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Exhausted By the Weight of Joy

25 Jun

They say “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” which is dumb AF. Do what you love and if you’re lucky you’ll work all the time, because your work and your play will blend seamlessly into a bizarre, exhilarating tornado until you collapse, exhausted by the weight of joy.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this, except this. Vulnerability is terrifying, and I avoid it. But there are four times I can’t hide, when I can’t help but reveal my deepest insecurities: when I’m writing a story; when I’m very drunk; when I’m laying in Chris’ arms; when I’m standing on a stage.

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Achieving Stuff II: The Search for Perspective

5 Dec

I have a ton of things on my to-do list today, and none of them are “write a blog post.” Then again, none of them are “organize pictures in downloads folder,” either, and I’m definitely doing that, so what’s a to-do list in the grand scheme of things, really?

I’ve been thinking about accomplishments.

A friend of mine graduated this summer, and I gave her a sketchbook with a little note that said something like “Your productivity does not define your worth.” I don’t remember the exact wording, but that was the sentiment, and it’s one that I’ve often expressed to her and to other friends. Of course that’s easier said than believed, and what’s sauce for the goose you like is not necessarily sauce for yourself when you don’t like yourself (that got away from me a bit), but I stand by it. Even for myself. Mostly. Sometimes.

Ok, though, maybe I don’t? Not really. I’ve spent most of my life believing I am lazy and  the worst. I’m 90% sure I have some kind of attention disorder, and who knows? Maybe in 2019 I’ll finally talk to someone about getting that checked out. Have I suspected this for several years? Sure. Have I been putting off seeking diagnosis because I’m secretly terrified that they will say “no, you’re just a lazy bitch and your inability to focus is a moral failing”? Yes, obviously, but that’s not the point. The point is: to combat this feeling of “you accomplish nothing, you are worthless” I’ve started keeping lists of what I’ve done every day, because otherwise I am likely to forget it. Come on: if a woman cleans the bathroom but doesn’t write “cleaned bathroom” down on the back of a crumbled envelope, did it even happen? So in the spirit of “I forget things,” what have I accomplished in 2018?

Well, I co-created four really great Dragon Age costumes. This blog started as a costume blog, and one might think I would have discussed that process here, but I was busy freaking the fuck out all the time and never got around to it. Anyway, my friend E and I put these together over several months this spring and summer. She made the armor, and I made the clothes, which means I custom dyed (it’s a mix! of two! different! dyes! and it took me! four! weeks! to arrive at this particular! shade! of video game blue!) and patterned all this fabric shit.  These costumes were hard as fuck. They took hundreds of hours. We cried a lot and wound up hurting and exhausted and deliriously happy. I’m enormously proud of both of us, as well as these pictures by YouAreRaven.

 

I finished a short-novel-length piece of Dragon Age fanfiction. It’s just under 75k words, mostly original characters, and yes it’s fanfiction but you know what? I finished it. I started and finished a goddamned long-form piece of fiction for the first time in my life. Like, I finally learned how to do that. Do you understand how big an accomplishment this is for me? Do I understand that? I’ve been scribbling away at stories for 20something years and can count the number of Beginning-Middle-End Finished Pieces on two hands. What’s more, I posted it. Like, for strangers to read. And it’s pretty goddamned good, if you like that sort of thing.

At some point I finished the rough (very rough) draft of a female-driven fantasy novel I’ve been working on since late 2013. There’s still a long way to go on this one, but the skeleton and the muscles are there and we’re moving steadily towards the tendons and skin and…nerves? what other pieces of a body fit into this metaphor? I’m working on what could be called the second draft now. It’s slow going, but it gets better with every change, whether big or little. I’m learning how to organize and work through this process. It’s sitting right around 100k words. It has a title. It has a beginning and an end and most of a middle. And it’s pretty goddamned good.

Around Memorial Day weekend I started a female-driven urban fantasy novel that I’m about 61k words into. It’s pretty goddamned good so far. It’s looking like a trilogy. And I wrote some more short stories and creative nonfiction, some original and some fanfiction (Mass Effect and Rogue One and more Dragon Age, because this is who I am), some for public consumption and some for practice. I started referring to little throwaway snippets as “practice” rather than “a waste of time, God biscuit what is wrong with you” and I stopped thinking of writing as a chore and started treating it as a thing that gives me joy, because that’s what it is. I have started seeing a future in it–a for real future, an honest to God path forward. I have started doing research for What Comes Next. I have started making tentative plans.

I did an entire season playing music on stage in a duo at the Georgia ren faire, and then I did an entire season playing music on a stage solo at the Carolina ren faire. Not every set was perfect. I was nervous as hell. I forgot words, I forgot chords, I chickened out of some of the harder stuff, I cried after some sets, but I smiled and I sang and I kept going and I persevered. I never missed a set. I practiced all the time. I challenged myself and learned new things. I am infinitely better at the guitar than I was this time last year. I got roped into performing in a last-minute show at the fringe festival a week after the Georgia faire closed, and despite a laundry list of obstacles, I pulled it off. I performed several other places. I’m looking for more. I entered some contests. I’m entering some more.

I dealt with constant pain in my back, knees, and elbows, and intermittent pain in my left ovary for almost the entire year. I forgave myself for that pain, I let myself get treatment, and I forgave myself for getting treatment. I forgave myself for a lot things that shouldn’t need forgiveness. I started wearing knee braces and using my inhaler when I need them, not just when I need need them. I kept up with my hair color. I flossed. I spent a lot of time strengthening my marriage and friendships. I promoted my friends. I promited myself a little. I voted. I protested. The world is a garbage fire, but I’m doing stuff.

This time last year I had no idea where I was going, except that it would have to be better than where I was. This year I have almost stopped telling myself that I am a worthless procrastinater who never finishes anything.

So that’s what I’ve accomplished in 2018. In 2019 I’m going to really work on that “getting my hair trimmed regularly” thing.

Because WordPress won’t let iframes work unless you pay them, this year’s Intention Playlist can be found here.

Diego Luna Owes Me New Panties: The List of Five, the Female Gaze, and the Politics of Desire

2 Nov

I recently read for the second time at Atlanta’s Bleux Stockings Society, which is a live lit series featuring female and nonbinary voices. This month’s theme was “attraction.” 

There is a concept in some monogamous relationships called the List of Five. The idea is that each of you have a list of five people, typically celebrities, that you are allowed to sleep with, guilt-free, should the opportunity arise. I don’t know where this idea originated or where I heard of it, but I this it’s a cute exercise and I’ve had one for ages. Since this a show about attraction, here it is.

Diego Luna

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I discovered Diego Luna in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. I’m not proud of that, necessarily, but I’m not ashamed either. Discovering Diego Luna in the Cuban-revolution-era sequel to Dirty Dancing is like meeting your significant other online prior to about 2005. Nowadays your grandma is on Tinder and Diego Luna was in Star Wars, but once upon a time we didn’t talk about where we met our partner, or where we first discovered Mexico’s most beautiful export.

I have a lot to say about this man but only 7 minutes, so let me just sum up: there is nowhere on earth I would not be willing to have sex with him. On a beach, in a hotel, under the sea, in an actual coffin, on the moon, in a stadium bathroom, I really don’t care, I would fuck him anywhere in the universe, Diego, do you hear me? Call me.

Diego Luna is the only person who has been on this list since its inception.

Tom Hardy

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Speaking of Inception, did you know that Tom Hardy is in Marie Antoinette? He totally is, and he looks just as good in 18th century French attire as he does in a suit or whatever he’s wearing in that movie where he’s a convict.

Tom Hardy recently bumped Joseph Gordon-Levit off this list, so if JGL wants to join, and they want to engage in a little Arthur/Eames roleplay, which I like to believe they do anyway, I’m totally into it.

Chris Evans

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Not only is he doing his level best to live up to Captain America’s mantle in his public life by calling out institutional -isms and vocally supporting good causes, his shoulder-hip ratio is the perfect demonstration of the inverted Dorito shape. I once saw him call President Trump a liar on Twitter, and it caused me to spontaneously ovulate.

Sebastian Stan

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I have watched a couple of truly embarrassing movies because this man is in them. In one of them he’s a witch! And another guy punches him, and Sebastian Stan looks up from the punch sort of smirking like [here I demonstrated my best attempt at a sexy smirk] and it’s just OH MY GOD.

Daveed Diggs

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Other than his ability to spit rhymes, I have little evidence to support my theory that he is great at dirty talk, but I believe in the scientific method and I would be willing to test my theory over and over and over again until the scientific community is as satisfied as I am.

Speaking of science, here’s a scientific fact: when Daveed Diggs smiles, the sun goes dim, realizing it has been tragically outclassed, yet the amount of light in the solar system remains the same.

The List of Five is ever-evolving. If you’d like to see some of the people taken off the list over the years, see me after the show.20181102_131646

[image reads:

  • Ryan Reynolds – plantation racially insensitive AT BEST + Deadpool sucked
  • Ryan Gosling – grew gross mustache for that movie I didn’t see
  • Kaidan Alenko from the Mass Effect video games – turns out he is not real :( 
  • Kara Thrace from Battlestar Galactica, Eomer from The Lord of the Rings, Tor from The Hero and the Crown – same problem
  • Steven Tyler – leftover crush from childhood. PROBLEMATIC AF
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson – still would, but ONLY in Quicksilver costume from Age of Ultron
  • Seal – I would be overwhelmed with feelings and cry the whole time
  • Keiffer Sutherland – it is no longer 1987; he no longer looks like he did in The Lost Boys
  • Jason Momoa – eyebrows are more expressive than mine and I cannot abide that
  • Former President Barack Obama – disrespectful to Michelle to even consider this
  • Taylor Hanson – still would]

In the interest of equality, my husband Chris also has a List of Five:

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[List reads:

  • Shakira
  • Shakira
  • Jennifer Anniston
  • Queen Elizabe II (“Power is sexy”)
  • Shakira]

I know this is a silly exercise. The idea that I’m ever going to have sex with Diego Luna is so far-fetched as to be ridiculous—and I probably wouldn’t even if I had the opportunity, list or no list, because I don’t like to share and I shouldn’t expect Chris to be OK with something I wouldn’t be if the situation was reversed. But fantasy is important, I think, especially for women, because so much of society is geared to the idea that women are to be objects of desire rather than subjects who desire. I can’t count the number of straight cis men who have told me, with great authority and confidence, that women should be objectified because women are just more attractive than men, as if the experience of straight cis men is not only more important than mine, but actively invalidates it. One time a routinely inappropriate coworker cornered me by the drink station just so he could tell me, “You have to admit, there’s nothing sexier than a woman when she comes.” Probably he was just trying to express to me how very concerned he was with female pleasure, as if that would magically make me stop being interested in my boyfriend of the time and be interested in him instead, but it sat wrong with me then and it sits wrong with me today. For one thing, hello, that’s wildly inappropriate work conversation. More to the point, though, my orgasm may be sexy for someone who’s attracted to me, but my partner’s enjoyment of my orgasm exists as a distant second to my enjoyment of my orgasm. Positing my pleasure as a creepy turn-on puts the onus on me to feel pleasure no matter how I feel or what my partner is doing, and to do so in the same performative way I am expected to do everything else in my life: for the consumption of men.

Are women beautiful? Yes, of course. So are men, so are enbies, so are agenders. Turns out the human body is a masterpiece of skin and muscle and fat and nerves and thoughts and feelings all bundled up into one incomprehensibly incredible package. And it turns out that sexual women are perfectly capable of feeling deep, overwhelming, stomach-churning, lip-biting, nipple-tightening, panty-soaking desire, despite modern US society declaring that we are “not visually stimulated” or “more invested in emotions” or whatever the fuck. Positioning cis men as the attracted and cis women as the attractive, with no room for deviation, not only invalidates trans and NB people altogether, it also places women as objects in our own lives, as passive vessels to be acted upon. And it creates a system in which, while women have lifetimes of beauty work to engage in and emotional baggage to carry around, cis men require so little effort to be seen as presentable, put-together, and attractive. Imagine that Chris and I put the same amount of effort into doing the same beauty routine. After washing our faces, brushing our teeth, dressing in khakis and a button-down shirt, and applying deodorant and a touch of scent, he is dressed in business fucking casual, whereas my low-maintenance ass is barely comfortable going to the mall. And DON’T get me started on prepping for a performance day. Now, is he attractive to me no matter how much effort he’s put in? Hell yes. Does he consider me attractive no matter how much effort I’ve put in? Yes. Does the rest of society consider us equally put-together given we spent the same amount of time on ourselves? No. Is that fucked up? Yes.

I’m not going to posit that wistfully fantasizing about the way Diego Luna bites his lip when he laughs is going to fix the gender gap, or stop sexism, or change the world. The Female Gaze is not an answer to institutional kyriarchy. I accept that. But I am going to posit this: reclaiming the right to feel attracted rather than just attractive, the right and ability to desire, is important. And it’s fun. And maybe it’s time more straight cis women started expecting straight cis men to put in a little more goddamned effort.

Singing To Myself

10 Oct

There’s a song I like a lot. As near as I can tell, it’s called May You: The Folksinger’s Song, which is fitting, given it’s a song about being a folk singer. It’s by Jan Marra, but I know it because a friend has occasionally played it for loved ones who are having a really rough day.

May you never be sorry you traveled this road,
May you find all the work that you need.
May your eyes be bright when you’re out late at night,
May never your glory get mixed up with greed

The last two weekends, the first two weekends of the festival, were full of really rough days. It was hot and brutally humid. Well, it’s often hot and humid at ren faires, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

The crowds at this faire are not necessarily prepped for hot, humid weather. It’s a fall festival, after all. My stage is a little off the beaten path, with not much in the way of signage, and there’s no shade on the benches for most of the day. I did what I could–I even dragged benches up onto the stage for the later sets, which helped a lot, but I played for small crowds. They were good crowds, full of engaged and happy people who liked what I was doing, people who were complimentary, people who laughed and cried appropriately, people who tipped, but there just weren’t many of them. On Sunday I had a total of maybe 12 people on my benches over three sets. And for more than a little bit of time, I played for myself. We all did. Some of the finest musicians I know were playing to empty benches.

There’s a number of people who’ll sit in the rear,
They’ll talk through your sets, they will catcall and jeer
A number of people will turn a deaf ear,
Just keep right on playing for those who will hear.

And that’s…it is what it is. It’s not ideal, but it happens. Normally it’s ok. I love to sing. I love to play guitar. But getting on stage requires a lot from me, and getting to this particular faire requires a lot of driving and being away from home. I’m not confident of my solo work, and when there’s only four people listening to me, it’s way easier to believe the little voice in my head that says what I’m doing is terrible. And then, you know, there was All That Stuff going on in the world, what with credible accusations of sexual assault still not being a barrier to being appointed to the Supreme Court (or elected president). Last Sunday morning I overheard a different friend make a joke that boils down to “bitches be lying,” and I cried a lot, universe. I cried a lot. I was supposed to be getting ready for the day, warming up and tuning and doing makeup, but instead I was crying. I got out there and I did my thing, playing the Village Protest Singer with all the considerable verve at my disposal, and I sang my feelings to the heavens and the three people who were listening, but I was hot and drenched in sweat and bleeding and full of rage and sorrow and fear, and I had to dig deep into my reserves to find the courage and energy to get up there, and the crowds were very small and I was very tired.

When the time comes to pack up and ramble along,
May never you wonder just where you belong,
And if you hit hard times may they make you strong.
May every experience lend to your song.

During my down time I tried to recharge by sitting in the audience of empty sets, listening to my friends play beautiful music, and that helped. At one of those sets on Sunday my first friend played the Folksinger’s Song. I don’t know if he played it for me; I think he played it for all of us, but it was still very good to hear. I cried a little more, and then I ate lunch, and I felt a little better. It was still really hard and I’m still very tired, and I’m still not confident in my solo stuff, but I do love to make music, and that’s not everything, but it’s not nothing.

May your heart be light, may you sleep well at night,
And I hope that you find all the love that you need.

Memo to Self: RE Stage Fright, Stress Dreams, Panic Response

23 Sep

Nerves are a sign of investment in the quality of the upcoming performance. Tune your guitar and practice your chord changes until you feel better (if you never do feel better, well, maybe try tuning again? I don’t know, I’m not a doctor).

As a wise friend of mine once said, “Just keep your soft palate nice and high through the long ‘o’ in ‘gloria’ and we’ll all get through it.”

Stage Fright Vignettes: In Which I Am A Mess

17 Jun

We start recording tonight. The Kickstarter was successful beyond our imaginings, we’ve rehearsed and prepped and planned, and in about an hour and a half we’ll get started. I spent the day half-heartedly working on some other deadlines, rehearsing some more for songs later in the week, watching trash TV (hi Riverdale, you source of delight and shame) and making myself eat more out of the knowledge that I have to eat rather than out of any appetite at all. I have to eat, ya know. If I don’t eat I’ll wind up being starving the second the nerves wear off (halfway through the second song). So I ate. A little bit.

It’s the third day of recording. Things are going so well! We got through so much in the last two days, songs we have every right to be proud of. Tonight we add instruments. I am not ready. We rehearsed for four solid hours (including the half hour I held a bag of frozen pomegranate seeds in my aching fret hand), then got in the car. My hands are shaking, and drenched in sweat. I have to struggle for every single chord; they’ve all flown out of my head. I’m going to throw up, or die, or die while throwing up, or throw up while dying.  

I have no idea what day it is, but I know I’ve been staring at the microphone in front of me like it’s going to eat my face if I look away. Fuck you, microphone. You’re not going to eat MY face. I won’t blink. I–oh shit, I definitely missed that line GODDAMNIT MICROPHONE.

I am splicing together a short promo to send to some faires, and had to bribe myself with a glass of wine for each separate video clip of myself I watched with the sound on because I hate listening to recordings of myself.

My bandmate tries to tell me everything will be fine and I tell her, in as many words, to shut the fuck up. She tries to tell me she’s really enjoying this process and is happy and proud and I sort of say “ok?” like I’ve suddenly lost the ability to speak English.

I am starving because I didn’t eat enough.

My husband tries to hug me and tell me he believes everything will turn out well and I yell at him to leave me alone and stomp off to take a very hot bath and drink wine for dinner (again).

We’re about to listen to a few tracks to see if the storm on Wednesday affected them in any real way. I’m pretty sure I’m going to burst into flames.

The sound guy, a professional musician I like and respect a lot, is telling me that he likes everything we’ve done, and I am fantasizing about a giant hedgehog appearing out of nowhere and devouring my head so I never have to play guitar in front of people ever again.

My mammal brain acknowledges that after a lot of hard work, practice, and organization, and yes, a lot of fun moments, these records sound pretty good! My lizard brain has retreated under a rock to pray for the swift coming of Zephelepod, Destroyer of Worlds, Bringer of Oblivion, Crusher of Embarrassing Moments Beneath His Mighty Cloven Hoof.

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