I’m the geek who got a music box (pegasus with silver wings) when she graduated from Kindergarten (seriously, why do they have a graduation for that?). I’ve read novels about a girl who talks to dragons (I can’t remember the name. This is killing me, slowly, and without mercy.) I’ve read the retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I’ve taken on Hobbits, the Rising Dark, and the Dragonlance series.

I never stopped to wonder why there were no female protagonists. Sure, there are female characters, but that’s not really the same thing.

I can’t do it right now, but I have an urge to write one. I keep thinking about what Jean Rhys said, when she talked about writing Wide Sargasso Sea (the tale of Bertha, from Jane Eyre) – she “wrote her a life.” So many authors talk about doing this. Toni Morrison (and I’m paraphrasing this terribly) said that if there’s a story that you want to read, and it hasn’t been written yet, write it.

So, why don’t you?

This Place Has a Memory

April 18, 2011 2 comments

 

This morning, everything is serene. Outside, the birds chirp, flit, and flutter.

There’s a crow on the fence. A robin on the ground. A mocking bird’s perched in a nearby tree.

It looks like a Disney movie. Half an hour earlier, you would’ve found deer on the lawn. And probably a very anxious bunny. I suspect it has some kind of social anxiety disorder.

This place, where I’m sitting right now, it has a history. Years and years of memories. Beginnings. Ends. Words unsaid. Words never said. Love. Hate. Anger. Friendship. Heartbreak. Joy.

And food. Lots and lots of food. (Coffee, too, of course. This is ME we’re talking about.)

I’ve been thinking about all the people this place has seen. It’s a horse farm. There have been a lot of folks – some good, some bad. Some completely frightening and incompetent. Some have even earned highly original nicknames like Icky Mark, Brat Number One, and Blondie. (Don’t ask. I beg you.)

If you look back through all my family photos, the majority of them are from this house. Some of them feature me with (very) unfortunate hair, clothing, and an explicable passion for grinning at the camera like some sort of mental patient.

This place has always been home. The center aisle of the barn is concrete (not cement, guys – that’s an ingredient in concrete. Yeah, I’m a dork), and it holds the shoes of a very awesome pony I once owned. The pool out back? My family and I put it in ourselves. The house? We built it. I’m not kidding. (I was very little. I mostly made sand castles in the foundation sand. BUT STILL.)

This house has been through a lot. (A bad tenant during an unfortunate stint in Florida – and, years later, a Flood. No, really. It flooded. No unicorns were harmed though, so it’s all good.) The bathroom upstairs? That’s where my mom did my hair for my first homecoming dance. I ended up on a blind date with a really awesome guy (who, if I can admit it now, I didn’t fully appreciate) – because my “friend” ditched me the afternoon of the dance. (Bitch.)

The barn out back? I used to hide in the hayloft and read for hours, never mind that I’m completely allergic to the hay. Or that I don’t particularly enjoy heights. That was my safe place. My home turf. And in the riding ring? I rode great horses, bad horses, my favorite horse, and one named Camelot. I also did trick riding (why, YES, I can ride a pony backward), sang until my voice gave out (mostly Sarah McLachlan), and supervised some strange characters.

There was a woman who vacuumed her horse as a grooming tactic. There was a girl who often tried to steal things, while in the very next breath professed, “I don’t steal.” Really? That’s my HELMET in your hand. Hand in the cookie jar, much?

There were friends and people I loved. Mistakes and good deeds swirling together in a mess of opportunity. Can a place hold memories? I like to think so. I like to think that history grows in between the floorboards, slips into the ground, and comes to rest in the silence between moments.

I like to think that this place remembers everything that I remember – good, bad, hard, easy, stupid, smart, beautiful, ridiculous, and whatever else. People talk about having a connection to a place. I don’t think I ever really realized what that means, what it feels like.

This morning, for whatever reason, I do. I get it. I’m glad to spend time here. I’m glad to make more memories. Summer’s coming, and I’ll be hard pressed to stay inside at all.

It’s the season of ice pops, swimming, stupid mistakes, and dreams. The beach (called the shore, people). The fresh produce at the farm stand that also makes the BEST apple cider donuts you’ve ever had. Getting homemade ice cream at the shop attached to the hardware store (I’m not kidding. And it is the most wonderful ice cream around). Flip-flops and bikinis, fireflies, and riding at dusk.

This place has a memory. And trust me when I say, it’s wonderful.

I Know What Girls Like

April 15, 2011 13 comments

 

 I’ve just read this article by the Times, and it filled me with complete and utter disgust. There’s nothing partial about my feelings. It’s an all-incompassing, Hulk-like emotion. I want to SMASH things. But I won’t. I’ll remain civilized.

Full disclosure: I haven’t read Game of Thrones. YET. It’s on the top of my To Read pile, which is growing so large that I’m beginning to fear it will soon be sentient. I do, however, really want to watch the tv series.

 Here’s the thing: I love fantasy stories. Love them. They were the first books I was addicted to as a child. From Robin McKinley’s Beauty to the Dragonlance novels. I was hopelessly in love with fantasy writing. They often had strong female characters (bonus!), compelling plotlines, and they were entertaining. For some odd reason, I had a crush on Raistlin from Dragonlance. I don’t know why.

 I still love fantasy writing. It’s my go-to genre a lot of the time. I’m excited to read the next Harry Dresden book by Jim Butcher. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next Sookie Stackhouse novel by Charlaine Harris. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah E. Harkness was an excellent find. I can’t wait for the second book.

 Of course, I’m not simply a Fantasy junkie. I read a little bit of everything from Shakespeare to Audrey Niffenegger. Toss in some Stephen King, and I’m a happy woman.

 But you know what else? I wear high heels. I can quote from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, the Godfather series, The Princess Bride, and a slew of John Hughes movies.

 I’d like to think that I’m well-rounded, because I am. I don’t believe in labeling something as ‘girl fiction’ or ‘boy fiction.’ Guess what? I played with Barbie and G.I. Joe as a kid. I like Sex and the City and Lord of the Rings.

 To return to Ms. Bellafante’s article, I’d like to point out that I happen to like Rome, Californication, True Blood, and Big Love. Why would these things be heaped into the category of Things Only Boys Will Like? Why on earth would that label even be acceptable? (Hint: it’s not.)

 I know plenty of women who read AND write in the fantasy genre – who love Tolkien and Susan Cooper. Women who gladly read Meg Cabot one day and Neil Gaiman the next.

 So, I’m fairly certain that despite that abhorrent, bias, sexist review – I’m going to watch The Game of Thrones. Afterwards, I might even play my xbox 360 – or is that just for boys, too?