Category Archives: Close Encounters (of Some Kind)

You’re a Wizard, Harry

I traveled to Orlando in February for work and I absolutely took advantage of being down there to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time. And my goodness, friends, it will not be the last.

As a teenager, I remember thinking that I wasn’t quite sure I bought into the idea of an afterlife, but if there was a heaven, it would for me be the ability to pass in and out of the innumerable fictional worlds that I loved. I still feel like this would be a pretty boss way to spend the life eternal, however unlikely it is.

But, at least I will die someday having spent time in Diagon Alley. Everything I read before our trip stressed that the meticulous and loving attention to detail in the parks is what makes them so special, and I couldn’t agree more. I wandered and wondered, making time to see (almost) everything. Rowling’s world as imagined in the films is so faithfully recreated I just sat down at one point, nursing an ice cream cone from Florean Fortescue’s and soaking it in. Every shop front was spectacularly eccentric, and once inside, most shops took advantage of high ceilings to extend the world building above patrons’ heads. I was liberal in my abuse of Instagram’s Boomerang feature, capturing parts of the rotations of various animatronics throughout the park.

I patiently waited my turn behind children to cast spells with the ivy wand that chose me – YEAH THAT HAPPENED – my favorite being the slightly sinister chuckles granted by the spells particular to Knockturn Alley.

I rode Escape from Gringott’s and The Forbidden Journey several times each, and the theming while we waited in line was just as delightful and immersive as the rides themselves. I love a good roller coaster, and dark rides are especially lovely for suspending disbelief. By the time I got over to Hogsmeade I was alone, so I didn’t even get to see most of the cool stuff in Hogwarts Castle – good thing I’m going back next year.

I’m not even sure that I can choose a favorite thing to see or do, but I will say that the wand choosing ceremony is a must – I only got to participate because it was just us when we went there right as the park opened, and I went again later to watch another, more appropriately aged individual brought up. My wand was also the only thing that I bought myself, and worth every penny galleon. Wandering the parks casting spells – and finding the secret ones! – is an unparalleled treat. Ollivander’s is honestly probably the most magical shop, though Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes is a very close second. I also loved the puppet show in Diagon Alley, and the ride on the Hogwarts Express was incredibly charming – and surprisingly intimate.

Have you been to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios? What did you love?

 

On New Year’s Eve

During my brief stint as an adjunct professor, I would often preface activities I knew my students were unlikely to enjoy with commiseration: it sucks, I get it, we’ll get through it together. It wasn’t until I taught for a summer reading enrichment program a few years later that I realized my approach was flawed.

Happy New Year

It was one of the hardest summers of my life. I was very pregnant (Little Sister was born in September) and on my feet all day. The days were long with minimal time to catch my breath between groups of preschoolers, elementary school kids, middleschoolers, and high school students and adults in the evenings. But it was a pretty incredible summer, too. I don’t think I ever felt more empowered as a teacher, nor felt like I had made such an impact.

One of the lessons that has stuck with me since that summer is attempting to frame hard work in a positive way. Yes, it might suck, but as the person in charge, I don’t have to say that. What I can say is what we’re all going to get out of it, how it’s going to be helpful, how it’s going to make us better. Those are the things that I can say out loud to assert some modicum of control over how we’re going to internalize it.

And now I’m in charge of me, and my experiences. Not only how I live, but how I talk about my life.

2016 was hard, but it was a really good year, too.  This morning I joined a dear friend for a Zumba class we both laughed and flailed inarticulately through, and after an awkward fifty minutes, we cooled down to Prince’s Purple Rain. Sweat was in my eyes, and a few tears, too. I stretched my sore muscles. It was absurdly tranquil. It felt like saying goodbye and hello at the same time.

There’s a lot to look forward to in 2017, and I have strong friends and allies who will help me work, fight, and celebrate. I know I have to work daily to control my own negativity bias, and to be a force for positivity in the lives of others.

I need to focus on what I can do, and do what I can.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Sithmas

Am I writing all of these posts just for the puns? Maybe.

Today we’re visiting one of my favorite fictional worlds, which I believe could use a little cheer after its latest installment. Which isn’t to say I didn’t love Rogue One, it’s just, my heart resembles something like a crushed up candy cane after seeing it.

I have to admit that I’ve never actually seen the real Star Wars Holiday Special. It was before my time, though with the internet I suppose there’s no real excuse. I still think, based on what I’ve read, that I prefer this one.

And another for laughs. This isn’t the worst Christmas song ever – I reserve that accolade for anything by The Carpenters and this melancholy number – but it’s close.

34 in 34

I just celebrated a birthday, and I decided that in my 34th year, if only makes sense to combine my love of lists with my love of ambition. In no particular order, here are 34 things I hope to do while I’m 34.

I might need your help.

I will not be making one of these lists when I turn 111, but I dig this mural from breath-art on DeviantArt all the same.

I will not be making one of these lists when I turn 111, but I dig this mural from breath-art on DeviantArt all the same.

  1. Finish writing another book.
  2. Continue to work out at least three times a week.
  3. Read 34 books.
  4. Watch Star Wars: A New Hope with my oldest daughter. It’s not that I think four is necessarily old enough, it’s that I just can’t wait any longer.
  5. Attend Books by the Banks as a guest. With my second book slated for publication in May, I am cautiously optimistic.
  6. Finish one new costume for Dragon*Con. Of course I have more than one planned, but I’m being realistic about my sewing follow through.
  7. Run a successful writer’s retreat. After the holidays I plan to hit the ground hard plotting for a writer’s retreat in April at a castle. If that sounds like something you’d be into, you know how to reach me.
  8. Go swimming.
  9. See a play.
  10. See Bethany and Stephen get married!
  11. And my girls are going to be flower girls, so, weep profusely.
  12. See Alex and Christopher get married!
  13. Go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Dreaming big, friends.
  14. Grow vegetables.
  15. And then eat them.
  16. Blog twice a month.
  17. Sew something for each of my girls. I’ve actually already managed this, but I’m not letting myself completely off the hook.
  18. Write real letters. Volunteers? I have a lot of stickers to compliment my poor handwriting.
  19. See live music.
  20. More candid photographs of my girls with my actual camera.
  21. LARP more. After years of playing I took a break when my littles were very little, but I found time again last autumn and I want to keep it going.
  22. Send Miss E to kindergarten in style with a Schultüte.
  23. Grow my hair out.
  24. Or cut it off if I’m really feeling it.
  25. Watch Gilmore Girls in its entirety. I love it now but never watched it while it was on the air, so I am woefully behind.
  26. Knit. I may as well if I am going to be watching television; these hands are so rarely idle.
  27. Finish the quilt that’s languished half-assembled since before I was married.
  28. Discover some new music. Any recommendations?
  29. Visit my dad at least once a month.
  30. Endeavor not to fight with him.
  31. Acquire a Stratton compact. While Peggy Carter turned me on to these vintage beauties, I’m not attached to hers unless I get lucky.
  32. Read, paint, dance, and dream more with my girls.
  33. Appreciate my husband in word and deed.
  34. Elect a female president. #sorrynotsorry

To Boldly Grow Up

The cutest, right? nnaj on DeviantArt has a lovely sense of humor.

The cutest, right? nnaj on DeviantArt has a lovely sense of humor.

I’m sure I’m not the only nerd writing about Star Trek today, but reading these memories from other fans of the franchise on its 50th birthday got my warp plasma flowing.

I didn’t grow up with TOS, but rather, TNG. Thanks to my dad, I was lucky to be the kid who watched Reading Rainbow and wondered what Geordi La Forge was doing there, rather than the other way around. I remember Riker without a beard, though whether it’s from initial viewings at 5 years old or later reruns, I can’t tell you. I definitely recall with terror and wonder first contact with the Borg, whose soulless assimilation has informed my understanding of true villainy to this day.

I was of the tender generation who never found Wesley Crusher to be obnoxious, but instead a character who created a space for somebody like me on the bridge of the Enterprise.

As I grew up, other series attracted my interest, most notably Voyager and Enterprise, the latter of which I will not tolerate any bitching about unless you’ve actually seen it in its entirety. As a writer, I found their plot lines and character dynamics the most compelling, and resistance to my love of this series is futile. Voyager I watched on Netflix well after it aired, and it gave me the female captain I hadn’t known I’d always wanted – and a bit of a grudge against my dad for not introducing me to Janeway when I had been a teenager much in need of a boss lady bending the Prime Directive under duress.

One of the most powerful sentiments I read regarding the franchise was this:

“The show delivered good news: there might be a future that included peace, hope, and bold adventure, and it came in bright colors, featured space travel, and was fun!”

This has always been the thing that I have loved best about Star Trek, that human beings could overcome all of the nonsense, violence, and bigotry to be better, to be a force for peace and friendship in the galaxy. I appreciated seeing the trope of invading alien species uniting us against them turned on its head, with humanity’s first contact with the Vulcans instead revealing all that we could be and aspire to, rather than disparage and fear. I grew up with a series that embodied what a society fully entrenched in this kind of noble stability could look like, and to this day it is the utopia that appeals to me the most. It’s what I hope for when I see people doing good for the sake of doing good, making sacrifices for others without recognition or compensation, when our ugliest impulses as human beings are forgotten in moments of compassion, creativity, and selflessness.

We have the opportunity now to be bolder than ever, 50 years later.

Roll the Dice to See if I’m Getting Drunk

Our ship, the Wormwood. Don't ask me why the sea monster breathes fire, it just does.

Our ship, the Wormwood. Don’t ask me why the sea monster breathes fire. It just does.

Unlike most of the live action roleplayers that I know, I didn’t get my start in sword and sorcery playing tabletop. I launched right into the ultimate nerdom of LARP, beginning in 2004 in a NERO chapter that has since launched their own pretty killer gaming system. Beyond taking a few years away from the game to incubate and birth my own little weirdos, I am still donning the costume and hefting a fistful of spell packets with local friends. I’ve been LARPing for twelve years – but only this year am I finally DMing my own tabletop game.

Despite my experiences writing and running plot at a variety of scout camps over the years, and playing in a few tabletop games, I’ve been as anxious as I am amped about running my own.

But because I’ve been obsessing about the idea since reading this article on all girls D&D group this time last year, I just couldn’t let it go. I knew this was exactly what I wanted. My experiences with mixed groups of players have been phenomenal ones, but I’ve definitely held back. Many of the things that I enjoy have been traditionally male-dominated, and while that’s for sure changing, the stigma is still there – the expectations, the jokes, the out-of-nowhere feeling of being an outsider stealing over me when I least expect it.

The video above has always made me snort with laughter, and now I’d like to make a tasteless comment about getting drunk in a tavern, trolling for dudes, without the awkwardness of there being dudes in the room. Or, alternately, being the only girl in the room when a comment like this is made by a dude. I wanted roleplay, debauchery, thieves and warriors and lovers without the baggage of being a girl – it’s complicated, but it’s a real wish and I’m definitely selfish enough to be motivated to make it happen.

So, with help, I acquired the manuals. The pawns. Drew the maps. Created YouTube playlists for ambiance. Spent too much time thinking about how each NPC would speak only to eventually really butcher their accents.

After our first two sessions, and anticipating a third this coming weekend, I don’t think I could have chosen a finer group of ladies to adventure with. We’ve had whippings for insubordination, woefully inaccurate pig slaughtering, stories of theatrical gore, secret hook ups, sly bids for power, and moans of mismanagement among pirates. There’s not a single gal at the table who hasn’t delighted me with her imagination and her wit. While I’m still getting my sea legs rolling the big dice, they are on it.

It’s pretty much everything I could’ve hoped for.

Say Yes

Say YesSaying “yes” to myself feels like I’m taking a page out of my 3-year-old’s book, but given 2016 has thus far felt like the year of saying “no” – including all too frequently to her – and it hasn’t been the happiest or the most productive, I’m changing my tune.

Read a book for two hours instead of folding the laundry? Yes.

Ice cream on the way home after a long day? Yes.

New dress? Yes.

Take a nap when I have an hour to myself rather than the myriad of other things demanding my attention? Yes.

Blog without an agenda? Yes.

I’ve never felt like creation is born from misery, at least not for me. I am not a tortured artist. Cranky, yes. But not tortured. If I’m going to create, not to mention if I’m going to be a good mother, wife, and friend, I need to take better care of myself.

And I absolutely have not been.

So I’m writing about this, because that’s what I do. And I’m writing about it here, because how I used to blog is how I’d like to blog again. It was a conversation, an invitation, a play of words between friends. I want that honesty, that frivolity, that refreshing dialogue that wasn’t about making an impression but rather just making fun.

Which is why I want to know, what’s the last thing you said “yes” to?

Top 5 Television Crushes

If you’ve ever fallen for a fictional character, we should get a drink sometime and discuss our unreasonably broken hearts. Or at least obsessively YouTube clips of the following. Because really, it’s my love of their stories that’s really behind all of the blushing. Sure, they’re hot stuff, but the way they move… through an expertly crafted narrative, that’s the thing.

Right.

John Crichton

John Crichton is the first and the finest of men I’ve fancied on the screen. My attachment is likely aided by a serious girl crush on Aeryn Sun. Who doesn’t want to be Aeryn?! I actually didn’t watch Farscape when it was on the air, but caught The Peacekeeper Wars when it aired for the first time when I was in college. I was hooked. Despite having seen the end of the story first, I found the series full of surprises. And delicious wardrobe changes for Commander Crichton.

Trip

Because I do love a man in a space-faring uniform, Commander Charles “Trip” Tucker III from Star Trek: Enterprise is a forever favorite. Enterprise is the most underrated Star Trek series, and not just because this Chief Engineer is worthy of more than four seasons and a better end – don’t even talk to me about the series finale, because I’ve never watched it, and I never will.

Ten

They say that you always love your first Doctor, and while Christopher Eccleston as Nine surely occupies an eccentric corner of my heart, Ten will always be the TImelord I’ll pine for. His suits. HIs swagger. His silliness. Though I grew to appreciate Eleven in time, I’m not sure I’ll ever weather the oncoming storm.

Malcolm

Why wear my heart on my sleeve when I can wear a brown coat? Malcolm Reynolds, of all the fellas to admire on Firefly, is just my type: a guarded asshole who nevertheless FEELS ALL THE FEELINGS.

Logan Echolls 2

Which maybe explains why I love Logan Echolls so much, the man who occupies the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others place on this list. Veronica Mars may not be set in space, but it’s clever girl noir and exceedingly worthy of all your love and attention. Logan is a surprisingly dynamic and genuine character, and hot enough that you’re willing to ignore the puka shell necklace.

ETA: And an honorable mention to Jamie Fraser of Outlander, because, obviously. Perhaps I initially failed to include him because he really would’ve taken up two spots: one for himself, and one for his amazing shoulders.

Jamie Fraser

Play Like a Girl

I've played the Exile in KOTOR II over and over again. Love this fanart from Rose Loughran of Red Moon Rising.

I’ve played the Exile in KOTOR II over and over again. Love this fanart from Rose Loughran of Red Moon Rising.

My husband recently acquired The Witcher 3, and has been on me to make time to play. He insists it’s just the sort of game that I like: immersive, open world, story-rich. Despite being pretty deep in the game himself, he’s even gone so far as to entice me to the couch, start up a new game, and pass me the controller. But while I’m content to watch him play for a bit, or hear his stories about particularly well-executed plot lines, I just haven’t felt the itch. Is it lack of time? Lack of interest? Lack of desire to really lose myself in a proven stellar game? Nope.

It’s because I can’t play a girl.

Despite growing up with Link and Mario, I didn’t really get into gaming until college, when Morrowind blew. My. Mind. And guaranteed I’d spend the entire day in my pajamas monopolizing my then-boyfriend’s Xbox, stopping only to take the stereotypical pee and Ramen breaks. The customization was laughable by today’s standards, but carefully crafting an avatar, another self, and pursuing my wildest questing dreams in an open world was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

And that’s just my marriage.

But truly, I was hooked. Over the years my favorites have always been those games that allowed for me to really immerse myself not only in a killer story, but also do so in a very personalized capacity. If there’s a game with an algorithm that allows for it to accommodate <Insert Name Here>, chances are I’ve played the hell out of it. Knights of the Old Republic I and II, Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect, Fallout 3. I probably spent as much time in graduate school playing World of Warcraft as I did writing papers.

My desire to play a female avatar, to play through a story that doesn’t assume I’m a dude, doesn’t come from a place of just wanting to snog Alistair’s face off – though I totally do. It has a whole lot more with feeling culturally like I’m always coming up against a male narrative as a universal narrative, which I feel like I shouldn’t have to say isn’t true, and because the very best games give the player the opportunity to forget they’re playing, just like reading a good book. These are RPGs. Giving me the space and imagination to assume a role is what they’re supposed to be doing. And if I’m constantly being reminded of my non-maleness by rescuing a princess, or visuals that are clearly designed to arouse your typical heterosexual dude, I’m pulled out of the story and reminded that this wasn’t made or meant for me, at least not wholly.

I’m sure The Witcher 3 is stellar; I’ve heard and seen enough about the story to feel pretty confident in recommending it. But I’ve also heard just about every female character the protagonist encounters proposition him, so I feel pretty confident, too, about my decision to invest my time elsewhere.

For the Love of Podcasts: Part Two

listen-radio_2593000bI promised more podcasts, and while I aimed to deliver rather sooner than I am, I hope it’s like a belated birthday wish – sweeter for not having been expected.

You should start listening to Lore straightaway, and not just because it’s nearly Halloween and it’s the best and creepiest thing ever. Host Aaron Mahnke truly delivers on the podcast’s premise that “sometimes the truth is more frightening than fiction.” It’s like what I imagine the child of The X-Files and Unsolved Mysteries would be like if they were sentient beings and, you know, into it.

Mystery Shows handful of episodes are responsible for making me giggle my way into profound feeling, and my trying desperately to think of something I want to know that I can’t Google my way into knowing. There’s a whole episode about how tall Jake Gyllenhaal is that I swear you won’t be able to stop listening to, and Starlee Kine’s voice half-tells the jokes for her. She’s lovely.

And while it’s definitely the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other of the group, Ask Me Another indulges my every geeky whim. Puzzles and word games and nerd references and Jonathan Coulton. It never fails to delight.

Now, get to subscribing and never suffer another irritated run through your radio’s presets only to hear commercials on every station because they’re all owned by the same vile conglomerate.