Archive for March, 2012

The Magnificant Seven

March 31, 2012 6 comments

My dear friend Trisha, who is a fabulous writer, tagged me in a writer’s meme. The rules are as follows:

  1. You do not talk about WRITE CLUB.
  2. You DO NOT talk about WRITE CLUB.
  3. If someone says “grammar” or gets bored, or runs out of wine, the meme is over.
  4. Only seven writers shall be tagged.
  5. One excerpt at a time.
  6. No red pens, no fear.
  7. Memes will be seven lines in length, taken from the 7 or 77th page, 7 lines down.
  8. If this is your first night at WRITE CLUB, you HAVE to SHARE.

(Okay, so these aren’t the original rules. They are here. I will not be tagging anyone, because I’m a rebel. Or because I haven’t had enough coffee to remember anyone’s names.)

So, here’s my snippet, from my WIP Where Gods May Not Go:

I could not see how my own death was rendered until the All-Father opened my eyes.

I almost wished he hadn’t.

“There is a task,” he began, his voice rumbling like falling boulders. Things were crushed and silenced beneath his tongue. “This I trust to you – and it is vengeance. When you were murdered, a debt was created. It must be repaid, for one who deals in treachery should meet the same fate. In my kingdom and in yours.”

“But how?”

Categories: Writing

On Poetry, Adrienne Rich, and Remembering

March 29, 2012 2 comments

A long time ago, I wrote my first poem. It was a prose poem – a poem written in paragraph form – and it was about horses. I was ten.

Back then, I struggled with words – what they meant and what I wanted them to mean. Occasionally, I still wage that battle, when a word sounds like it fits, but its meaning does not. It is a silly war that I can never hope to win. But words, as anyone will tell you, are tricky things.

As a kid, I ate Shakespeare for breakfast. When I was ten or so, my brother bet me that I could not read Shakespeare and understand it. Romeo and Juliet, what light through yonder window breaks? I can still recite Puck’s ending speech from memory. And for one brief moment in college (read: a single scene), I took a turn as Pertuchio – British accent and all. Because I don’t know how to do anything halfway – and accents are FUN.

College, of course, brings us to Adrienne Rich, word-wielder of the highest caliber. I can still remember sitting in a classroom, reading “Diving into the Wreck.” I went home that night and read it three more times, marveling at the use of language, the imagery, and the emotions the poem evoked. In short, I was a mass of walking awe.

Rich passed away yesterday, at the age of 82. Death happens to everyone, I know, but I always feel particularly sad when a poet dies. That voice, the one that plucked words from the fibers of hearts everywhere, is silenced. Not, as you might think, gone. The poems and essays written are still there, immortal. A testament. Because art persists through time. And Rich’s poetry is a rare thing.

In graduate school, I read Rich’s essays on gender and sexuality. Hers were some of the only literary criticism that didn’t make me want to cry in the corner. (Edward Said, you made me apoplectic.) In Someone is Writing a Poem, Rich wrote, “Someone is writing a poem. Words are being set down in a force field. It’s as if the words themselves have magnetic charges; they veer together or in polarity, they swerve against each other.”

To me, that is the perfect way to describe poetry and the act of writing it. That, I think, is how all art is made: lines being read on a stage, a person who is both themself and someone else – giving life to a moment, an idea, a stranger pulled from the dark. Magnets pushing and pulling, creating something.

Sitting here, right now, looking over the texts that were her life – I find that I am still in awe. I doubt that the literary community will ever find her poetic equal. But I am grateful to have been able to read her work, to walk through her lines and phrases, and to learn from her prose. Below are some of my favorite snippets and lines. If you’re inclined, share yours.

  • Your silence today is a pond where drowned things live
  • The rules break like a thermometer,
    quicksilver spills across the charted systems,
  • That conversation we were always on the edge
    of having, runs on in my head,
  • the thing I came for:
    the wreck and not the story of the wreck
    the thing itself and not the myth

And, against my better judgment – here is a poem on this occasion.

For Adrienne

There is no wreck you cannot
rise from, no myth unmarked
or unaccounted for, two hands
and an argument –
acute and heavy with purpose,
fingers that knew more
than how to touch and trust,
belonging to a woman
who believed in lit matches
and loaded dreams.

Your mind was an exception
to every rule unheeded, a trail
of metaphors upon the pages
we’ve all tread since, the only
worthy form of trespass (admiration) –
you made a path of precursors
and stirred memories, borrowed,
snapshots of things we never had
a chance to believe in, but after reading
we thought
perhaps we could

The words are purposes.
The words are maps*

each a story,
belonging and not belonging
to the hands that
wrote it,
to the mouths
that dared to eat it,
and to the eyes
that took it apart –
one by one
by one,
within us, a swallowed
tales resides, a monster
of myths, sleeping
just beneath our precarious souls.

We, each of us, saved ourselves
with each lesson learned:
It is okay to speak.
It is okay to seek.
Dive in,
make promises of desire,
honor the absent spaces,
but come home without mercy,
even if you’ve forgotten
the address,
or the arms of those you loved,
and those you pretended to –
revelation is poised
on your lips,
but now those truths
are kissed by silence.

Someone else will have to carry on.
Someone else will have to explore.
We are, you are; we will be,
and you were —
all of us will remember.

*Those two lines are from Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck.”

Thirteen Ways to Lie

March 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Note: this is part of series. Click the ‘thirteen ways’ tag below, if you’d like to read the rest.


  1. Kiss with your eyes open. Give in, but then hold back.
  2. Watch the accident happen. Do not admit to witnessing the wreck.
  3. Walk away. Do not say goodbye. Do not leave a note. Pretend it never happened.
  4. Say yes when you mean no. Then, let silence fill up the room. Silence is another lie.
  5. Turn the music on. Do not dance.
  6. Do not ask the question. Cobble together your own answer. Offer it as fact.
  7. Undress. It’s better to lie with your clothes off.
  8. Whisper a secret that isn’t yours to tell. Never admit to it.
  9. Look him in the eye. Say I love you, when you mean goodbye. Do not leave.
  10. Vanish.
  11. Fall in love. Fail to honor it. Bury your heart.
  12. Stay, when you should go. Smile through the pain. Pretend it doesn’t hurt.
  13. Sign the contract in blood that isn’t yours. Do not write your own name.
Categories: thirteen ways

Once Upon a Time: A Storyteller’s Thoughts on Madness and Magic

March 26, 2012 8 comments


Somewhere along the line, most of us lose our belief in magic. Our first thought when a brief light shines on a wall is not that it’s Tinkerbell. A wardrobe is merely a place to hang clothing. The rabbit hole in the yard leads nowhere. Wishes upon stars don’t come true, and there’s no such thing as a fairy godmother. And, yes, that book of stories, once a thing of wonders and truth, is just a book.

But what if none of that is true? What is the presence of magic depends on you looking for it, believing in it? Most things in life are bent on attention, founded in how much effort and presence of mind we, as people, put in. If you read a book, without doing a close reading, you will miss half the plot and most of the nuances. It’s like cooking with your eyes closed. Who knows how it will turn out?

Like most people, Emma Swann doesn’t believe in magic. She has lived a hard life and is very grounded in her experiences. She is very much someone who functions on two things: instincts and facts. In Hat Trick, everything Emma knows is subtly challenged.

Mary Margaret, her friend who is in jail for murder, has escaped. In a complete panic, she takes off into the night to go find her, nearly running down a stranger in the process. As an apology she drives him home, where he makes her tea. Anyone who has seen one after-school special KNOWS something isn’t right with that tea. It’s drugged.

When Emma wakes up, she learns three things: he has Mary Margaret tied up, his name is Jefferson, and he’s the Mad Hatter. Curiously, Jefferson knows EXACTLY who he is, unlike the majority of the characters in Storybrooke. He has been tormented by watching his daughter grow up in another family, unaware of his existence. (“Like everyone else here, what I love has been ripped from me.” That is the precise nature of the curse, isn’t it?) For him, a family man and single dad, that is the worst punishment. He could not leave his house, until Emma showed up. His off-kilter personality is explained as, “holding conflicting realities in your head will make you mad.” (For some reason, this made me think of David, even though he’s absent from this episode. From the hypnosis, we know that his memories of Fairytale Land are there, beneath the surface. How much of his dilemma is rooted in the disparity of the worlds within him? I suspect that his blackouts are going to reveal more than just a lingering bit of head trauma. But we’ll see.)

In Fairytale Land, we learn that Jefferson helped the Evil Queen use the Hat to retrieve something from the Queen of Hearts. The hat trick, so to speak, is that only two may pass through it. What the Evil Queen left out of her bargain was that they were retrieving her father, Henry (who, it appears, is the only thing the Queen seems to care about at all). Left behind, Jefferson takes the fall for the Evil Queen, and we learn from the super creepy Queen of Hearts that the Evil Queen’s name is…Regina. That is the same as her counterpart in Storybrooke. If, as I mentioned last week, names matter – and naming matters, especially in regard to identity – then this is significant. What else has Regina taken with her?

For Jefferson’s part his punishment is to craft another functioning hat, which he cannot do without magic. In Storybrooke, he tells Emma who she is and what he needs her to do (make him a working hat so that he can get back to his daughter). You see, Emma who doesn’t believe in magic, has brought magic with her. Throughout their interactions, Jefferson (who SEEMS mad as a hatter) keeps spouting bits of wisdom. My two favorites are, “What’s crazier than seeing but not believing?” and “Everyone wants a magical solution to their problems, but no one believes in magic.”

That is quite true. Mary Margaret laments her pain (regarding David), wishing that there was a magic potion to make it stop. I’m fairly certain Leroy would’ve loved a bit of magic on his quest to help Astrid. Instead, he settled for a pick axe and clever timing (actions matter, after all).

Eventually, Emma makes the hat, lulls Jefferson into thinking that she believes him, frees Mary Margaret, and they both end up fighting Jefferson. Tellingly, when push comes to shove (literally), Mary Margaret became Snow for the briefest instant, hauling off and kicking the Hatter out the window. Perhaps it was a mother’s instinct, protecting Emma. Or, perhaps, Mary Margaret is slooooowly regaining her sense of self. This, I think, is reaffirmed when she decides to go back to jail – even though Emma, surprisingly, gives her the option to leave town. Snow had a tendency to do the right thing, no matter the danger. It seems Mary Margaret is the same.

Shortly after this, we learn that Mr. Gold is working with Regina. HE planted the key in her cell that led to her escape. Of course, the mayor was quite angry that the plan didn’t work and that Mary Margaret came back. Nonplussed, Mr. Gold shrugs with all the ease and grace of someone with a plan. Of course, the audience probably gasped at this revealed partnership. But I don’t think this is a genuine alliance. Remember the exchange these two had when he was in jail, in Skin Deep? The one where she asked for his TRUE name? Like Rumplestiltskin, my guess is Mr. Gold is bound to his name, which curiously he must be aware of. I don’t think he’s truly in league with Regina, so much as indentured to her. Or, at least, that is what he wants her to think. I’m willing to bet a pound of pixie dust that Rumplestiltskin isn’t his real name. Given that EVERYONE in Fairytale Land knows him by that name (given the nature of his magic, he’s ruled by the name and the dagger), it’s safe to say that his true identity is a secret. So, he’s playing an angle in regard to Regina. I cannot wait to see how that reveal plays out.

Returning to the Hatter’s tale – there is a clever twist. The hat Emma made? It worked. Jefferson vanished, leaving the hat behind. Just as Emma’s magic allows her to tell when people are lying (remember the first episode, where it revealed that Regina doesn’t really love Henry?), her magic changes things. It started the clock moving. It’s setting people free, like the Huntsman. What if Emma’s gut, her instinct, isn’t really intuition? What if it’s born of magic? This is highlighted near the very end of the episode, when she sees Jefferson’s daughter – the one he told her about, the same one depicted in Henry’s book. To me, this was an ah-ha moment, where Emma began to entertain the small possibility that there’s more going on than she was willing to acknowledge. Would she call it magic? No, probably not. But I don’t know that she’d have a better term.

One of the most important things that we, as people, can do is pay attention. Be present. Listen and watch intently. Don’t have one foot in this world and another in dreams. Magic may be all around, flitting about under the guise of seemingly ordinary things. Roald Dahl once wrote, ““And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

And it’s true. You can’t find what you don’t look for or what you’re not willing to see. This is why you can’t find love if your heart’s closed. This is why you can’t see an opportunity, if all you acknowledge are problems. This is why we grow up and forget magic: we stop looking for it.

But there is a spell in a sunset. There are wishes in stars. There is magic in the small things, like a slow-rolling morning fog. A first kiss. A date that ends when the sun comes up, after walking around the city for hours. There’s magic in yes, instead of no. In taking chances. In honoring the heart. In putting a wish out in the world, no matter how silly or foolish. Magic isn’t all fairies and potions. The very best magic is often kept within the things we take too often for granted. It is our ability to pay attention and appreciate things that reveals the spell underneath the smile, the perfect beauty in a kiss, and the dancing happiness to be found a dream come true.

Fairytales might not be real. But the sentiment behind them? That is a very different story.

Make Mistakes, Hang On, and Go back to the Basics

March 23, 2012 4 comments

When I woke up this morning, the world was consumed by fog. I could barely see a foot in front of me. Judging by the way it looked, it seemed like the fog would last hours – if not late into the day. And yet, right now, the sun has broken through the clouds. Most of the fog has burned off. It looks absolutely beautiful out. In another hour or so, all traces of the fog will be gone, except for a wet, dewy grass. That fog, which seemed thick and impassable, is resolved with the right combination of things: a lack of clouds and sun. Simple as that.

That fog reminded me that it’s not always about first judgments or getting it right the first time. Sure, as kids, that idea is pretty much throttled into our brains. “Do it right, so that you don’t have to do it again.” “Ace the test.” “Don’t fall off the balance beam.” “Always be on time.” “Don’t fall from that horse.”

In other words, don’t screw up. Which, honestly, is pretty impossible. And I say that as a person who was always late to gymnastics. I have fallen off many balance beams. Consequently, I’ve never fallen off a horse. I have, however, jumped twice – as a last resort (landed on my feet in a flip – I kid you not). Something my mom always taught me: when in doubt, hang out. It doesn’t matter what you look like. It doesn’t matter if you slip. Hang on.

There are two important concepts in that paragraph. The first one is wrong: don’t screw up. Screwing up is how we learn. Every time I’ve done something silly or even disastrous, I’ve learned from it. If I did it perfectly, if I knew exactly what I should do, what would I have taken away from the experience? Nothing, except I did what I set out to do. It’s the hard knocks, the forgotten lines, the oh crap – did I REALLY do that? moments that make us better. If you’re not screwing up, you’re not trying hard enough.

Messing up, making mistakes – it’s hard. Sometimes, it’s humiliating. Sometimes, it’s the emotional equivalent of asking someone on a date – only to have them give you a look and say no thank you. But, really, would you WANT to go on a date with someone whose eyes didn’t light up? Who didn’t jump at the chance and smile? Probably not. And if you just said yes, you are a masochist, darling.

Everything I write teaches me something. There are many times where it turns out to be what not to do, but each thing is a step closer to the writer I want to be. It’s a step toward appeasing my inner ten year old self, which is when I decided I wanted to be a writer. (No, you will never see that short story.)

For an actor, every rehearsal, every read-through, every take – it teaches you something. It shows you something about the character, about yourself. If you forget a line or miss a cue, it sucks. But it happens. And it’s a step toward getting it right.

That’s where the second piece of advice comes in: hang on. Let’s face it, when mistakes happen, it feels crappy. You beat yourself up. You question your motives. You question your talent. But if you’re asking those questions, it means you give a damn. It means that you’re not in it to get it right the first time. You’re in it to learn. And the people who hang on and keep learning? Those are the people who succeed. Because it’s easy to deal with the moments where it all goes right, but true character is often revealed when damnation hits the fan, and you find yourself in an Underworld of Doubts.

Everyone has doubts. The difference between succumbing and succeeding is how deeply you let them burrow under your skin. Doubts aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Staring them down, telling them to frak off, that is bravery. That is a sign that you’re here, and you’re hanging on.

And when that happens, here’s another piece of advice: go back to the basics. If a dancer is having difficulties, the answer is often waiting back in the studio. It’s often back at the bar. Sometimes, it’s a matter of regaining focus.

If a singer is having trouble, the answer may be in the scales. So you sit down and sing AEIOU for an hour. You go out and do karaoke. You get back to the singer that you are, while reaching toward the singer you can be. (And if anyone is up for it, I’m always available to belt out Disney songs, Adele, Sarah McLachlan, and at least one song from pretty much any Broadway show.)

If a writer is struggling with a story, the answer might be as simple as a lost thread (shout-out to Chuck Wendig). Pull out note cards and a pen. Figure out what went wrong with the story, and fix it. Everything that’s written can be altered. You cannot alter what you haven’t put into words, but you can change the ones in front of you.

We all make mistakes – and we all should. But all fog burns away eventually. All things dissipate with time. It’s how you handle these things that matter.

Learn. Hang on. Go back to the basics.

(The same thing, btw, goes for relationships. But that is another post for another day.)

An Open Letter to Michael Bay

March 20, 2012 4 comments

First, you came for the Transformers, and I did not say a word. Sure, I loved the cartoon as a kid, but I was willing to overlook a cinematic faux pas. But then Revenge of the Fallen happened. And then Dark Side of the Moon. That sound you hear? That’s my childhood WEEPING, sir.

Here’s one thing I don’t get. You take a franchise with a built-in fanbase (everyone born between 1972 and 1990, toss in a few cartoon-stragglers for good measure) and you WRECKED it. Not only that, but you took on (and maimed) Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th – two of the scariest movies from my childhood. When I saw the originals, I didn’t want to go near a bed for weeks. And if I saw a girl jumping rope, I was compelled to recite the Freddy Kruger rhyme. I never wanted to go to summer camp, either, because WHAT IF THERE WAS A HOMOCIDAL MANIAC? In short, those movies were effectively frightening.

But now, sir, you’ve come for the Turtles. Yes, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I watched the cartoon religiously as a kid. I spent my spare time trying to master how to draw a turtle’s head. I had the action figures. I played the videogame. I wanted to BE April O’Neil. In short, I loved the Turtles, those lovable little guys who fell into some mutagen, only to transform into odd-pizza-eating, smartass superheroes trained by a wise rat-man named Splinter. Their archenemy is Shreddar, and his line, “tonight, I dine on turtle soup” is classic.

Yesterday, I read that you’re going to alter the origins of the turtles. Bye bye, green slime. Bye bye, sewer lair (I’m assuming). Bye bye MUTANT. Now, we get…Turtles from Outer Space! Instead of “tonight, I dine on turtle soup,” we’re getting, “tonight, I dine on alien!” Not quite as effective and definitely not as memorable.

I hate to point out the obvious, but that’s a totally different movie. That makes the turtles neither turtles nor mutants. You’re left with Teen Aliens. And, let’s face, that’s a tale best left for the Syfy channel, with its campy lineup of Space Monkey and Squirrelemming vs Velocishark. I’m SURE that Shannon Doherty is available, and she has just as much range as the people you generally cast (I’m looking at you, Shia).

Mr. Bay, I don’t understand you. It seems, though, that Hollywood can’t quit you – despite the fact that you keep willfully murdering sacred childhood relics. I get that it’s important to keep things fresh and new. I understand that telling a story isn’t always easy. But I’m starting to worry that you’re going to remake every movie, or show, I’ve ever loved. I can see it now.

  1. The Godmother: A Corleone Saga. Set in the future. “Leave the laser. Take the cannoli.”
  2. Gone with the Wind: The Teenage Years. We follow a Carrie Bradshaw-esque Scarlet as she fends off suitors and pines after Mr. Wilkes, whose first name we don’t know. “As God as my witness, I will never go shoeless again!”
  3. Cheers. Except this time, Sam and Diane are vampires. The patrons are zombies. And occasionally, Buffy the Vampire stops by. “Where everybody knows your name, and occasionally tries to eat you!”

Those three things? Make about as much sense as turning the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles into aliens. I don’t know if you’ve hit your head recently, but a concussion would explain this kind of decision. Perhaps you’re consumed by complete terror, after receiving a strongly worded demo song from Michael Bolton, in which he chronicles how you stole his hairstyle.

I don’t know what the deciding factor was, but quite frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. I just want you to stop ripping apart the things I loved from my childhood. You know what might be a good example of what TO do? The Muppet Movie. The Muppet Movie was an updated version of the Muppets that EVERYONE loved, without bastardizing it. It stayed true to the heart and spirit of the Muppets themselves. No one decided that Kermit the Frog should now be a parquet. No one tried to fry up Ms. Piggy in order to create more tension in the storyline. And no one decided that it might be cool if they turned the Muppets into aliens.

Please, Mr. Bay, STOP. It’s one thing to be innovative and fun. It’s another thing to figuratively shit on person’s childhood memories. Plus, that’s really not polite.

Enough is enough, sir. Put the CRAZY down, and back away from the turtles.


Alison, a child of the 80s

Once Upon a Time: A Storyteller’s Thoughts on Darkness and Love

March 19, 2012 8 comments

Everyone has a dark side. Few, I think, admit to its full depth and reach – but no one is without that secret part of self, the one that (perhaps) does the wrong thing, willingly. It’s not just a bad decision or mistake. It’s a purposeful endeavor with full knowledge of its rendering.

Sometimes, it is love that exposes our shadow-selves, but on the other end, the opposite is also true: the absence of love serves the same purpose. Our ability to care, to feel, and to love (in all its spectacular folly and wildness) is what makes us who we are. Either its surplus or its dearth, love defines us. At the end of the day, perhaps it is the only thing worthy of defining who we are – and who we could be.

Love isn’t always starlight and roses. Sometimes, love hurts in places we didn’t know we possessed. If love is lost, it leaves a mark. No, that’s too soft an image. It’s not a simple scar. There’s nothing simple about it. The loss, and its wreckage, is there every time you take a breath. That pain, bluntly, sucks. It’s a vile, wretched ache. It’s something we have to go through, when love is gone.

And yet, what if we didn’t? What if we sipped a magic potion, and *poof* that painful part of who we are vanished? What happens to a soul when love is extracted from it? That’s simple: we become someone else.

Just like Snow did, in yesterday’s episode of Once Upon a Time (Heart of Darkness). In Fairytale Land, Snow is consumed by rage. She is all sharpness, drive, and hate. Her only thought is of revenge. It doesn’t matter who she hurts. Nothing matters but killing the Evil Queen (expertly played by Lana Parrilla – side-note: riding in leather pants? Not easy. Major props). Her friends, the Seven Dwarves try to reason with her, Grumpy especially. Like anyone who cannot see straight, she listens but doesn’t truly hear him. Her mind is made up.

Because, without love, Snow has forgotten who she is. In a sense, she’s run away from herself (interestingly, the reverse is true of Red who embraces who she is when she turns into the wolf in order to aid Charming in his pursuit of Snow). Charming, ever true to his promise to always find his beloved, chases her down – desperate to save her. He believes, as Rumplestiltskin implies, that true love’s kiss – his kiss – will wake her from her darkness. Except it doesn’t work, and he ends up getting knocked out and tied to a tree. Jiminy Cricket points out, she cannot possibly remember Charming, or their love, because she’s forgotten herself.

(And that’s very true. It’s hard to love someone when you don’t know who you are. It’s hard to honor that love is you have no center, if the reflection in the mirror doesn’t yield a vision you recognize. Not, say, unlike the Evil Queen who looks into the mirror and doesn’t see herself.)

Which brings us to an interesting point in Storybrooke. Sheriff Emma Swann has arrested Mary Margaret, and all signs point to her being a murderer. Evidence is piling up (the heart-box was her jewelry box, the murder weapon was hidden in her heat vent etc), despite Emma’s belief in Mary Margaret’s innocence, as well as Henry’s suspicion that his mother (Regina, the mayor) is to blame. At August’s urging (again, he is a catalyst for change and aid when it’s needed), Henry looks to his book of fairytales for answers. That leads him to discover a ring of keys, which the mayor possesses. Presumably, they open every door in Storybrooke, including Mary Margaret’s home, which would make it pretty easy to plant evidence.

Everyone believes in Mary Margaret’s innocence…except the person who matters most: David. Again, in reality, David isn’t a perfect figure. He is conflicted and full of doubts, which is so very, very human. David’s problem is not that he’s devoid of love, as Snow is in Fairytale Land. No, he’s plagued by facts and reasons, memories and feelings are war with one another. During a visit to Archie for hypnosis (to probe at the gaps in his memory), he recalls his last phone call with Kathryn (long story short: she gave him her blessing to be with Mary Margaret, which was a nice counterpoint to Regina having burned the letter Kathryn had left him). What is very intriguing is the sudden conflation of the two worlds, a blurring of memories: he relives Charming’s memory of pleading with Snow not to kill her (the Queen) and applies it to the Storybrooke situation (the murder of Kathryn). He comes out of the hypnosis in a panic. As he flees from Archie’s office, there’s fear and grief in his face. He goes to talk to Mary Margaret, trying to tell her what he remembered.

For Mary Margaret, this is her potion moment. This is the beginning of her character’s descent into darkness. She feels betrayed by David, for thinking that she’s capable of murder. She stood by him, when he was accused. But now he suspects her. And it breaks her.

But what’s most profound about David isn’t what he did or said. It’s what he didn’t do. He didn’t go straight to Emma and share what he’d seen. He didn’t tell Archie. He didn’t tell anyone, except for Mary Margaret. He is confused, but it is clear that he loves her – and that he isn’t ready to throw her to the wolves. If he had been, that conversation wouldn’t have happened. He would’ve done something about what he thought he knew.

Because as Snow pointed out in Fairytale Land, words don’t matter. Actions do. Charming, as we find out, allows himself to be SHOT and CAPTURED in order to save Snow. Charming needed to rescue Snow, yes, but it was from herself – or her lack of self, as the case may be. This time, when they kiss, it yields a revelation (as all great kisses should, damn it). In that moment, before he’s hauled off by knights belonging to the king who want to kill him, she remembers who she is – and she remembers who they are to each other. Love conquers that darkness that welled up inside her. It was a brazen, mad thing that Charming did, but as Nietzsche said, “there is always some madness in love, but there is also always some reason in madness.” Love, again, is the very best madness.

This episode was all about actions and emotions. Deeds over mere words. Before Snow remembers who she is, love is only a word. Red faces her true nature to help her friend. Grumpy stands by Snow, even when it’s hard. In Storybrooke, Mary Margaret knows who she is, but she is gutted when David doubts her. This, presumably, is what leads her to use the key that she found in her cell, opening the door and fleeing – while Emma is striking an alliance with Mr. Gold. (I can’t wait to see how that plays out. Also, was Mr. Gold wearing a wedding ring? Or did I imagine that?) Mr. Gold and Rumplestiltskin raise some interesting questions in this episode, namely about the nature of love and evil. Evil is made. But what of love? By the end of Heart of Darkness, Rumple has bottled love using two hairs from Snow and Charming. Can you really keep love bound in a jar? Or will love always find a way out? I’d like to think the answer is yes. That love always finds a way. Even, perhaps, for a cynic like the gold-spinner.

Love makes everyone vulnerable. As CS Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” Yes, that is true. Loving someone opens us up to pain. Put your heart in a blender and hit frappe. It is a risk, and nothing is without a price, dearie. But what is the alternative? As Snow illustrates in the beginning, and perhaps Mary Margaret at the end, the opposite is darkness.

Love is the only challenge to the dark. It is the only thing that can strip it away. Without our ability to love, we are all shadows of ourselves. Not everyone literally steps in front of an arrow for another person, as Charming did. But figuratively? Metaphorically? YES. That is what real love is. It is what keeps us true to ourselves. And that is what guards us from the nights without stars.

Dancing with Ghosts of Ourselves

March 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Our switching glances
were what burnt us out,
neither looking too long nor too hard,
seeing without enough attention,
dark-hearted and yet surprised
at the darkness –
we were of simple minds then,
all fingers and numbers,
smiles but no sense.

But the look, hitched around the sun,
bent around the corners of summer,
full of grass and grace, laughter
and all the things I’d forgotten
from childhood – you pulled them
out of history, offering them like
a picked wildflower.
It was enough, then.

Those days, however few, were without mercy,
love run at a full-gallop,
each race a resurrection,
no hesitation, we were born again
on a bedrock of desires, all secrets
laid down bare in hieroglyphic hands,
never mind the dust
kept beneath the thorns, fingers pricked
and won, your eyes –
the perfect color
somewhere between the sea and the salt air.

But even as we gained
we lost. Soon, the moments stalled,
the green of the grass hesitated
before giving out, yielding up the seconds
until there was less and less –
and then
and then –
nothing but a shimmer, a ripple of heat
gathered in the air.

In that, we were caught out,
carried away by rain, soaked
all the way back to a time before
we met, memories dancing with the ghosts
of ourselves, unfamiliar; our fingers
grew cold and distant, suddenly
lost to pockets,
extracted from entanglement,
a dissolved bit of heart-fame,
the gaze –

your look

I buried it, but it would not reconcile itself. Now and
again it bursts out of history, all
blood and bone and summer,
the last little torch of time, not quite gone out.

Categories: Poetry

How to Tell if Your Friend is CRAZY*

March 15, 2012 6 comments

In relationships, sometimes we miss the subtle cues, the clues that things aren’t particularly on the up and up.  We give someone the benefit of the doubt.  We try when our instincts are screaming, “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!”  In short, sometimes we are not as observant as we need to be.  And if we are, we have a tendency to push away the unpleasant observations. 

This isn’t wise.  I know that.  You know that.  And yet, it occasionally happens.  And then you find yourself in a friendship that is one step away from Single White Female and a boiled bunny.  Bad.  Very bad. 

So, I’ve complied a list of things that might help you spot a Crazy Friend.  I’m not talking about the average kind of crazy.  No, I’m referring to the March Hare dipped in LSD variety.  Hopefully, you can put together an extraction plan and back away from said relationship slowly.  In other words, SAVE YOURSELF.  Unless you happen to like rabbit. 

  1. Does your friend ever utter the following phrases: Well, I thought it would be just like the movies (no one above the age of 12 should ever say/believe that), I don’t like to be ignored [your name here] (this requires a certain sinister tone to be considered scary; learn to recognize it), I think my neighbor’s out to get me (sing it with me now: paranoia, paranoia…). 
  2. Does your friend respond to reasonable requests in a strange manner?  For instance, let’s say that you ask your friend to borrow a cup of sugar.  If she gives you the sugar happily, you’re alright.  If she wants you to bake HER a cake with that sugar, something in rotten in Denmark. 
  3. Does he/she alternately compliment and criticize you?  “I really feel like you’re a good listener, but the fact that you didn’t want to hear about my toe nails really gives me pause.”  No rational person, or good friend, would try to “guilt” you in this manner.  Also, unless that toe nail is hilarious in some unexpected way, monumentally important to his/her well-being, or it keeps growing after he/she cuts it (in which case, RUN! She’s a demon from another dimension.  And yeah, you have Buffy to thank for that really bad joke), it’s not a must-have conversation.
  4. Does he/she find fault in EVERYONE else he/she knows?  I’m not talking about complaining about the in-law who shows up unannounced.  If said friend criticizes the mail person, the babysitter, the lady who only feeds her kid organic food, an entire gaggle of relatives including immediate family, old friends who somehow managed not to measure up to unexplained expectations, and the populations of three different online communities–check the Cuckoo clock, because I’m pretty sure this one’s keeping time with the Crazy.
  5. Lastly, if your friend calls you/texts you/emails you more than twice in one day, when there isn’t a crisis/emergency/funny story/pertinent story/timely need to exchange information/important question–this is cause for fear.  Lots of fear.  Not only is said person demanding, he/she has no respect for your life or personal space.  And he/she is one step away from painting the roses red, because all work and no plays makes Jack a dull boy, especially if Jack lives in the Twilight Zone, somewhere in between Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and We all float down here

It can be difficult to tell when someone’s just made of crazy.  Some people hide it very well.  These people are often serial killers or serial annoyers.  Unless your dog has suddenly gone missing, the Offender’s probably the latter.  Just remember that sane people don’t expect you to leap out of bed at three in the morning to discuss such important issues as the vanity plate on the in-laws car.  And if he/she thinks that his/her time is more important than yours–RUN.  You’ve encountered a raging narcissist.

This PSA has been brought to you by coffee, irritation, and the moment where Enough is Enough.  I do not envy the headache you will have upon waking.  But until then, rest well, and dream of large women.


*This is a repost from an old blog. Basically, it’s new to you.

Once Upon a Time: A Storyteller’s Thoughts about Self-Discovery

March 12, 2012 11 comments

Figuring out who you are is a tricky thing. It can, and often does, take a lifetime to parse out. Even then, I think we only graze the surface. Discovery is a process, not a single instant or a certain place. Revelations arise and fall away at unknown whims. I think that the moment we stop being surprised by who we are, who we could be, is the moment we stop growing as people. That is a dangerous state of being.

Some people never grow up. Some people get stuck in a mindset or attitude. You know the type. There’s always that one guy who you went to high school with, who keeps talking about The Big Game. But what happens if a person who was frozen in time, so to speak, suddenly wakes up? How would that person go about constructing or extracting an identity or sense of self? It is reasonable to assume that there would be a certain level of uncertainty, the kind that surfaces when we, as people, are nervous or unsure. Emerson once wrote that “[t]o be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Notice that he did not claim it would be easy.

Mirrors lie. Words lie. Worse yet: memories lie. (One of my favorite quotes about the nature of memory, “Memory is a mirror that scandalously lies” — Julio Cortázar)

But do actions?

Take the character of Little Red Riding Hood/Ruby (played by the lovely Meghan Ory) from ABC’s Once Upon a Time, specifically this week’s episode Red-Handed. (In case you need a refresher, here’s how the show works: The Evil Queen put a curse on everyone in Fairytale Land, transporting them to the Storybrooke in the Real World. No one can leave.) In Storybrooke, Ruby is a rebel with a confidence problem. She’s got red streaked hair, a wild side, and a desire to see the world – all while wearing a skirt shorter than a napkin (major props to Meghan for being able to rock that look with aplomb). She longs to experience life. Basically, she’s every teenager, magnified. Curiously, it is her conversation with August (the mysterious motorcycle-riding writer who is the first stranger to visit Storybrooke ever. He’s played by Eion Bailey, who I’ve adored since Center Stage.) that allows her to change. Until the sheriff, Emma Swann (Jennifer Morrison), came to town change was impossible. She set the clock moving, quite literally.

After talking to August, Ruby quits her job at the diner, urged on by the need to DO something. To SEE something. Anything. It doesn’t really matter what. In fact, she hadn’t thought about that part at all. She acted, without thinking, going on instinct alone. (That’s important.)

Her counterpart in Fairytale Land is just as rebellious. Where she differs, at least initially, is her grasp of self. When she found poor, displaced Snow White (who cleverly gives her name as Margaret – no, Mary. It’s important to note the connection between names and identity. The curse took away each character’s true name, thus stripping away parts of who they are. The act of naming is an act of power.), she doesn’t hesitate to take her in. You see, there’s a vicious wolf on the loose, eating people and livestock. She’s pretty badass. She knows how to track. She wears a beautiful red cape, until the very second that her grandmother stops paying attention, and she takes it off. Because she doesn’t want to be told what to do, like Ruby.

But it turns out that Red doesn’t really know who she is. She has plans to run away with Peter, the young blacksmith. When she and Snow discover that the wolf isn’t just a wolf – it’s a person cursed to turn when the moon is full – she runs to Peter, suspecting that it’s him. They devise a plan, so that they can still be together. She’ll tie him up with chains so he doesn’t hurt anyone. “You’d do that for me?” he asked, echoing a question she’d asked him earlier. “I’d do anything for you,” she answers, just as he did. That, right there? That’s love, pure and simple.

The trouble is, Red is the wolf. The cape she’s supposed to wear would keep her from transforming. In a tragic moment, she kills Peter. It is then that she discovers who she is: a killer, a monster, a wolf.

Or is she? Isn’t this transformation just one more curse? And who HASN’T felt like they turn into a raging wolf, sometimes? Granted, in real life, we don’t rip out people’s throats. But still. Red discovers who she is in a moment of blood and pain. It is a kind of birth. If the classic Little Red Riding Hood is a cautionary tale about innocence, lost and found, then Once Upon a Time’s rendering is about self-realization and discovery.

The discovery doesn’t end there. Back in Storybrooke, Ruby takes a job at the Sheriff’s station, helping out Emma. She slowly starts to understand that she’s capable of more than she ever realized. That she is smart and useful. In fact, she helps Emma track down David, who Mary Margaret encountered in the woods acting strangely. He’s wandering the area of the forest where Kathryn went missing. As an interesting carryover from Fairytale Land, Ruby has a heightened sense of hearing and smell, like a wolf. That little gem made me wonder what else people could, potentially, carryover from their previous lives. It’s not just certain facets of personality. It’s powers. Perhaps, then, it’s also magic. (We’ve seen a glimpse of that, I think, with Mr. Gold / Rumplestiltskin – as well as Regina / the Evil Queen.)

David, once found, is completely terrified by the idea that he blacked out and murdered his wife. He’s lost some time. He cannot remember an entire night, which presumably he spent in the woods. Then, Ruby (in her last act for the Sheriff’s office) discovered a box that’s been buried near the troll bridge. The box, exactly like the one that contained the Huntsman’s heart, holds Kathryn’s heart. On the lid are fingerprints. (Side-note: the symbolism of the heart in the box is a powerful one. Like the characters themselves, they’ve been held in a box, captured in time. In a way, Storybrooke is a kind of half-death. Each character is functionally alive, but reined in by the Curse.)

Horrified and grieving, David throws himself at Emma’s feet in a tearful, heartbreaking moment of desperation. But the kicker is that the fingerprints don’t belong to him. They’re Mary Margaret’s. At this point, in a nice showing of dramatic irony, the audience pretty much knows that Regina’s to blame for this, having a penchant for murder, tampering with evidence, and heart-snatching. Perhaps because she doesn’t have one of her own, she keeps thieving others.

Slowly, the characters of Fairytale Land are discovering who they are, and who they might be, in Storybrooke. Pieces of personality are revealed, but which pieces are lies? What truth could a mirror hold or yield, if the mirror itself is distorted? In a perfect world, it would be easy to form an identity, without outside influence or interference, without those bumps in the road, or forks, or the occasional ditch. But part of who we are as people arises when we face those challenges, when we rise to them, when we move beyond what we think we’re capable of. Just like Red. Just like Ruby.

Somewhere, we each have a heart in a box (not, dear gods, in the literal sense. Unless your name is Buffalo Bill – in which case, put the lotion down). A secret. Something stashed away from prying eyes. In a way, everyone is an unknown wolf, a darker side hidden in shadow.

Like Mary Margaret, we can be accused of something we did not do. Fingers pointed. Spray-painted accusations written as bright as shame. Like David, we can blame ourselves for something we are afraid we might’ve done. Who hasn’t taken responsibility for something, unnecessarily? Like Emma, we’re all just looking for the truth (although, that being able to KNOW when someone’s lying? I’d like that superpower). Like Ruby, we want to belong. We want to matter.

Sometimes, we are the monster. Sometimes, we are the wolf. And sometimes, like the case of the heart-in-a-box, things are not what they seem.