The Tiger Girl

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A different Tiger Girl all together, and nothing like the one from my dreams, but I still loved this image of the 1960’s comic hero. Like it? You can download this as a wallpaper.

I keep dreaming about the Tiger Girl. Every night, the Tiger Girl. And every night the same.

The first night I dreamed of her, she was part of a particularly exciting lineup. There was a dream about being in college and getting back together with a bunch of kids I’d known in high school. There was a road trip dream. One of the dreams involved running through fields, and a snapshot of me looking good in jean shorts (which has never happened, even when I was thin and young, and my legs weren’t all veins and fat deposits). But in the middle of all that, there was just one flash that didn’t match up to any of the other things: the Tiger Girl.

She was humanoid, female, and dressed in some kind of mech suit (which looked a lot like this one). She was being lifted out of an industrial vat, and liquid dripped off of her. The suit seemed newly formed, glossy and perfect, airbrushed to perfectly resemble a tiger’s coat, down to the detail of each individual piece of fur. I could see that her body was rigid, like a doll, arms pinned to sides, legs straight, ankles together, only I couldn’t exactly see the ankles because the mech suit legs matched up almost seamlessly from knee to ground. In fact, I would have thought that she was a doll, except that as the camera zoomed to take in all of these details, the last shot was an extreme closeup of her perfect human face, pale as porcelain, settling at last on dewy brown eyes. She winked at me. I woke up in a panic.

Every night since, she’s in my dreams somewhere. I don’t remember seeing anything new; perhaps it’s just the same view, over and over. All I know is that I’m having trouble sleeping, and as soon as I wake, my mind blames the Tiger Girl. A few times I’ve been on the cusp of understanding what this is all about – is she a bad omen, or a good one? Does she mean something to me? Is she a story, waiting for me to write her? But nothing has wormed its way out of my psyche just yet.

What I Read in 2016

You might have noticed that I have a tab at the top of the page called “Reading List 2017.” Last year I had “Reading List 2016,” and so forth and so on. What’s weird is that I could swear I used to have an additional link somewhere to all of my old reading lists…need to get that added back on. No use recording what I read if I’m just going to chuck the list at the end of the year.

Anyway, my yearly goal is to read one book a week, and this year was NOT a great success. But I just won a Kindle at my office Christmas party, so maybe I’ll have a good excuse to read some lighter fare off of the 99 cent list on Amazon this year. Plus, for every book that I finished this year, there’s at least one book that I started and have yet to finish, so if I can get my act together, hopefully those will pad my 2017 list. Let’s cross our fingers!

Either way, what is done is done, and what was done in 2016 was a grand total of 15 books read. Holy crap, that’s sad. But let’s turn it into something fun by charting out what types of things I was interested in this year, and comparing it to last year’s numbers! Here’s my blog post recounting what I read in 2015, along with a handy little pie chart of the genres I devoured in 2015. I read 35 books, but for the purpose of this chart, where the genres overlapped, I counted them again:

2015ReadingList

And here’s the list of what I read in 2016:

  1. Birthright, Vol. 1: Homecoming, by Joshua Williamson, Andrei Bressan & Adriano Lucas (1/9/16)
  2. Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine, by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro (1/9/16)
  3. Pulpatoon Pilgrimage, by Joel Priddy (1/9/16)
  4. Tales of the Cairds, by Anne Cameron (1/12/16)
  5. The Story of My Tits, by Jennifer Hayden (2/14/16)
  6. Mystic, Vol. 1: Rite of Passage, by Ron Marz, Brandon Peterson, John Dell, Andrew Crossley & Dave Lanphear (3/5/16)
  7. Mystic, Vol. 2: The Demon Queen, by Ron Marz, Brandon Peterson, John Dell & Andrew Crossley (3/5/16)
  8. Harbinger, by Joshua Dyshart, Arturo Lozzi, Khari Evans, Lewis LaRosa & Matthew Clark (3/23/16)
  9. Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson (3/29/16)
  10. Doctor Woman of the Cumberlands, by May Cravath Horton (7/6/16)
  11. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion (7/28/16)
  12. Blue Nights, by Joan Didion (8/14/16)
  13. Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me, by Ian Morgan Cron (9/18/16)
  14. Pioneer Doctor: The Story of a Woman’s Work, by Mari Graña (11/12/16)
  15. Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, by Jacob Tomsky (11/12/16)

Music Monday: The Imperial March, by John Williams

I’m not sure if I watched the original trilogy in the correct order, but I tend to doubt it. I know that I fell in love with Luke in Return of the Jedi the second he glided up to Jabba’s palace in his mysterious robes and mind-tricked his way in with the tiniest of efforts. My dad taped Return for me off of TV, and I still remember the fateful day I finally wore that VHS out, after a good three or four years of weekly viewings. By that time, I’d watched all three movies multiple times. I’d grown a bit, and was obsessed with bits and pieces from all over the trilogy: Salacious Crumb’s beady little eyes and wrinkled snout, R2’s general badassery, Leia’s gold bikini, the rawness in Luke’s voice as he screams to shut down on the trash compactors on the detention level, the subtle comedy in Chewbacca’s resignation at Han’s churlish behavior, C3PO’s arms getting ripped off at every occasion, Han’s devotion to his friends (even when money and common sense are trying to talk him out of it), Yoda’s gentle wisdom and tiny house, that last precious moment where Anakin Skywalker’s helmet comes off to reveal the sad, sweet face of a man who threw his life away on the Dark Side.

The original trilogy molded me in some ways. I came to expect a certain amount of bravery from the men in my life, but like Leia, even more from myself. I learned that if I listened and sat still long enough, I could feel the Force, too. And I learned to use Star Wars as my ruler – if you liked it, you’d probably be worth getting to know, and if you didn’t, well…

Minimalist Star Wars poster by Drew Roberts. Click through to purchase on Etsy.

Minimalist Star Wars poster by Drew Roberts. Click through to purchase on Etsy.

Also, like Luke, I grew up in the middle of nowhere, and I hated it. Star Wars probably had a heavy hand in giving me the travel bug. I’ve honestly never dreamed of exploring new planets (short of nightmares of being sucked out into space), but I’ve definitely felt the pull to see all of this weird world, which can be quite alien enough, thanks. I remember having a Star Wars movie magic book when I was 8 or 9. It talked about makeup and costuming, and how the sets were made, and that was the first time that I really took the time to contemplate that they’d filmed the Tatooine scenes in a very real place on Earth – Tunisia. I’ve always wanted to see what’s left of that set; maybe one day.

But this post isn’t about how much I love the original trilogy (notice how I’m being really nice and not saying anything about how much the prequels suck the joy out of life?). It’s about how much I respect John Williams’ score. Particularly “The Imperial March”, which manages to contain what some might argue is the very essence of the trilogy in a 3 minute song. “The Imperial March”, as most of you know, is Darth Vader’s theme. It is the aural equivalent of everything Darth Vader’s physical presence hints at – darkness, violence, the unquestionable need for absolute obedience (and obeisance).

From now on, the song will also represent something else to me, something a tad bit less dark. Each year in March, my friends Angie and Glenn gather friends together to watch the original trilogy on VHS (the original releases, prior to Lucas’ sacrilegious little “fixes” like making Greedo shoot first). They call it the Imperial March party. Everyone wears homemade Star Wars-themed outfits (the rules are that it must cost $10 or less, so there’s lots of tin foil and duct tape involved), and all of the snacks are named after characters or places in the trilogy. It’s a ton of fun, and last year’s party was the first time I got to meet my boyfriend’s friends. This year’s party was even more special, though, because this year Angie and Glenn got engaged. I managed to take a couple of snapshots while Glenn was proposing to Angie (dressed as a very dashing Lando).

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Music Monday: Start Wearing Purple by Gogol Bordello

You might know this, and you might not: I love purple. I’m drawn to it like a ghoul to a fresh corpse. (Also like bees to honey, lawyers to ambulances, or idiom seekers to Google search for more interesting options than insects and cake enthusiasts.)

I love purple so much that from 15 to 22 or so, I only wrote in purple ink. I’d still be doing it, but I’m also a mite obsessive about pens, and found a pen that I can’t live without that doesn’t have a purple version. I still try out purple pens from time to time, though. I even found one a few years ago that had sparkles in the ink (*squee!*), but it dried out too quickly.

I love purple so much that I have a hard time telling if something (a dress, a building, a design, an extraterrestrial) is attractive or not if it’s wearing purple. I’ll automatically adore it, and have to remind myself to be more objective, though sometimes I can’t help but love it for being purple, anyway. As a result, I don’t wear a lot of purple, for fear of choosing terrible styles and being none the wiser.

I love purple so much that I even have a tumblr blog devoted to my obsession, where I just collect pictures of beautiful purple things. It helps mitigate the symptoms a little. I’m kind of afraid that if I don’t let off a little steam now and then, I’ll eventually end up like this in the end:

Vintage 60s Interior. Prototype of "Visiona 1 Futuristic Habitat", Central Living Block. Designed by Joe Colombo.

Vintage 60s Interior. Prototype of “Visiona 1 Futuristic Habitat”, Central Living Block. Designed by Joe Colombo.

I even love purple so much that for a couple of years, I was quite convinced that Gogol Bordello’s “Start Wearing Purple” was the best song I’d ever heard.

Now don’t get me wrong – I adore Gogol Bordello. They’re pretty rare in that I love all of their songs, and can listen to an album from beginning to end, no skipping around. Lyrically, I’ve always been impressed by the social messages in most of their songs, and it’s hard not to love the sound if you’re into that kind of thing. I tend to dig the Gypsy Punk mix of punk rock sound with the Romani-inspired accordions and violin (and in the case of other Gypsy Punk bands, a brass section).

Even better, their live shows are amazing. The whole crew goes balls-to-the-wall, with so much energy it’s exhausting just watching them go batshit on stage. I’ve been lucky enough to catch them in concert twice in the past few years, once in a pretty big theater, and once in a tiny bar that had about 150 people. I was so close to the stage that Eugene could have sweated on me were I that interested in getting close to a stranger’s bodily fluids.

Despite the beauty of my past memories of Gogol Bordello, and the fact that I’m currently wrestling with whether I can afford to buy tickets to their show this Friday, I’m coming to terms with the fact that this just isn’t my alltime favorite song anymore. I think that they’ve been replaced in my heart by my current favorite band, scheduled for a #MusicMonday mention in two weeks’ time.

For tonight, though, let’s just listen to the song that probably still does describe me to a tee. One day I’ll most likely be that purple little lady

Music Monday: The Birdman’s Cacophonous Legacy

I never watch the industry award shows. Can’t remember the last time I caught the Grammys, Oscars, Emmys, etc.; guessing it was sometime in the late 1990s. In general, I think the ceremonies are a load of self-congratulatory, time-wasting bullshit, while the award process is subjective, at best. It’s a big popularity contest for people who tend to already be popular enough, thanks.

That’s why when I woke up this morning and saw that Birdman had won four Oscars, I was quite surprised to find I was excited. I watched the movie on Friday night, and loved it – especially the bizarre, jarring soundtrack composed of mostly jazz drumming. As I scanned through the list of Oscar winners, I found myself rooting for the Birdman soundtrack (created by Grammy-award winning jazz drummer Antonio Sanchez) to have scooped up one of those stupid little gold men. Sadly, it was not to be.

In fact, as it turns out, the Oscars disqualified Sanchez’s score for Birdman for understated sampling of other people’s music. Despite the fact that the drumming completely dominates the score, rendering the samples nearly invisible, this was enough to get the score thrown out of the competition. Luckily, it’s still up for a Golden Globe, so 2015 might be the year that I genuinely care about two award ceremonies – imagine that!

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, the soundtrack is, well, different. You can read all about it online, or give it a listen here, but if I were you, I’d hold off until you’ve seen the film and can understand the music’s extreme importance to the pacing and subject matter of the film. But don’t listen to me. After all, a thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.

Music Monday: Riot Nrrrd by 2 Skinnee J’s

Music is a huge part of my life. I spend at least half of my day listening to tunes on Spotify, and I’m constantly finding myself slipping song lyrics into conversation. I’m that person who can’t help but start singing the song you just inadvertently quoted, completely destroying whatever serious point you were just trying to make. Heaven help you if you say anything that even remotely sounds like a lyric from an oldies song – I just cannot help myself. Hope you like to sing along, because it will be the only way you can make it out of this relationship with sanity intact. In fact, I knew my boyfriend was absolutely perfect when I started unconsciously humming a song to myself during a stressful moment at a card party and he joined in automatically (well, that, and the night he purposely sang a dorky Peter Cetera song for karaoke night in front of all of his friends just because he knew how much I love Chicago).

I thought it would be fun to start a Monday tradition of talking about songs that are important to me in some way, whether it’s because of a great lyric, an important memory, or just because it happens to be something I’m obsessed with that minute. I’m calling it Music Monday, because I’m not trendy enough to come up with something more clever. Or clever enough to come up with something more trendy? Meh, whatever. Today we’re going to talk about “Riot Nrrrd” by an American band called 2 Skinnee J’s.

My favorite 2SJ’s song at the moment is “Girl With The World In Her Eyes“, but “Riot Nrrrd” will always hold a special place in my heart. I was listening to it again for the millionth time the other day, and instead of using it as comforting background noise, I found myself really falling into the lyrics. One part always got me when I was a teenager, and it still gets me today:

I’m lookin’ for intelligent life.
I’m lookin’ for a blip on the screen.
So I can reach out and touch somebody –
Anybody!
Everybody!

If that doesn’t sound profound to you, imagine being the only geek/goth/pagan in a town of 2,000 born again Christians, just biding your time to GTFO and meet other people who want to talk to you about Star Wars and The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Congrats, you’ve just met me at 17. I’m slightly less intense now. Thank goodness for New Orleans.

If you’ve never heard of 2 Skinnee J’s, don’t worry. They’re a tad obscure, it turns out. Not obscure in that “gee, I’m so cool for knowing this” way, though. (Though I am, because they’re amazing.) More like “shit, I wish they hadn’t gotten screwed by record companies and fallen off the map” way. I first heard them in 1998, as a junior in high school, when “Riot Nrrrd” started getting steady play on my local alt-rock station, 99x. I have this very specific memory of being in my car at a stoplight in Washington, NC, about 30 minutes down the road from my tiny hometown of Belhaven, and hearing a commercial for an upcoming concert come on the radio. They were playing in Virginia. I had a single moment of elation, followed by a 30 minute ride back home of complete depression, since I knew that my parents would never let me drive all the way to another state just to hear some rock band play. Maybe missing that concert is why I now find it completely acceptable to drive to Austin or Atlanta (or fly to Chicago) to hear a band play whenever the mood strikes. Hmmm…

Note: I just took a 10 minute break to go and play around on the band’s Facebook page, and found this gem in their “About” section:

Underground New-Wave/Hip-Hop icons with a zealous cult following, 2SJ has more friends than fans – the divide between band and audience is destroyed on the stage at the the most fundamental level. Grassroots following combined with road-dog work ethic has carved out a niche in the annals of rock iconography as Selfless Leaders of the Peoples Movement of Rock! Organic social messages that make Occupy Wall Street/99%ers blush, combined with Party Rock over-the-top extravagance make 2SJ THE FUNNEST BAND OF ALL TIME!

I fucking love them.

Anyway, so I missed the concert my junior year, but wonder of wonders, I moved to New Orleans after graduating from high school in 1999, and not long after that, they came here to play a concert! Finally, my chance had come. What’s even better is that I was working for my college newspaper at the time, and the editor tapped me to interview the band via phone and do a writeup on their album and the concert. (It wasn’t the only “celebrity” interview I was to do that year; I also ended up interviewing one of the members of Joydrop, who hit it big in the States with a song called “Beautiful”.)

The interview went…well, it went. I don’t remember what questions I asked, only that I was extremely unprepared. Luckily, I spoke to Special J, and he was really kind to me despite my idiocy. I was 18, and the internet was still pretty new back then, so it hadn’t occurred to me to try to find out more about the band via the web. Not sure that it would have helped, either, now that I’m thinking about it. I remember him identifying himself to me as “the white rapper” (useful for me, since I knew almost nothing about them), and telling me that their costumes for the upcoming concert were going to be amazing. He invited me to the concert and told me he’d put aside a couple of tickets for me at will call. I told him I’d be there in my velvet flame pants and white go-go boots (yes, these were both things that I wore on a semi-regular basis, without irony). I hung up the phone with this feeling that I had a date with destiny.

So exciting, right?

Here’s a spoiler for you: I didn’t go. No one wanted to go with me, and I’d never left the campus before. In the end I was too chickenshit to go by myself, and I missed out on what would have been one of the most epic concerts of my life. Then they broke up in 2003. I’m still kicking myself.

Fast forward to today, 15 years later, and 2 Skinnee J’s still sees steady rotation in my playlist. Luckily, they haven’t dropped off the map entirely, so there’s still a chance for me to see them live at some point, if I’m lucky. They’ve done a few reunion shows over the years, typically in NYC (at least once it was on a party boat in the Hudson River), and they did a tour in the southern and mid-Atlantic states back in 2012. I’ve yet to have the resources to go see them, but if they do it again, and if I have enough time to save up, I’ll definitely be there. Who knows, maybe I’m the last major fan who’s never made it to one of their concerts.

What do you think my chances are that those two tickets are still waiting at will call?

The Transformation Challenge

I'm so excited - my gym is actually getting special Mardi Gras shirts made. Totally geeking out over this one :-D

I’m so excited – my gym is actually getting special Mardi Gras shirts made. Totally geeking out over this one 😀

It’s 10 days into the Transformation Challenge at my gym, Iron Tribe, and quite unexpectedly, I’m loving it. The challenge is, well, challenging, but also pretty simply laid out, in my opinion. From January 5th to February 13th, participants eat a strict paleo diet and work out up to 5 times a week at the gym. There are two competitions that are running concurrently: a weight loss division, and a performance division. I’m in the weight loss division, obviously.

There’s a point system for determining the winner. It’s a little complicated, so I won’t break it down entirely, but it includes points for working out in certain amounts, points for keeping a detailed food/water/sleep/exercise journal, points for completing a goal setting course, and points for each .2% of fat lost over the course of the challenge. The prizes are HUGE. First place winner gets a $200 gift certificate to Whole Foods (some of you might recognize it as Whole Paycheck), a free month at the gym, a free week of paleo food from Inner Fire Grill (yum), an entire free outfit from Lululemon, and a free 80 minute massage. Second place gets $150 at Whole Foods, $50 at a nearby restaurant, and a free month at the gym. Third gets $100 at Whole Foods and a great supplements package. I’m in it to win it, so I’m visualizing myself in a brand new Lululemon getup 😀

I'm coveting these awesome Lululemon pants.

I’m coveting these awesome Lululemon pants.

The awful thing: I had my body fat measured (by caliper) at the beginning of the challenge, and it came in at 43.1%. Meaning that at 5’7″ and 194.8 lbs, I was/am obese. I don’t look it – I mean, I know I’ve put on a little weight in my butt and thighs, and my boobs are bigger (how can that be a bad thing, you ask) but overall I don’t look like I weigh what I weigh. I’ve only gone up one pants size, even with all the additional weight I’ve put on over the last year or so – but “obese” put the fear of god in me. So I’ve been taking this thing seriously. And it hasn’t been hard. That’s the part that’s blowing my mind.

I’m at the gym daily, lifting weights or doing whatever the WOD is that day. I walk to and from work/the gym from my house, and then anywhere else I have to go, so I’m typically walking between 5 and 9 miles a day. I ran a 5k on Saturday morning, and went to my first yoga class in ages on Monday night. And I’ve been eating clean – all organic, no processed food, sugar, wheat, dairy, legumes, alcohol or sodas. You’d think I’d be losing my shit by now, not having a single slice of pizza or sip of wine, but overall I just feel…good. Just good. Not great. Not more focused. Not suddenly insightful or whatever it is that people always proclaim when they’ve found the diet to end all diets. Maybe that’s because it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. It’s something that will sustain me for the long term, and the longer I go, the better I’ll feel. I’m pretty certain I’ve still got some thyroid stuff going on, especially with the recent struggle with depression, and that’s definitely going to take some of the “high” out of whatever impact this change is having on me. But overall, “good” is much, much better than what I’d been living with prior to starting this new lifestyle. And it’s easy. For the first time in my life, I’ve found a way to eat that doesn’t have me sad and craving constantly. I think I’ll keep doing it.

It’s having other effects, too. As of today, 10 days in, I’ve lost 7.2 lbs. I’m still too heavy, and I have a LONG way to go to get to my goal weight of 145 lbs, but that’s nothing new. But suddenly I feel like it’s not farfetched to picture myself finally wearing a bikini this summer, or trying out a miniskirt before I get too old to wear one (I’ve been dying to try out a TOS Star Trek uniform – yes, I’m a geek).

That's one nearly non-existent skirt you've got there, Uhura.

That’s one nearly non-existent skirt you’ve got there, Uhura.

I think that maybe part of feeling so relaxed about this is from the work I’ve been doing with that book, Beautiful You. Once I get home tonight, I’ll tackle the next chapter.

So what are you doing lately that makes you proud of yourself, internet friends? I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a comment, or direct me to your latest blog post about your achievements. I’d be more than happy to help you celebrate!

A Constant Reader

B-81-363-34 Sitting at Desk with hands coming towards the camera

When addressing his audience, Stephen King often writes to his “Constant Reader”. Instead of saying “Hey crowd of millions, here are a few of my thoughts” he crafts notes that appeal to each individual reader in a way that creates immediate intimacy. This suggestion of closeness is woven through the rest of his writing, as well. Sometimes, I’ll finish up a King book and feel like it’s something that was written just for me. The stories often feel like campfire tales – while I’m reading, I’m safe inside the circle of firelight, but as soon as I put the book down, I feel ill at ease. Anything could get me. Closet doors should stay shut, and under-the-bed should always have plenty of boxes to discourage monsters from camping out. It creates an urgency to read the book faster and close the circle, lest the monsters get out of the story and into my apartment. I especially love that I can feel deeply connected to his writing, like I’m the only one reading, yet have gotten into deep conversations about King’s work with perfect strangers on airplanes and in line at the grocery store. It’s rare to meet a real fan – a Constant Reader – of King who doesn’t feel in some way personally connected to the man.

I realize that there are a lot of folks out there who believe King’s work isn’t worthy of as much respect as they’d give to less prolific, more “serious” authors. Every now and then I run into a person who hates his books, not because they’re not a fan of horror, or because they don’t like his style, but simply because he’s constantly churning out new books and always at the top of the bestseller list. It comes off as pettiness, but because book snobs often regard this kind of bigotry as an attempt to somehow preserve literary culture, the viewpoint is widely accepted, and fans get relegated to the geek corner. If being a geek means I get to read great books without wondering if I’m going to lose the respect of someone I didn’t really care about anyway, that’s fine by me.

Non-King fans also tend to dismiss King’s writing style as being a factor in his fans’ enjoyment, and place a lot of the weight of his success on his subject matter. For me, this isn’t the case, and I’m relatively sure that there are a lot of folks in my camp on this one. I’m not the biggest fan of horror lit (ghost stories are my favorite, but I tend to dislike reading about aliens and monsters, which make up a sizeable chunk of King’s subject matter), but King’s approachable writing style never fails to drag me in, despite whatever topic misgivings I might have. He tells stories of real people, having real crises of faith in extraordinary circumstances. It’s supremely easy to identify with his characters, and in doing so, I’ve found I’m able to open up my imagination a bit more with each read.

My first Stephen King book was The Regulators, written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. I read it as a teenager, and haven’t stopped collecting new King tales since. Just saying “the regulators” in my mind as I type this fills me with a delicious dread. If you haven’t read it, I think it’s an excellent starting place. There’s a matching book called Desperation, involving all of the same character names, but in an alternate universe where their lives have been subtly (and not so subtly) different. That concept blew my mind back then, and it’s a testament to King’s creativity that it still kind of does. My latest King read was Doctor Sleep, the long-awaited sequel to The Shining, and as a work, it perfectly fits the point I’m trying to make here. You find out that Danny’s family history has had a profound effect on his life, and that it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses over the last few decades as he’s grappled with his psychic abilities and addiction. It’s a fantastic read. I also adore On Writing, which is half memoir, half guidebook to becoming a writer. I’m probably blowing half of the rules out of the water with this post, though. Oh, and will someone (hint, hint boyfriend) please buy me Joyland for Christmas?

There are a few other authors on my “favorites” list – folks whose books I will always pick up, even if I don’t know a thing about the story. Neil Gaiman is at the top with King, of course. Tom Holt, Bernard Cornwell, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams & Ariana Franklin/Diana Norman (RIP) are up there, as well.

Anyone sensing a pattern or two?

Besides the obvious – all but King are from the UK – they’re all also fiction novelists. Gaiman, Pratchett, Adams and Holt are all authors of fantasy fiction (and tend towards humor). Gaiman, Cornwell, King and Franklin/Norman’s works are often heavy on detail. I began reading Gaiman after seeing a review blurb by King, in fact. I trusted my favorite author, and the trust was paid back in full with an excellent recommendation that has changed my life in many ways. Gaiman helps me believe in magic the same way that King helps me believe in goodness – but aren’t they kind of the same thing?

(Which reminds me, on the off chance that you’re reading this, Neil, please do come and sign books at Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Bookshop in New Orleans. It’s a brand new shop that fills a long-void niche for our community, and the owners could really use the business that your appearance would bring in. Not to mention that I’m quite selfishly hoping to have you sign a poster I picked up after seeing you a few years back in Chicago.)

Click through to find out how you can help bring Neil Gaiman to New Orleans!

Click through to find out how you can help bring Neil Gaiman to New Orleans!

Cornwell is especially adept at creating realistic battle scenes – I’ve squelched through fields of blood, mud and piss with him quite a few times over my reading career, and never would have had a proper understanding of strength it takes to be a longbowman without his careful examination of the profession. Also, you’ll probably notice that Franklin, Cornwell and Pratchett all have medieval themes in their works, and while Holt and Gaiman tend to place their stories in modern settings, there are definitely elements that a medieval history enthusiast can get behind. If you count Adam’s work in Monty Python, and King’s Dark Tower series as an homage to medieval themes, we’re all in. Also, all of the writers tend to talk about spiritual matters, including religious history, reincarnation, afterlife/ghosts, gods/goddesses, universal connectedness, 42, etc.

Above all, my favorite storytellers have the gift of making me feel like the story isn’t something they’re telling me, but rather something I’m experiencing firsthand. This can either be through letting me identify with/as the protagonist, or in the case of writers like Holt and Adams, encouraging me to laugh my way through the book. The best authors craft passages that create a visceral reaction for their readers. From what I’ve experienced in talking with die-hard Chuck Palahniuk fans, his works really resonate on a gut level with readers. Unfortunately, the three books that I’ve read by him came off as highly revolting on a gut level, so it’s obvious he’s doing it right, even if it’s not my cuppa. The point being that I’ll just assume that some of you who’re reading this will consider one or many of the authors I adore to be not so great, as well. It’s all personal opinion – isn’t that the fabulous thing about being a Constant Reader, no matter whose?

It’s Not At All What You’d Hoped

Anna at 23. A selfie taken back with the hashtag was just a pound sign. Vienna, November 2004.

Anna at 23. A selfie taken back when the hashtag was just a pound sign. I’m wearing my favorite hat (lost during Katrina), and my favorite earrings. If you’ve seen my tattoo before, you might recognize the design. Vienna, November 2004.

Hello me. We probably shouldn’t be meeting like this, if certain 1980’s time travel movies are to be believed. Given that I’ll always take Spock’s explanations over Doc Brown’s, though, I guess we’ll be fine. Of course, you’ll have no clue what I’m talking about. It will be another five years before the new movie comes out, and at the moment (provided I remember you correctly) you’re still trying to pretend that you aren’t as excited about Federation matters as you obviously are. Yeah, you still admit your love of Star Wars if asked, since no one seems to look down on it as much as they do Star Trek, but seriously lady, come out of the geek closet already. It’s going to be OK. No one is going to shun you for getting a little googly-eyed over the cool costumes and the concept of an entire planet full of people working towards peace. No one that matters, anyway.

I’d offer you some coffee, but you don’t like it. Oh, you will, though. But listen up – don’t go down that dark path towards over-caffeination. It’s pretty much the devil. I’m just now weaning myself off of the stuff after a good five-year dependency. It’s really not worth the effort. Plus, there are even some studies now that say too much coffee can make you gain weight – and yeah, you notice than I’m about forty pounds heavier than you are at 23. So maybe just don’t get into a steady relationship with the java anytime soon, OK? And stop with the diet pills. Just stop.

So about this summer. The decision you made was a tough one, and yeah, you’re going to be replaying it for the rest of your life. It’s always going to be about the math, really. You’ll think “what if” forever. Every year you’ll invent a new scenario to adjust for the time that’s passed. But it’s OK. You had it easier than a lot of people, and I know that you are about 95% fine with how everything went down. Believe me when I say that you’ll continue to be OK with it. From where I’m sitting, 10 years later, I’m nearing the 100% point. There are some very tiny regrets, but not about the way it happened. It was the right choice.

You know why? Because that trip you’re currently on in Vienna, to visit Katie and celebrate your birthday – that’s going to be one of the happiest memories of your life. At your darkest points, you’ll remember the Riesenrad, and missing that stupid flight to Berlin. You’ll be simultaneously horrified and highly amused that you hallucinated Snow White’s evil stepmother. And you’ll be grateful for every second spent in the presence of your beloved friend. Even more important, you’ll come to realize that the moment you decided to book that trip was the moment you chose to pick yourself up and put yourself back together, and to live every single day to the fullest. And the effects of that decision have continued to ripple through your life, making you such a full and interesting person. No, you’ll still never be able to admit that to yourself without feeling guilty and stupid, but as Jean LeLoup says, “…et j’ai des grands instants de lucididité”.

You’re so resilient, Anna. I know it feels right now like he just spent the last year and a half slowly tearing your heart out, and that this summer was the culmination of some horror show that you, the master masochist, willingly signed up for. I know you’re blaming yourself. But believe me – in 10 years time, you will have traveled the world. You will be getting ready for the biggest adventure of your life, finally, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. And he’ll be balding, and spouting worn out platitudes via social media (don’t worry, you’ll find out more about that later), and generally annoying you every time he happens to cross your mind. The love stays. But reality breaks in, and it brings a hell of a lot of peace with it.

I suppose I should give you some hints about what’s coming up for you. This next year is going to be great, until it isn’t. You’re going to have a lot of fun hanging out with your new friends, and working at K-Paul’s. And you’re going to get into grad school, and go back to Vienna and Paris and London again this summer. It’s going to be an amazing dream of a year, the best you’ve ever had, and the best you’ll have for some time to come. Once you come home, though, there’s going to be a hurricane. You’ll lose everything you own, be disowned by your family, and will have to move across the country to start over again from scratch. But you’ll meet a ton of new friends, and that new strength, the strength that you found on your trip to Vienna, that’s going to get you through it all. You will rise to the occasion, and it will mold you into something different. The phoenix. Me.

I wish I could tell you now that you shouldn’t go back to New Orleans when your heart starts yearning for home that winter, but then you wouldn’t meet your next serious boyfriend. And you’ll want to meet him. It will be an interesting time. He’ll teach you a lot about yourself. But he’ll make you forget a lot about yourself, too. Make your decisions carefully, my love. I wish I could give you some guidance, but you already know that your major problem is always going to be your self esteem, paired with a near pathological need to be of service to those you love. The challenge is going to be figuring out when to jump ship. If I were you, I’d talk to that guy at the end of the bar on our 30th birthday. Yeah, I know that’s seven years from now in your world, but keep it in mind. You’ll know who I’m talking about when you get there.

Oh 23-year old Anna, I love you. More importantly, other people do, too. I wish that 33-year old Anna could keep that in focus more often. Am I rambling? Is anything I’m saying even making sense to you? I guess more than anything, all I want to say is to pay attention, enjoy the little things, stop placing so much weight on other people’s needs, and place a little more on your own. Just follow your intuition. Take the lesson you learned from that one leap of faith and multiply it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how things turn out – how YOU turn out. It’s not at all what you’d hoped.

It’s much better.

Nerd Girl Meets Geek Boy – Take 1 (aka. Let Me Love You To Death)

When I was 15, I met a guy at summer camp. It wasn’t just any summer camp; at the time, I was enrolled in Air Force JROTC at my school, and during the summers I attended a special officer’s training camp at Fort Bragg. The week-long camp acted a little like a mini bootcamp. We slept in barracks, woke up at 5am to attend PT, slept/ate/drilled/etc. with our flights (groups of about 25 kids), and did all sorts of training exercises, like rappelling, doing a ropes course, crawling through the mud under barbed wire, running until we puked, that kind of thing. It was mostly pretty fun.

There were around 20 flights, named alphabetically; I was part of Bravo Flight. Weird to remember that, considering that it was almost 20 years ago. Even though there were teenage cadre who ostensibly held the reins for each flight, each group also had an adult advisor to make sure we didn’t go all Lord of the Flies out there in the summer heat. Ours was this really nice Senior Master Sergeant whose name I’ve long ago forgotten. Early on, he suggested that we all pick nicknames. There was Eggs, my best girlfriend at the camp. Before bed, she wore a beautiful red corduroy bath robe with a black velvet collar, and once she told us that she could squash a watermelon between her thighs. The SMSgt. started calling her Eggs after she puked during our post-breakfast drill exercise on the second morning of camp. Maverick was my camp crush – he even felt me up on the bus once. He had named himself after Top Gun, but I didn’t get the movie reference. At the time, I thought he’d named himself after the TV show character played by James Garner, and later I thought he might have been referencing that sweet early 70’s car, the Ford Maverick. I didn’t get the Top Gun thing until maybe five years ago. I used to be so blindly hopeful that other people I met might have imaginations.

My name was Flower Child. In early high school, I was really into everything 1960’s, but mostly mod/British invasion culture and fashion (you know, like Mary Quant, Twiggy, definitely crazy about anything Beatles-related and everything that Pattie Boyd wore during the Beatles’ stay in India…blah, blah, blah). But by the time I got to summer camp, I was also embracing Woodstock, Vietnam news coverage, the peace movement, anti-war protest art, everything Haight Ashbury, and of course, all things psychedelic. Almost all of my school outfits were deconstructed vintage 1960s and early 1970s fancy dress gowns – lots of floor length dresses in man-made fabrics, with flowing sleeves and floral motifs, which I then ripped up and sewed back together in weird ways. Still, I wouldn’t have voluntarily called myself a flower child, but the SMSgt. gave me my title, too.

He also named my other camp friend, Jody. Over the years, I’ve conveniently forgotten Jody’s real name, mostly because I was afraid that one day he’d turn into a stalker and kill me. (Which is still probably a possibility, and also a great reason to actually remember someone’s name, now that I’m thinking about it.) Jody had come to camp equipped with a book of marching songs called jody calls, and he took it upon himself to teach our flight a few of them to make running and marching easier. In particular, he taught us one that I still sing to myself when I’m running and feel like dying. It goes like this:

Call: “We like to party!”
Response: (We like to party!)
Call: “Party hearty!”
Response: (Party hearty!)
Call: “And when we like to party -”
Response: (And when we like to party -)
Call: “- we like to party all night long!”
Response: (- we like to party all night long!)
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Get on down!”
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Get on down!”
Everyone: “Get on back, get out of our face, Bravo Flight’s gonna rock this place!”

Sounds complicated, but actually super easy and really fun to yell together. Anyway, Jody taught us a few jody calls to keep us going, and it really did help unite us as a group. I’m just now realizing that it might have been my first experience in seeing how instrumental teamwork is to making music with feeling – even if it is just a silly marching song. During camp, I got to make out with Maverick a couple of times, but Jody was the one I kept in touch with. He was a geeky little skater kid, rather anxious and seriously smart. I hadn’t ever met a guy I could geek out with about books and poetry, plus there’s something kind of romantic about meeting a boy at summer camp and exchanging letters for the rest of the summer. Unfortunately, over the next year, things got weird. (Seriously, did you not expect them to? Do you even KNOW me?)

Jody lived in a small city about two hours away from me. For much of the next year, I sent him poetry and letters, and he wrote me back in short stories and plans for the future. We were both in JROTC for the sole purpose of having the military eventually pay for college. We both hated high school, wanted to see the world, wished people could understand us. But where my yearning to be heard expressed itself through 60s pop music and fantasy novels, his was darker, more primal, possibly just more male. I was yearning to open like a flower (and looking forward to the day when I’d subsequently be deflowered), and he was looking to jump into the ring swinging. When he found me, that frustration and anger underwent a softening and was redirected at me as a form of near-obsession. Pretty much every guy I’ve met since then who was hopelessly nerdy and ignored in high school went through something like this phase (whether the girl was real or not), so now it doesn’t freak me out so much. Then, though…eek. What really put it over the edge for me, however, was a mix tape.

During high school, “normal” for me was a mix of too many overlapping activities with which I still somehow managed to be bored and under stimulated. In the Fall, this meant performing in the color guard team at every home football game and attending every drill team competition within a 200 mile radius from my home town. In the Winter, there were color guard and drill performances during basketball games. Every weekend that I wasn’t attending a Quiz Bowl competition, I could be found doing something drill or color guard related with my other Air Force wannabe buddies. Eventually, at the end of my Junior year, my school hosted our own drill competition. Jody showed up with his school’s team. I was pleased to see him, if shy. He brought his skateboard, so he could show me some tricks he was learning. He also brought me a pair of green corduroy JNCOs that he’d outgrown and knew I’d dig, and the mix tape. I gave him one of my prom pictures, and at the end of the day, a kiss.

Once home, I put the tape into my tape deck, expecting music I’d heard before, or maybe even music that I hadn’t heard before but that I’d still find a way to like. Out of the speakers came this creepy gothic sound that built with intensity until it turned into harsh, wailing guitars and throbbing base. The lyrics were insane. It was obviously demonic in nature. The lead singer was talking about sweaty breasts, candlelight, sex, death. I listened to the song again, my trepidation building. My penpal was a psychopath, out for blood. He wanted to kill me, and just today I’d kissed him! What was I thinking?

Things did not go well from there. I wrote to tell him that we couldn’t be friends anymore, and through a series of letters and phone calls, eventually he came to terms with the fact that I was scared of him. We didn’t talk again for years, until he found me on MySpace when I was just finishing up with undergrad, and he was coming to the end of his first enlistment period in the Air Force. Conversation remained scarily obsessive on his part, and eventually I gracefully retreated.

But surprise! This post isn’t how a hippie nerd girl meets a goth geek boy and breaks his heart. It’s about how a hippie nerd girl finds out that she’s actually a witchy nerd girl, then goes on to fall in love with Type O Negative. Oh, and later find out that the goth geek boy she thought might kill her in high school turned into a legitimately creepy 20-something guy.

After ending my weird friendship with Jody the first time, I went on to have a pretty normal summer. I’d totalled my car in May, so from June through August, I rebuilt it from the ground up, with my grandfather and uncles overseeing my progress. In July, I met a boy and got kinda serious. In October, my grandfather died and I got drunk for the first time. In the following months, my family dynamic shifted considerably, I decided I definitely wouldn’t be going into the Air Force, and, oh yeah, I went full fledged skater goth. No skateboard, though – there weren’t any paved roads for me to practice on near my house. No, I’m not shitting you. Sometime in that transition to black lipstick and combat boots, that mix tape resurfaced and started to make sense. I suddenly understood that the words “let me love you to death” are about a deeply sensual moment, not about being ripped apart by a vampire during sex. Which still sounds kind of interesting. But not really. But maybe. I dunno. As I was saying…

Over the years, I eventually started adore Type O Negative. As I’ve gotten older, their lyrics have made more and more sense to me, and have grown to encompass layered meanings – for me, the sign of truly powerful songwriting, even if it is kind of cheesy in its own way. Today, when I hear Love You To Death, I see the story of a man who’s fallen in love with a powerful woman. He loves that power, and is drawn to it, but not weakened by it. He finds comfort in how well he knows her body, and how confidently she inhabits her skin. But he also wants to build on to what they’ve achieved together, to strengthen their emotional bond through physical action. He’s not saying that he literally wants to fuck her until she dies. He’s talking about the joining of life forces, dying together and rising anew. It’s gorgeous. It’s seriously romantic, and by that I mean romantic in a very serious way. Definitely not something you put on a mix tape for your long distance crush at 16, though what 16 year old could possibly come to terms with their first love not being as real as it seems at that precise moment?

Wherever he is, I hope Jody’s found his dream nerd girl. I’ve been through a few more geek boys, myself, but you know what they say: You’ve got to kiss a lot of geeks before you get to love one to death. Or something like that 🙂