To Blog, from Brain, with love.

I have been neglecting my bloggenings here lately, friends. For that, I apologize. I have a few reasonable excuses, mostly to do with time management, but it’s a lot of blah blah that you don’t want to read and I don’t want to write. I spent most of today working on a very weird post that I’m not going to put up. It was a love letter from my brain to my blog, a sappy sort of “please don’t leave me/I’m so sorry” thing. But then I realized that I’ve never had to write or say anything like that in real life and what I had written was very much out of the playbook of a bad chickflick dramedy. The kind of rant one might hear on a show and change the channel if no one killed themselves at the end of it. Also, my blog is never going to write back, so it’s an unrequited love anyway.

The fact remains that I’m having a hard time focusing. I can’t seem to effectively string words together these days, much less make a cohesive point or find the deeper meaning in the silly things I so enjoy. I often misspeak or use the wrong word for things. I’ve been having a hard time remembering words at all. I lose my train of thought, lose track of time, lose people’s names while I’m talking to them, write pages and pages of crap and then throw it away. All of which, of course, terrifies me. More than that, though, it pisses me off. Fucking immensely, irrationally, outlandishly pisses me off. I nearly kicked a whole case of beer through a window the other day because I couldn’t remember the word “defenestration.” Irony, that. True story. Not funny.

Well, maybe a little funny in hindsight. But not fun.

What bothers me more than my writing suffering is the real-world consequence of word choice. Particularly the written word, with its lack of inflection and physical cues. Better to say nothing at all than to risk saying something stupid or mean or easily misinterpreted in the service of making a point I would gladly defend. Recently, this blundering (admittedly, while angry) may have cost me one of my most important friendships. Maybe not, but I honestly don’t know and I’m gutted by it. I’ve been completely frazzled ever since. You know those friends who are like your big toe? You don’t think about them every day, but when you hurt them your whole body hurts and without them you couldn’t stand up? Maybe that’s a bad analogy. Well, yeah, actually that’s a terrible analogy, but you see what I’m saying.

Stupid. Fucking. Words.

Problem is, words are all I have. I’m pretty tough, fairly resourceful, and a hard worker, but at the end of the day I don’t have a hell of a lot of skills. I’m good at words. I’m a decent writer and a ninja editor. More to the point, I love words. I read books about them, about linguistic history, Broca’s area, the Great Vowel Shift, the cultural impact of people learning Klingon. Nothing makes me happier than turning a sloppy soup of words into a clean, sturdy paragraph. No drink or pill or powder has ever held up in comparison to grinding out thousands of words and then starting over at the beginning to put them all in their proper places. I’m dead serious, it is literally my drug of choice.

My whole goal here from the beginning has been to find big ideas inside small ones. They’re not always there, but when they are, they can change the way one looks at everything. Sometimes they’re hard to explain (like how colors smell on LSD). Other times a bunch of them need to be stitched together (like my buddy’s recent thesis comparing the work of Sartre to The Matrix). We need wordsmiths. That moment when a writer makes us laugh or cry or think, across countries and cultures and centuries, bridging even the gap of life and death. That can be a huge moment. I don’t know that I’ve ever provided that moment for someone (and, for the record, I am still alive), but the idea of it is important to me. Language is the glue of the world, if I may borrow a phrase. I hate to think I have, or will someday soon, fail that tradition by being quiet or overly cautious. But perhaps I should be. Or, maybe I just write my ass off about whatever nonsense I want until I lose my damn mind. Which is the lesser sin? Right now I couldn’t say. But I’ll let you know if I figure it out.

A whole bucket.

*Trigger warning: gnarly bad news shit ahead. Death and destruction, etc, etc.*

The technical term for these past couple of weeks is “a bucket of suck.” It’s frustrating because I know I’ve been something of a downer lately. I want to write about awesome things or things I’m excited about, but all I can think about are these terrible events. I’m preoccupied, distracted. So I figured I’d just write it all down and purge the system. Maybe then I can focus on writing about more happy slappy stuff. Pardon me if this seems like I’m writing lists again. Just humor me. Deep breath. Ready?

Thing the first: Leelah Alcorn

Alcorn was a transgender girl from Ohio who killed herself by walking in front of a truck. In her suicide note she said that she felt like she had no support. Her parents had sent her to one of those conversion therapy places and cut off all her ties to friends and social media. Now, I don’t believe in spiritual stuff, but I do believe in evil. Evil comes from people. This shit? This shit is evil. Bigotry is evil. Conversion therapy is evil. It’s particularly fucked up that they combined that practice with complete social isolation. That’s tantamount to sticking your child in a box and waiting for Stockholm Syndrome to fix the problem. A person being trans is not a problem. While I’m sure they thought they were doing something to help her, their idea of what help she needed was the actual problem. It makes me sick to think about. I’m sorry for their loss and their grief, obviously, but I sincerely hope they know this is their fault.

How do we still think like this about LGBT people? How are these conversion therapy idiots not laughed out of business by now? What fucking year is this? I just got an email this morning about legislation in Virginia, my home state, that proposes to allow doctors, lawyers, and government employees to openly discriminate against LGBT folks based on personal religious views. Can you imagine the damage this could do? We’re supposed to be moving away from this kind of backwards mindset. How many more children have to die? When can we all just be people? We don’t have to agree. We don’t have to condone or promote behavior we don’t approve of. But we have to stop actively trying to hurt each other. No good can come of us all being exactly the same.

Thing the second: Charlie Hebdo

Twelve innocent people dead over cartoons. Seriously? Fucking seriously? I think Jon Stewart had the best thing to say that I’ve heard so far: “Very few people go into comedy as an act of courage, mainly because it shouldn’t be that. It shouldn’t be an act of courage.” Comedy can be offensive. Lenny Bruce got arrested for saying the n-word in a roomful of white people, for fuck’s sake. Satire can bite, because its job is to point at the truth and laugh. To show the ridiculousness of a situation in an effort to bring about change is both noble and difficult. Which is not to say that it can’t be hurtful, but sometimes culture needs some growing pains.

Gunning people down over art is never the answer. Making people afraid to be artists is never the answer. Curtailing free speech, via either law or terrorism, is never the answer. If we don’t talk about things, they don’t change. Or, they change by violent revolution rather than informed discourse. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even if it’s as they’re lining me up against the wall: I might hate the things you say but I will defend your right to say them. I will fight tooth and nail, no matter how much I disrespect you or disagree with your opinion. None of us should have to live with that kind of fear.

Thing the third: #FamilyDontEndWithBlood

On December 27th, a coordinated campaign of hate messages were sent by anonymous users to certain folks on a couple of tumblr fan sites for the show Supernatural. These fans had spoken up online about their various struggles with depression and mental illness and reached out to the fan community for support. Many of the messages were aimed at getting these people to kill themselves. Three of them did. Five more attempted it. Others were reported missing, and I don’t know how many of them were found unharmed. Later that evening, one of the people who had reportedly committed suicide turned back up perfectly fine. All of her social media and email accounts had been hacked. The hackers had posted a suicide note, a message claiming to be the friend who found her and called an ambulance, and another message claiming to be a different friend who was at the hospital with the girl’s mother when the doctor brought the news about her death. That still leaves two people dead.

I had been following the events on Twitter and tumblr all day, and as soon as she showed up saying that she’d been hacked, posts started streaming in saying that she and the others were just losers looking for attention, that it was sad that their only friends were online, that killing themselves was still an option and would have been better. The outpouring of love and support from other fans continued, but was soon peppered with vitriol. Now, think this through. Someone had to pick this person out, hack all of her accounts, fake three separate personalities, then just sit back and watch the fallout. That’s sick. What kind of mind does it take to do that? I really think that’s some serial killer behavior. And that’s just this one case. The anonymous messages that started all of this numbered in the thousands and all began at the same time. This was a planned barrage, not a slow accumulation. There were several tumblr pages dedicated to talking shit about Supernatural and its fans. They were full of celebratory posts about these deaths before they were shut down. I haven’t checked to see if they’re back up, nor will I.

I know I said I believe unconditionally in free speech. That’s not quite accurate. There’s a difference between “I think you’re dumb” or “I don’t like a thing you like” and “You should kill yourself.” Those are worlds apart. Just like there’s a difference between “I hate group X” and “We should kill anyone who belongs to group X.” I support free speech, not coordinated violence. And while no one actually touched anyone else in this situation, I do believe it to be a violent act. And over what? A television show, and a silly one at that. This is not Michael Moore getting a bomb threat at a movie premiere that we’re talking about here. These are regular people who used a fandom as common ground to make deeper connections with a community. You know, like human people do. I believe it’s referred to as “making friends.” What motives these assholes could possibly have in wanting to take that away from strangers is completely beyond me. I don’t care if one group of fans thinks their show is better than another show. These victims were delicate to begin with and I have zero sympathy for those who prey on the weak. Fuck those people. Tumblr turned their IP addresses over to the cops and I hope they all go in a deep, dark hole for a very long time.

So. Anyway. What else is new? How are you guys?

Yeah, there’s no way to segue out of this post. Sorry.

But, like I said, hopefully my brain can see this as a sort of reset button and get on with thinking about other things now. Nice things. Happy things. Fluffy bunnies and shit. Let’s all cross our fingers. And, you know, maybe try to make the world a better place. Just a little. For fuck’s sake, please, just a little.

Round and round and round we go…

Happy New Year, kids! I hope everyone’s festivities were sufficiently festive. And the holidays before that. Sorry I didn’t post anything last week. It was Christmas and I was busy making a few hundred cookies. I don’t know why I decided that would be my project for this year’s celebration, but it’s been a week and I’m beginning to regret it. When I was finally finished bringing the Cookiepocalypse upon mankind, I posted this photo on Facebook:


The picture got a perfectly reasonable number of obligatory likes and a couple of comments. Nothing I wasn’t expecting. Except for one. It’s been rattling around in my head ever since. The back and forth between myself and my buddy Jess:

Jess: Pure, unadulterated awesomeness.

Me: I cookie like I have children, man.

Jess: It’s a good way to cookie. A good way.

Jess (one minute later): Wait and p.s. Cookieing like you have children would mean 2 batches of shitty shortbread/gingerbread with terrifying decorations and a hangover from how much you had to drink to get through it.

Me: A fair point.

First, I don’t know what cookieing like I have children even means. Like, make more? Because spawn have to eat? I don’t know. Secondly, let me be clear. Jess has two kids. They’re beautiful and smart and well-mannered little nibbles of awesome. Should either or both of them turn out to be the President or the King of Mars or that rock star who eliminates world hunger, I would not be shocked. I’m only issuing this disclaimer because that comment could be read as an outsider’s perspective on what it must be like to be burdened with kids while trying to make tasty holiday treats.

It sounds, basically, like something I would say.

And here’s the thing: Jess is amazing. She’s one of those people who makes it all look so easy. She’s an attorney who specializes in environmental law, saving the world by shutting down one gross factory farm at a time. She’s got great kids, her husband is a dedicated minister and a freaking adorable gentleman (full disclosure: also my best friend from high school). She’s hilarious and gets all my geeky jokes. Remember my post a while ago about being intimidated by badass women? I was thinking a lot of my mom and Jess while I was writing that. So when she said that about the cookieing and the kids, it rocked me a little. I never in a million years would have expected that comment from this particular woman. I’ve always had this Norman Rockwell-ish (Rockwellian?) version in my head of her doing Christmasy things. Everything turning out beautifully, with ease, and if it doesn’t everyone has a good laugh and a beer over it, no face covered in flour and butter and sweat, great house flawlessly decorated, except for the adorably lopsided knick-knacks made by the awesome fruit of her attractive loins.

Now, we can all agree that this is an unrealistic depiction of anyone’s life in the long term, superhero or no. Anyone can manage it for a day, that perfection, but it’s impossible to do it all the time. Unless you’re Martha Stewart, and I feel like she may snap one day and blow up a bunch of craft stores or something. We never see the icky bits of other people’s day, do we? The spats with the partner, the piles of dirty laundry, the monumental effort it takes not to scream at the kids, the headaches, the dog shitting on the rug, the leak in the basement. Social media has made these blind spots bigger. Because we don’t have to post anything but the best pictures and the cutest stories. I read an article last summer sometime, I think, about psychologists identifying a new type of depression that’s specifically tied to envying other people’s lives on social media and, conversely, trying to depict one’s own life in a certain way on social media and not feeling that it’s good enough. Oh, how far we’ve come.

Thinking about Jess’s cookie comment for the last few days has made me feel like a pretty tremendous asshole. Not because of what she said, but because of my own assumptions about what her life must be like. Wonderful, sure, but in my head I edited out all the realism, cleaned it up, took out the hard parts and the tears. This could be dangerous. What if she, or any other friend, came to me because they were having a hard time or a going through a rough situation? Just hypothetically? Because I’ve got this idealistic nonsense bumping around masquerading as reality, I might proceed as though whatever problem is less than it actually is because either A) all the other awesome in her life will balance it out or B) she’s awesome enough to handle it well and doesn’t really need my help because I am, provably, a loser. Both of these are unfounded, dismissive, asshole maneuvers. Am I less likely to think those things because I’ve gone through all of this in my head already? Sure, but it scares me that it’s something I may do without thinking, or that I could have ever done it in the first place. And these are people I’ve known for years and love dearly. I fucking know better. What assumptions and preconceived notions do I have about other people? Groups of people? Anonymous or faceless or voiceless people?

I bring all this up for a reason. I’m not just kissing my friend’s ass or airing my latent jealousy. As you know, I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I do not need yet another vector for failure. But this week is my three-year Blogiversary so I figure it’s as good an excuse as any to set myself a new writing goal. If it carries over into my real life, all the better, we all win.

I’d like to rely less on assumptions. I’d like to learn how and when to ask the right questions, rather than jumping ahead based on what I think the answer is. I’d like to get better at recognizing when my arguments are fallacious or unfounded or circular. I’d like to make fewer overgeneralizations. I’d like to stop lumping things together and pigeonholing without evidence. I’d like to be more careful when I’m being critical, more considerate when being analytical.

I’ve been writing these posts for three years. Sometimes I feel like I’ve done excellent work and sometimes I feel like the hackiest hack to ever hack. I think both are true, but I think I can do better. We can always do better. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to figure people out because I genuinely do not understand their behavior. I can’t grok quite a bit of what is considered “normal.” I have these questions that seem unanswerable because I don’t get the basic mechanics of how a lot of people think. Sometimes I feel like I’m stumbling along with bad directions, a colorblind kid trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube.

A while ago, my mother-in-law told The Husband that she thought she made a mistake in not teaching him to want stuff enough. That it made it hard for him to relate to people. I disagree that it was a mistake, but agree that he has a hard time understanding other humans. But I feel like that’s an advantage in a lot of ways. Similarly, I was never really taught how to fit in with people, how to adapt or camouflage myself. And while I try to be a strict follower of Wheaton’s Law and strive to solve every problem first with kindness, I tend to ignore things I don’t understand which has made me dismissive at times. I have a history of running roughshod over people’s feelings and not realizing until it’s too late. I can be harsh, inconsiderate, selfish.

Some of you are going to read this and tell me not to be so tough on myself. I will take that under advisement. Meanwhile, I hope that I can improve both my writing and my brain function, and possibly my limited interpersonal skills, by making these small changes in how I approach the world. I predict that I will often come across as befuddled, if I don’t already. I don’t really know.

Anyway. Happy New Year. Happy Blogiversary. Happy Everything, to all of you. Now someone come help me eat the rest of these goddamn cookies.

Tired writer is tired.

I’ve got nothing, guys. Seriously nothing for the blog this week. My brain, that bastard, has taken off for parts unknown, gone looking for food like a stray cat. I’ve done stuff this week that I could tell you about. I read the newest Stephen King book. I watched a bunch of great movies. I had about five existential crises. But none of it seems worth writing about. Right at the moment, anyway. I’m sure I’ll get around to some of it soon. I hope so.

I’m tired. Being tired makes everything feel either A) equally dire or B) equally meaningless and what’s the fucking point? I have been sleeping better, which seems important. But I can’t rally any enthusiasm for the things I know I should be stoked about. I haven’t created anything I love in quite some time. I spend each day going through the motions, waiting for it to be over. When I laugh it feels fake.

We’ve reached the oversharing portion of our program. I apologize. Boundaries, man. I think some of my filters have broken down.

You know that Damien Rice song “Grey Room”? It’s been stuck in my head for days and days and it’s starting to feel more like an accurate description of my life. Speaking of which, this is how tired I am. An actual item from my ongoing list of possible blog topics:

Ways in which I do not ever want to be described, even though they’re accurate-

  • A plaid wearer
  • A She Wants Revenge fan
  • Mustachioed
  • A farmer
  • That girl who always talks about [insert geeky whatever blah blah here].
  • Makes good spaghetti
  • Tries so hard
  • Average
  • Angry

Boring, boring, boring, all of it. I heard somewhere recently, maybe on a podcast, that people who are more self-confident or in positions of power will refer to themselves less in written communication than other people. Interesting, that, and counter-intuitive. I talk about myself all the damn time. Click on that tag that says “me talking about myself again” and about fifty posts come up. Well, not that many, but a lot. Perhaps it’s because I have mostly myself for company. I don’t know.

I found a snippet that should have gone in my last post (but was in the wrong notebook – seriously, what the fuck? Clearly I’m falling apart) about our relationships to objects. It’s a big part of the character’s day-to-day life in that book, and I think it’s completely different for people who are isolated in some way than it is for regular people. Look at hoarders or recluses, for example. Their possessions are their expressions of self, largely because they’re not getting any societal pressure or feedback. They are bound by their lack of boundaries. Somehow when we’re alone (or even just lonely) we stray from the norm. Which is not to say that normal should be anyone’s goal, but there’s healthy-but-weird and then there’s pathological. Somewhere around “why am I surrounded by fifty years’ worth of newspapers and probably some dead things?”. I suppose what I’m saying is that my lack of human contact is making me feel like it will be difficult to reestablish human contact. I talk to my dogs more than I talk to other people. Hell, I talk to my coffee pot more than I talk to other people. He’s a surly motherfucker.

I’m getting twitchier. I’m nervous all the time. My writing is suffering because I spend so much time talking to myself. And, just as we are all our own worst critics, we’re also all our own bad influence. We validate our bad behavior, especially if no one else keeps us in check. What’s that dumb self-help mantra? “Character is who you are when no one’s watching.” I think I got that in a fortune cookie once. It’s pretty terrifying.


Blurgh. I need therapy. Sorry for unloading on you guys. I maybe shouldn’t have even posted this one. Well, there’s always the delete button. I’m sure I’ll be better soon. It’s just winter. The rain is getting to me. I’ll white-knuckle my way through. I always get there. And I’m doing stuff that helps. I haven’t had a drink in a week. Egg nog is helping. Star Trek is helping. Remembering to breathe and eat and shower is helping, even if I have to write myself notes to accomplish them. I promise I look crazier from the outside. Probably. That’s not really reassuring, though.

So, onward and upward. On to new things. I’ll be back next week with something of substance, provided this rainstorm doesn’t wash us all down the mountain. I think it’s hilarious that the worst rain to hit Humboldt County in a decade is being called the Pineapple Express Storm (if you don’t get that joke, go look it up). Meanwhile, I’m stuck in a bubble over here so feel free to send me things that I should read/watch/listen to/write about. Input is always appreciated. Input! Number Five is alive! (Again, go look it up, whippersnappers.)

Holiday feelgoods have been postponed due to technical difficulties.

Urgh. So, two weeks ago, I promised I would tide you over with a delightful blog during Serial’s week off. Meanwhile, some horrible gremlin moved into my IP address and made my router think that my website is not a thing. Snake in the grass bastards, those computer gremlins. I broke a blog promise, but it was not my fault. It was the opposite of my fault. But it’s fixed, thanks to my web guru Luther. Everybody say “Thanks, Luther!” And now I give you last week’s blog, which has been rendered completely irrelevant by the ravages of time. I’ll put up this week’s blog tomorrow so as to make it up to your sweet, sweet faces. Hugs.

Consuming tiny dinosaurs never gets old.

Hey, it’s Thanksgiving! Hooray! My second favorite holiday. And, really, that’s only because it’s cold out and there aren’t any explosions. Clearly I just like to stuff food down my neck and hang out. It’s my nature. To all my non-American friends – I wish you a fantastic nationalistic, gluttony-oriented, made-up holiday of your choice, whenever that may be, as well as a wonderful Thursday. For what it’s worth.

Can I tell you something a little embarrassing? When I started this blog, I honestly gave zero thought to the fact that it would fall on Thanksgiving. The embarrassing bit is that it took me until my third year to realize that it would happen every time. The derpiest of derps. I feel like I may run out of things to say at some point. But not today! Oh, no. I can still prattle on about food and family and the importance of gratitude. And, of course, I have more than a few rants about the capitalist scumfuckery of Black Friday and how we can all do our individual parts to make the whole holiday season less awful. It’s only money and stress that make it awful, guys. Remove the money and most of the stress goes away and we’re all left, once again, just stuffing food down our necks and hanging out. See? Sometimes I’m right by accident. Love that.

A friend put something up on Facebook this week about how many posts he’d seen from people bitching about having to spend the holidays with their families. It made me really sad. Don’t get me wrong, I get it. It can be stressful, especially if your family is prone to sniping at each other or drinking to avoid sniping at each other. But still, don’t say you “have to” hang out with your family, like it’s an undue obligation. You don’t have to go. If you honestly hate each other, I say skip it. But remember that some people don’t have any family. Or their family isn’t around for some reason. Some people are in the military. Some in prison. Some dead. So maybe don’t complain about getting to spend time with folks who love you. We don’t all get to. I miss mine terribly, even if they are crazy people. All of them. I mean, seriously, completely bonkers. A basket of banana sandwiches. For real. I wish I could do this squishy holiday stuff with them. Strange, the things that get you in the feels when you’re least expecting it. Stupid Facebook.

Anyway. Grownup Thanksgiving is weird. I’m having quite a bit of host anxiety, but I’m sure that will mellow out once the cooking stress sets in. I feel like it’s largely related to there being no chance for a couchnap and football after dinner. Argh, grownup responsibility. Ick. Also, I don’t have the sort of house and accoutrements to go all Martha Stewart on the thing, and even if I could that’s really not my style. Like, even a little. And I don’t have kids, so it seems selfish somehow to drag the family from all over the country to my shack in the forest. Doesn’t make any sense. So we do it up with friends, peasant feast style. Super fun, but different from those comfy family fests of yore.

For example, we slaughtered our own turkeys this year. Well, not our own per se. We didn’t raise them, The Husband’s best friend raised them. But we helped kill and clean them and The Husband is playing roastmaster. Holy crap, can that man cook a fowl. Anything with feathers had best beware. I don’t remember ever having killed our turkey ourselves when I was a kid. It’s not out of the range of possibility, but if it happened I’ve forgotten about it. I like it. Not in a blood-and-guts, serial killer kind of way, obviously, but watching them walk around and have a nice last meal of bugs and grass, petting them on the head, and being able to look them in the eye and say thank you before they got strung up. Lovely. Way better than getting that anonymous, plastic-wrapped one from the store that’s already been turned into faceless meat.

Isn’t it weird how we still celebrate with a feast? We either use a feast to create an event, or we tack a feast on to an existing event. There’s something really primal about eating with a group of people. The stuff of life, that: Come in out of the cold. Have some food. Have water and wine. Maybe make a baby or two. Anything can happen at a feast. It seems like such an old-fashioned tradition. Like, medieval. When I use the word, I see long, firelit rooms full of rustic tables, with lords wearing fur and eating some sort of joint of meat off the bone. Which is, frankly, not terribly dissimilar to my own Thanksgiving. But the cover of Southern Living it ain’t. So why are they still the same thing? What is it about our monkey nature that makes us instinctively demand peace around the dinner table? There’s something profound there, I just can’t quite ferret it out.

It’s been a weird year, and a particularly rough fall for me. I think I need this shindig more than I expected I would, hosting stress included. Some good cheer, some yummy food, some friends and family, some wine. I’m thankful for them all. It’s going to be great. I will probably burn something. It’s usually the green beans. Not sure why that happens. Every damn time. Anyway, go stuff some food down your neck and hang out with people. What are you even doing here? And if you’re shopping tomorrow, as always, please obey Wheaton’s Law. We’ve built this holiday monster, we can disassemble it with kindness.

UPDATE, from post-Thanksgiving Vanessa:

I did not burn the green beans. Because someone else cooked the green beans. Crisis averted!

My brain is an idiot.

Occasionally I have a brilliant idea. Very occasionally these days, honestly. And I tend to tell people about these great ideas and then never proceed to the doing part of the process. Apparently brains think that positive, encouraging reactions from other people and actual accomplishment are the same thing. Oh, you rascal and your dopamine. So wily. The problem with (sometimes) having excellent ideas is that I also have terrible ones, and often I can’t tell them apart. This is a constant source of confusion. My personal brain responds equally enthusiastically, regardless of the quality of whatever batshit thing just clanged through it. Like a fat kid who has no idea how awful Necco wafers are, but is still screaming happy to get a thing that is allegedly candy.

Sorry, fat kids, for using you in my insensitive analogy. But we all agree that Necco wafers are fucking gross. Even I wouldn’t eat them when I was a fat kid.

Hey, wait. I was a fat kid. I can make all the fat kid jokes I want.

I hereby retract my apology.

Anyway. Bad ideas. My brain doesn’t care if my ideas are bad, with the obvious exception of monkey behavior like sticking my hand in a fire or something. The initial rush, that moment of “hey! I thought of a thing!” seems to have no connection at all to the You’re a Bloody Moron center (pardon all my scientific jargon here, folks). I have to work out all those circuits later, on my own, with logic. It’s exhausting.

And having bad ideas really isn’t so bad on its own. What sucks, and I think it’s happening more and more just here lately, is the emotional rollercoaster of having what appears, on the surface, to be a fantastic idea, getting really stoked about it, only to be crushed later when I realize that it might have been the dumbest thought ever. For example, in my ongoing existential crisis, I have come to the conclusion that it would be best if I went ahead and applied to graduate school.

I have decided this about fifty times. And it’s not going to happen. Here’s why:

My Brain: Hey! Let’s go to grad school!

Me: We’ve talked about this. We don’t need to go to grad school.

Brain: Sure, yeah, but everything’s different now.

Me: It’s really not. We moved and we’re bored. That’s it.

Brain: Okay, but, literature is the only thing you’re good at and you’re not getting to exercise those skills. You should just go ahead and devote your life to academia because you’re going to fail at everything else you ever try.

Me: Little harsh there, buddy.

Brain: We could become a professor! Really make a difference in some kid’s life.

Me: Kids are idiots. And I can do that sort of thing, plus a lot of other cool shit, with a bookstore. It’s all part of the plan.

Brain: You know that it’s absurd to think that you can run a successful business in this economy, especially after ebooks. And god knows how this Amazon/Hachette thing is going to play out. You’re probably walking into a buzzsaw. Just give it up.

Me: I will not!

Brain: Even if you never use it, wouldn’t it be nice to say that you have a graduate degree?

Me: Not worth the money.

Brain: You could be Doctor Howe, and you could say “I teach. I’m a teacher.” It’s so noble.

Me: You’re not even listening to me, are you?

Brain: And your mom will be all proud and she can finally put another graduation photo on the wall, since you haven’t really done anything at all in a decade and you don’t have any kids yet to make her happy.

Uterus: Hey, you guys leave me out of this.

Me: But I have a whole plan…

Brain: And you won’t be that one friend everyone talks about like, “Oh, it’s such a shame. She had such potential. Didn’t she used to be a writer?”

Me: No one says that…

Brain: Sure they don’t. And wouldn’t it just be easier to go back to school? Rather than risk putting everything into a business that might close? Since, let’s face it, you don’t really have a backup plan for your life at all or any other goals to speak of or really any marketable skills and if this bookstore thing falls through you’ll be a broken, hollowed out shell of a person?

Me: Do we have any beer?

Brain: Let’s just look at programs in cities we could live in.

Me: Let’s drink eight beers first.

Brain: Agreed.

Me: But wait a second. I wasn’t even that great a student, and it’s been ten years since I was in school. I don’t know if academia is a good fit for us anymore. This doesn’t make any sense.

Brain: Oooh, look, this one has a philosophy of science fiction course.

Me: What? Really? That’s awesome. Huh.

Brain: Yesssssss…

Me: You seem to think this will fix all of our problems.

Brain: It will. I promise. You’ll see. You’re wasting your life out here in the sticks. Your precious youth.

Me: Oh, fuck off. This is one of those horrible ideas that looks like a good one on the outside. Why do I keep falling for that?

Brain: I don’t know. Surely you would have learned by now.

Me: Right?

Brain: Beer?

Me: Yeah, thanks.

Brain: Necco wafer?

Me: You’re a monster.

Aaaaaaand, scene.

So, this happens like once or twice a week. I’m so sick of it. Beyond sick. It’s not always grad school. Sometimes it’s a teaching license or piano lessons or learning how to work on engines or going back on the psych meds or quitting my life to go live in London or squirting heroin into my eyeballs. The point is that I think of it, get excited about it, then talk myself down and get sad. I should just stick to the plan. The plan is solid. I never get sad when I think about the plan. Except for that whole failing miserably, empty husk thing. But that has to be a risk I’m willing to take.

It has to be.

Doesn’t it?

It’ll be worth it to have tried.

Won’t it?

Do I have a point with this post? I guess not, now that I’m in the thick of it. Follow your dreams something something blah blah blah. The pursuit of happiness is an inalienable American right schmoo schmoo merpy derp. I think I just wanted to write out that conversation with my brain. He’s a bitch and I’m tired of his nonsense. On the other hand, if I have any friends out there who are animators, I think Conversations with My Brain would make an excellent cartoon. Like the Awkward Yeti only drunker and angrier. We should do a thing.

What a great idea! Maybe! Let me think about it…

The triumphant return of Rantypants McGee.

I’ve been away. I’m back now, feeling much more human, for the moment. I don’t think I realized how much I needed this trip. I’ve got no further plans to leave the face of the planet anytime soon, though, so your bloggening needs can all be accommodated.

I wanted to write a bunch of posts before I left and post them while I was away. But I was brainfried and didn’t write them. And I don’t travel with a computer anyway, so the logistics weren’t great on my part there.

And then I figured it would be okay because I’d come home with all kinds of interesting and blogworthy things to say, full of energy and writery juices. Not so much. I am, miraculously, fairly angst-free at the moment, and my best work seems to be born of friction.

But I learned a lot on these adventures, so I thought I could just make a list of those things, both epiphanic and mundane. You people love a good list. It’s like you’re reading my mind. However, somewhere between #1 (guava flesh will make you constipated but the skin is a laxative) and #15 (the story about pulling over at two AM to take pictures of a church sign in South Carolina that read “Close our borders. Even Heaven has a gate”) it all started to feel bloated and selfish, like those torturous evenings of looking at someone’s vacation photos. Only way more verbose.

So I decided to take a breather and unpack, clear my head. From the Tetris-like depths of my bag I unearthed a tiny notebook that I had honestly forgotten about, and found a drunken scrawled mess that I forgot I wrote. It’s weird and it feels like kind of a downer, but I like it so I thought I’d put it up here. Also, apparently, drunk me likes to add 90s music playlists to her writing. She’s so clever. Here goes:

That one moment, or: culture shock.

I’m riding down a two-lane backroad with three other humans. I’m not quite drunk. I’m smoking. All four windows are down. Something metal is playing on the radio and we’re going very fast. It’s warm. It’s raining. I’m laughing. My arm is hanging out the window and a lightning bug slams into it and dies a hopeful, wonderful, laughter-filled death. Suddenly I look around and wonder what year it is. These are my friends, this is the right road, this is the appropriate beer, the right Volkswagen. But wrong model, wrong guns, wrong cigarettes, wrong album, wrong combination of couples. The song changes. I’m tired. I’m older. I can’t live from awesome moment to awesome moment anymore. I have a husband and bills to pay and places to be. Dogs to pet. Snuggles to receive. Plans to make. A life to build, so they tell me. I want to cry, to quiver for the girl with all that potential, not so very very long ago. The one who loved warm nights and fast cars and cute boys and cute girls and loud music and cheap wine. She was fun and I miss her. Lots of people miss her. Sometimes I think about her and I wonder where she went, what she’s doing, if she died, who the fuck this person is who took her place. Imposter, poser, usurper. On the other hand, maybe she wasn’t good enough to live in the first place. Perhaps she was a figment all along. Some retroactive construction of my adult imagination, a defense mechanism created to justify later bad decisions. I don’t believe in regret. I believe wholeheartedly in wasted and missed opportunities, just not the mourning of them. Our eyeballs are in the fronts of our heads for a reason. Keep looking forward because forward is all we have. Thus it has always been and thus it shall always be, amen. No amount of Nine Inch Nails and fast cars on beautiful backroads will ever change that. No reason to be sad about it. Just accept that it’s been twenty-five years and Trent Reznor has a kid and two Oscars and the march of time is massive and terrifying and unstoppable. It is not chaos. Let it wash over you like rain. Roll the windows down. Breathe smoke. Laugh. Hold your friend’s hand and tell him you’re glad he’s alive. Take a whole summer night and enjoy it from beginning to end. Your time is precious. Measure it in lightning bugs. Measure it in rock songs. Measure it in winding roads. But measure it. Don’t just let it go by unnoticed. Please, please, please. Measure it…


An ellipsis only has three periods. Always. Seriously.

Last week I posted a long and ranty and semi-political diatribe about food. It is currently siting in the number three spot on the list of all-time most-read posts (after this one and this one). Thanks, you guys, for continuing to read my stuff even when it seems like I’ve gone off the rails. Especially when it seems like I’ve gone off the rails, I suppose. It’s why I keep doing this, despite all the many, many times I’ve wanted to stop. Giving up is always the easier path, and I’m going against my nature each time I don’t choose it. Thank you, thank you, thank you. A special thanks to those of you who have chosen to share my work with others at some point. That’s the biggest compliment I could receive, honestly.

However. It does have a downside. Last week, a friend shared my ranty food piece on her Facebook page. She’d never shared a link to my blog before, so I was touched. A friend of hers (who, for the record, I do not know) commented on it thusly: “Hmmmmm…..this geek has WAY too much time on her hands….” Well. That’s a thing you could say. But why? Putting aside the fact that it’s patently untrue, it doesn’t mean anything. It certainly doesn’t speak to the subject matter or the quality of my writing in that piece. She could have given an actual opinion like “this is boring” or “I do not care about this at all” or “what a piece of shit,” and I would have been happier. Saying I have too much time on my hands is basically saying that I should have found a better use for said time, right? Better how? More in line with her personal interests? More in line with whatever it is people who live in normal civilization do in their free time, with their access to amenities and activities? Apparently working really hard on a piece I quite liked about an issue that means a lot to me was a waste of time. Who knew?

I spent two whole days resisting the urge to comment back. Since I don’t know her, and our mutual friend is someone I care about and didn’t want to offend, I struggled with this demon kneejerk snark reaction that will surely be my downfall someday. I fought that motherfucker hard. But seeing as how taking the high road comes even less naturally to me than taking the more difficult path, I decided to blog about it instead. Because if I’m going to burn someone down, I’m going to do it on my turf. Verbosely. And with vigor.

Insert malignant stare and steepled villain fingers here.


Dear Semi-anonymous Facebook Commenter:

I sincerely appreciate your reading a post on my blog last week. It means a lot to me to know that I’m acquiring new readership. Moreover, I’m glad to see that you provided me with some feedback. After all, art is defined by the boundaries of criticism and I welcome every opportunity to hear what people have to say about my work. I would like to congratulate you (if you haven’t done so already) on so immediately having such keen insight not only into the issues I addressed in that one particular piece, but also into my lifestyle. I do have too much time on my hands. Wallowing around in my golden pool full of money only eats up a small portion of my day, and I find myself having to wile away the hours by staring blankly into space, pondering life’s deeper meaning and speculating on human nature. Such pesky distractions. And a plight that you are most certainly aware of, having taken up some of your own copious free time to formulate your thoughtful and articulate critique of my writing. Tell me, how big is your golden pool full of money? I’m sure, with the Golden Pool Full of Money community being so small, that we would have much to discuss. And so much time in which to discuss it! I would also be interested to hear your further pithy deconstructions of the modern written word. It is up to us who are blessed with the luxury of too much time to maintain the critical standards of art, obviously, since the time requirements for free thinking are far too much for the common man. Their having to slave away brainlessly like they do saddens me, it truly does. Perhaps I will see more of your clear and very helpful commentary on future blog posts.

Lovingly yours,

Vanessa Howe

I feel so much better now, you guys. Yes, yes, that was petty and childish. But cathartic. And fun.

Look, I can take criticism. I’m not saying that people won’t or shouldn’t have negative reactions to some of the stuff I write. If everyone loved everything I wrote, I’d be a rock star novelist by now, right? I’m not, and the odds aren’t good I ever will be. Meanwhile, I’m pretty tough, and I know which comments to hang onto and which to ignore, what is useful and what I should let roll off me. Criticism is vital, or else we get lost in our own little world. No one can create in a vacuum. Furthermore, we as consumers need criticism; it’s often how we dig through the murk of an over-saturated media establishment to find the new thing we might want to try. But if you’re going to provide commentary, actually provide it. Have an opinion and a real point of view. I’m not one of those Pollyanna people with their “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” philosophy. If you don’t like a thing, say you don’t like it. It would be too much for me to ask for polite, cogent discourse, but don’t just say something, anything, to fill space. That’s like carving “Billy Bob wuz here” on a picnic table or a tree. It’s almost masturbatory, just acknowledging your own presence and not actually contributing anything to the conversation at hand. I think this is a huge problem in the culture we’ve created online, given the anonymity that commenters hide behind (*cough*fuckingcowards*coughcough*). The comment threads on the whole internet sound like one long nightmarish episode of Beavis and Butthead and I’m starting to feel like there is no escape.

Anyway. I just had to get that off my chest. I don’t know why it got to me so badly. As always, please direct all your rage and indignation to my comments section.


1000 words

You guys have spoiled me. In the “spoiled brat” sense of the word, not like rotten food. It’s good, I think, but I hadn’t really noticed the extent of it until this week. I’m trying to submit a piece to a small literary magazine in New York. I haven’t submitted anything for publication since 2005 or so, when my writing style was completely different and I still wrote loads of (bad) fiction. Not surprisingly, none of these pieces ever saw the light of day. That’s probably for the best. Whenever I think of those being on record, I remember that Neil Gaiman’s first book was about Duran Duran. Mortifying.

I stressed and stressed for a couple of weeks about this one story I want to tell, turning it over and over in my head to try to find a way in. It’s a simple story that takes all of thirty seconds to say out loud, but I had a thousand words to play with and a bigger point to make. For whatever reason, and I really don’t understand this at all, it was like I had a Lego in my mouth. You remember what that feels like? All poky and clicking against your teeth and you want to bite down on it but you know you shouldn’t? This project felt like that.

Yeah, I know. But this is what it’s like inside my brain, all fucked up analogies and circus music all the time.

So anyway. I think I had accidentally worked myself back into that old headspace from when I was getting rejections all the time. Finally I sat myself down and said, “Listen, whinypants, this is only a thousand words. You write twice that every week and you do it well. Just write it like you’re writing a blog post. Go. Do.” And I did. It went fine. I told the story, told it my way, and I hit send. Crisis averted. Although there were some bigger ideas and comparisons I didn’t quite get to, but that’s because I ramble. So when I got an email back from the editor, I wasn’t terribly concerned because I felt good about the draft I had sent her.

She said that I took so many side roads from the story that it was hard to even find the story, and that it seemed like I was trying too hard to be funny. Now, that sounds harsh when you haven’t read the thing she was talking about, but it’s completely true. I assure you, she made all the cuts I would have made myself. It was good editing and she’s a lovely lady. My story was still all there, cleaner and tidier than it had been.


I wrote it like I write here, for you guys. I spoke directly to the reader and I used my normal voice. Those of you who know me in real life know that I write like I talk. Except that in meatspace I talk with my hands. A lot. That’s because I have a kind of annoyingly nasal monotone, which is actually because I had a little stutter as a kid.

See? Sidetracks, left and right.

But I’m comfortable writing like this, writing to you, at you. The real question is: am I too comfortable? And really, does it matter? I write about things I think are interesting or important. Most of these I would have or have had actual conversations about, so my conversational style makes sense here. I’m not being held up to anyone else’s standards here. That’s good. I can be open and honest and say things that I have to stand by. I’ve learned to find a way into every story, every opinion. Writing for you has never once felt like I have a Lego in my mouth (there’s the start of a shitty love poem if ever have I heard one).

What is all this writery anxiety, then? Am I just uncomfortable with branching out? It’s not the input of others. I’ve always taken constructive criticism well. I couldn’t have gotten my degree without that particular skill. Maybe my little blog bubble has just gotten so cushy and safe that it’s hard to switch gears anymore. Maybe I shouldn’t have to switch gears at all. I feel good here. I’m proud of (most of) my work. I look at some of the nonfiction writers I admire and one thing they all have in common is their unflinching dedication to being themselves, to writing in a style that suits what they have to say. And while I’m sure they keep a private side of themselves out of their published work, I still feel like I understand their voices. I’m quite confident I could sit down and listen to metal albums with Chuck Klosterman or have wine slushies with Jenny Lawson and navigate those conversations appropriately.

I won’t let this shake me up. I’ll continue to be honest here and maintain my comfort level without becoming complacent, but I’ve got to compartmentalize. It’s the other writing that needs work. I have to realize that those readers won’t be coming to that piece with two years of backlogged snark under their belts. It’s worth the effort, worth stretching my muscles in new and exciting ways, worth trying to learn something.

But one thing’s for sure, dammit. I am funny.


Watch your mouth.

When I was a little kid I believed in magic. Not tooth fairy/birthday wish/taking Communion magic, but for really real magic. For example, I was terrified to talk to myself when no one else was around because I was convinced that I would step in a specific place or make a specific set of motions with my hands while saying a specific group of words and unwittingly open up a portal to another dimension and no one would ever know what had happened to me or that they needed to locate a warlock to help get me back. On the other hand, I was perfectly happy to talk to myself while in the company of others. All the time. Maybe not my best decision ever. Also, as if your image of me as a weird child who talked to herself weren’t enough, I had a pretty large and varied group of imaginary friends. Yup, sure did. But I never gave any of them names, because what if there’s a real person with that name? And what if I fuck up their life by having my adventures with their invisible doppelganger? And then what if I meet them by chance one day or, horror of horrors, they’re really mad and hunt me down? And I have inadvertently started some kind of global paranormal war with my mind? With my words? Not worth it. So I gave all the imaginary friends numbers and became a writer. Seemed like the simplest solution, really.

Because, you see, words are magic. They’re the closest thing to real magic that we have, besides those things that we know science can prove but we haven’t figured out how to figure them out yet. So words and dark matter, I guess, are the closest things we have to real magic. You know that old “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” thing that we tell to children to keep them civil on the playground? That little nursery rhyme is absolute, unmitigated bullshit. But it works, for just a second, between the ages when they first learn to be mean to each other and around the time they start middle school, that singsongy nonsense works like a charm, doesn’t it? Gives them just enough confidence to let a little name calling roll off their backs before they become crippled by hormones and angst. Magic! Like a protective spell. Which I suppose is one of the most important parts of parenting magic, teaching them to build some armor on their own.

But a useful lie is still a lie. Words absolutely can hurt us, and do. And not even mean or nasty words. Not only hateful or pointed words. Who was it? Was it Carlin? I think it might have been Carlin who said “There are no bad words, only bad intentions.” I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. I think that there are words used with bad intent, absolutely, but some of the most painful words are the ones used with no thought whatsoever. The ones whose meanings either escape us or have been so clouded by time or misuse that we don’t even think about what they refer to anymore. These words tend to not feel icky because we’re so used to them. Or they feel icky, or taboo, or just plain wrong, but we can’t put our finger on why. So we toss them off as a part of normal conversation, with no bad feelings or ill will towards anyone, and not directed necessarily at anyone but the person to whom we are speaking. The point is that because we’ve stopped thinking about the origins of words, we don’t think about the groups of people they refer to as real people. They are merely adjectives. The ubiquity of disregard is what’s insidious.

And I’m not necessarily talking about slurs or name calling or even outright bigotry here, although those are the obvious examples. (And now you’re making a list in your head of the things you say every day. Good. Keep doing that.) No, what I’m talking about is careful word choice in general. Precise magic. Let’s take as an example a word I grossly overuse: just. “Just” is a handy little word. He can be a “just man” or it can be a “just cause.” As an indication of quality or quantity of actions: you could “just hang out” or have “just one more.” But used indelicately, “just” can be really negative. I’m “just a blogger,” therefore I’m not a real writer. Or my best friends are “just high school teachers,” implying that their profession is not important, or that somehow their opinions are worth less than someone with more flashy title. Someone’s mom is “just a housewife,” meaning that she doesn’t have a paying job, even though housewifery and motherhood are full-time and damn difficult occupations. He’s “just a kid,” so let’s excuse his bad behavior because kids aren’t people. Or in your own defense: “I just kissed her, honey; nothing happened.” (That one’s just an oxymoron, idiot. You’re busted. Deal with it.)

On a larger scale, we also use more overgeneralizations in everyday conversation than I’m comfortable with. I catch myself doing it all the time and I have to backpedal and qualify what I’m saying. It’s terribly time consuming. But I hear/see things like “All Republicans are assholes” (untrue), or “all Christians are dumb” (patently untrue), or “all English majors are doomed to unemployment” (this one is only a little left of center, actually). What drives me nuts about these sorts of statements is that when we say them we have a particular example in mind, and it’s usually the most visual or vocal or loudmouthed extreme that there is. If we were judging all Christians by the Phelps family, yes, we would conclude that they’re raging fucking morons. Or if we were measuring all Republicans by the state of Arizona, sure, they seem like assholes. But that’s incomplete, imprecise, and potentially offensive to the regular folks who are being lumped in with lunatics because the lunatics are all that the media feels they need to cover. This extends further than language, though, these overgeneralizations. There’s something about our psychology that loves a false dichotomy, that relies heavily on synecdoche. Take runway model A and compare her to normal adult human woman B (who is probably an overweight American in stretch pants). These are your only options, and you have to look one way or the other. Pick an avatar.

And words are grossly misused left and fucking right. I know that the argument over “literally” is kind of played out, but that one sticks in my craw. No, bitch, your head did not “literally explode.” Your head metaphorically exploded, which is the exact opposite of what you said, and the opposite of what I wish to see happen. When people use “literally” incorrectly, my first instinct is to stop listening to what they’re saying so I can immediately tell them why they’re wrong, which in turn makes me look like a pedantic asshole. I’m actually fine with that. I’ll take one for the team. Oh, and “ironically” crawls all over me, as well. When you go to a place because you think it’s dumb or buy a thing specifically so you can make fun of it with your friends or wear a shirt with a thing you don’t like on it, you aren’t being “ironic.” You’re doing those things “sarcastically.” And the fact that we’re substituting the word “irony” for “sarcasm” or “cynicism” is somehow supposed to make us feel better, I think. More intellectual, maybe, and less like apathetic dicks who can take no joy from things without tearing them apart. Alanis Morissette really screwed us as a generation, didn’t she? None of the stuff in that song would be considered ironic as much as unfortunate, or badly timed. But I suppose “I Have Shitty Timing and That’s Why Everything in My Life Goes Horribly Wrong” doesn’t exactly make for a marketable single title.

There’s a little piece in Louis C.K.’s special Hilarious when he rants a bit about how people talk nowadays. There are a lot of “blaaaaah, bluuuurgh” pukey noises in it, so I can’t really quote it here. Unfortunate, that onomatopoeia. But basically he says that we don’t give a shit about what we’re saying anymore. Word-like noises simply fall out of our heads, uncontrolled and without any forethought. It’s a good point, but consider the source. Comedians are mutants with highly evolved linguistic instincts and keen ears for bad word choice. Maybe this bothers me so much because I’m a writer (well, just a blogger, really). I don’t think it’s necessarily as important to your average joeschmoe guy, who has spellcheck and autocorrect and predictive texting on his side. (Which, for the record, does not solve your there/their/they’re problem, joeschmoe guy. These are not interchangeable. Not even a little bit.) We’ve gotten to the point where to be barely understood is all that is asked of us. Recently I noticed that a friend on Facebook asked another friend to lunch thusly: “have u 8?” Now, I understand that sentence, and you probably do, too. But it bothers me. It doesn’t bother me that we abbreviate in a 140-character society. It bothers me that we think this level of unintelligible gibberish is acceptable outside of texts and tweets, as a substitute for articulate adult discourse. It bothers me that people may not even notice, that they think that this is just how people speak. It’s like we’re devolving and soon we’ll just be grunting at each other while we grow cyborg parts to hold our smartphones, communicating with pictures of what we want for dinner and selfies that emphasize our boobs. Hopefully I’ll be dead by then. Sweet jebus, let me be dead by then.

Meanwhile, think carefully about the words you use. There is no magic word. They are all magic words. You may now commence to gleefully picking apart every word choice I’ve made in this post. Proceed.