Category Archives: Paranoid Android

Going (Orion) Green at Dragon Con

I’ve been trying this year to make more conscientious choices, specifically concerning single-use plastics and changing my habits regarding things I know I am going to need/need to do regularly, and as I anticipate another year at Dragon Con, I’ve been thinking about how I can make some more earth-friendly choices while I am there.

Image credited to Dragon Con Media Relations.

An ultra-crowded convention in sweltering downtown Atlanta over a holiday weekend might not seem like the best place for thinking about sustainability, but it’s possible to shrink your footprint – your Trooper print? Furry paw print? Inexplicably spindly anime stiletto print? – with a little forethought and a relatively small – I promise! – commitment. A few things I am planning to do, and encourage you to try:

  1. Plastic water bottles are basically the worst. Even if plastic bottles get recycled – and most of them don’t – we’re still wasting resources to create something that’s used only once. While I absolutely recognize the need to stay hydrated in a suit of Power Armor, there are many reusable water bottles available that are small enough to keep nearby, or on your person if your cosplay allows for it. I hate carrying anything more than I have to, but in recent years I’ve made it a point to make sure every cosplay I choose has some kind of bag or purse – and if I can fit my cell phone, Kindle, and a notebook in there, I’m telling myself there’s room for a 10 or 12 oz. water bottle, too, that I can refill. I just bought this one for $10!
  2. Bring your bag of holding. I am already rubbing my hands together like a cartoon villain thinking of all of the goodies I am going to acquire – Comic & Pop Artist Alley, take my money – but I am not excited thinking about the single-use plastic bags that come with every small purchase. There are many reusable bags that fold up pretty tidily – these are cute as hell and compact – and you can feel good about nestling your treasures in something that won’t just end up in the trash.
  3. I have a coffee problem, but who wants to wait in the line at Starbucks or Caribou, anyway? I make an audible sigh of pleasure after the first sip of coffee, every day. It’s embarrassing, but it’s the truth. Not only am I not interested in waiting in the crazy lines for coffee at the con, I also don’t want to throw away a plastic cup and straw – and I don’t want to carry one of my reusable cups, which aren’t nearly as easy to stow as a water bottle. So, I called ahead to our hotel to see if we could have a fridge in our room and it was easier than I anticipated it would be. Even if we don’t end up getting one, I can keep some half & half on ice and my new favorite beverage can be stored at room temperature. If you’re a hot coffee drinker, pack a mug and enjoy your sweet, sweet caffeine before heading out for the day.
  4. Speaking of straws, skip them if you can. If you’re eating in the food court or sitting down at a restaurant, ask yourself, do you really need a straw? Forego the straw and lid on your takeaway cup and just drink as ye olde cup makers intended. And if you’re wearing makeup, I get it. I’ll be blue, potentially, for two days of the con, but I’m going to have to reapply lipstick and touch up every time I eat, anyway, so is a straw really going to save me much more trouble? Probably not.
  5. Do you really need that business card/post card/sticker? I want all of the free stuff. I do. But inevitably when I get home from a con, I end up tossing most of the swag that I’ve picked up. While I recycle everything that’s paper, if Captain Planet taught me anything, it’s that the first step is to reduce, which means not picking it up in the first place unless I really and truly need it. Snap a picture of a booth you love so you can look it up later. Exchange a text with a new friend rather than swapping cards. As a writer, I’m really struggling with this one because I feel like I ought to have my business card on me, and maybe I will cave and take a handful just in case, but I’m eagerly awaiting the day when I can make an easy digital exchange like in Ready Player One.

There’s a lot out there on making the con-going experience easier on yourself, and I encourage you to make it a little easier on the planet, too.

Adventures in Sustainability

One of my new year’s resolutions was to be more intentional about conserving energy, reducing the amount of waste that I create, and making better choices regarding my impact on the environment. While I’ve gotten into a pretty good habit in recent years of bringing reusable bags into stores and using cloth napkins at home, I’ve been wanting to do more. I truly believe that the seemingly small, individual choices that we make matter, especially when we live in a highly consumer-driven culture. How and where I choose to spend my money matters, and it matters even more when I’m not the only one motivated.

Captain Planet and the Planeteers

I grew up on this. No surprises there.

On a scale of easy to pretty damn easy, here are a few practices I’ve adopted in 2017.

  1. I bought two super cute reusable travel cups. I drink iced coffee every morning – and sometimes in the afternoon, too. And because I frequently pick it up on my way into work, I wanted to cut back on the number of plastic cups I was throwing away each day. I got two so if I don’t run the dishwasher, there’s another cup clean for the next morning.
  2. I replaced my toothbrush with one that was made from recycled #5 plastic, and can be recycled in turn. Excepting the bristles, of course. I’ll also be investing in these for my kids and my husband when it’s time to replace theirs.
  3. I bought a menstrual cup to replace the pads and tampons I was going through every month. I won’t go into great detail for squeamish readers, including my husband, but I’ll say I should’ve done this a long time ago. I am nerding out so hard about how much I love it.
  4. I invested in reusable snack and sandwich bags and a set of stretchy, silicone lids to replace plastic wrap. Throwing away these items has been a regrettable but ultimately avoidable part of keeping house as an adult. Stoked about these alternatives, though. And they’re cute, which is a big motivator for me.
  5. I reset my thermostat. After researching some optimal temperatures online, I am keeping the house a little cooler than I would have in previous winters (even given the unseasonably mild January we’ve had). I know that this is going to be a lot harder for me come summer time when I don’t get to crank up the AC like I like to, but as I’m freezing out my husband some nights right now, I think I’ll owe him.
  6. I scheduled a free energy assessment of our home with our local utilities provider. Our house was built in 1946 and there are rooms that don’t heat or cool as well as others – it’s my hope there are some things we can do to make our home more energy efficient, and if I need to start saving to address some of the repairs that may necessary, I’m hopeful that I can do that, too.
  7. I offered to begin recycling plastics for my office. The office where I work doesn’t have recycling pick up, and while staff regularly volunteer to collect and drop off aluminum cans, we haven’t had a way to recycle plastics since I began working there. When I discovered there was a Gimme 5 recycling drop-off location convenient to me, I decided I could add my office’s plastics to the ones my family and I are already recycling.

And there’s something I haven’t added to this list yet, because I need to bite the bullet and just make it happen. Thanks to a motivated and an awesome friend I discovered that my bank is funding the Dakota Access Pipeline, so as soon as I can take the time I need to open a checking account with a local credit union and withdraw my money and close my existing account, I’m going to do it. This won’t be easy – the app that I use for my banking is slick and intuitive and I like it. I’ll have to change my direct deposit, and I have a number of accounts set up to automatically pay bills that I’ll have to take the time to update, too. But, though it may not be much, my money talks. And if it’s going to be used for something, I’d rather it were used to bolster investments in cleaner, alternative forms of energy that aren’t having a detrimental impact on the environment.

While I can’t solve all of the world’s problems, I can make choices that will hopefully shape policies and create consumer demand for a world that my children and my grandchildren and my great grandchildren will want to live in. I don’t have to buy into the system because it’s the only one, or the easiest one, there is. Because I have the hours and the dollars to spare, I have the privilege to decide how I spend them.

ETA: I’ve since opened an account with my credit union and updated my direct deposit. I shared about it on social and my plans to quit PNC, and within a week, I’d received a courtesy call about banking with them. This has never happened in all of my years with the bank, and a friend who also left PNC also received a call. So, they’re watching. They’re listening. It matters.

On Christmas Eve

My girls woke me this morning, both of them clamoring at the side of my bed, touching my hands, my face, tugging at what scraps of blanket my husband didn’t steal. Little Sister had spent her second night in her big girl bed, and she didn’t get out of bed “even one time,” according to Miss E. But now they are up. They are ready. They are hungry. It’s Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve

We made pancakes together while listening to holiday music. After a little while, their daddy roused, entering the kitchen holding two dolls that had been deposited in bed to keep him company.

“I woke up with these two, but I swear, it didn’t mean anything,” he insisted.

I snorted. My girls were oblivious.

While we made banana faces on each pancake and sprinkled them with powdered sugar snow, two delivery men arrived with a new mattress and box spring to replace the broken one we have been sleeping on for more than a year, the mattress that dips in all of the places my body did when carrying first one baby, and then another. I am not sorry to see it go. My legs and belly and hips are changed enough that even my sentimentality will not miss a ruined mattress.

The delivery men commented on how good breakfast smelled, but because my husband thinks giving them pancakes might be weird, I boxed up some cookies instead. Miss E waited patiently to hand them over, returned to her plate once she had done.

“I gave him the cookies and said ‘Merry Christmas’ and he smiled,” she said, mirroring the expression. “I’m a nice girl.”

I want to say, “Sometimes.”

But I don’t.

The day passed quickly after that, with errands and tidying up and naps and meals. I made sure to write what mattered to me in my journal, to remember to be grateful for what I have, to remember that there are good things, sweet, sincere, worthy little things. But even so when we each opened a present before bundling into the car to look at Christmas lights, when we clutched travel cups of homemade hot cocoa, when Little Sister was as agreeable as ever and Miss E dawdled and complained and finally relented, I felt the nag of anxiety.

“I wish my heart didn’t feel so heavy,” I told my husband. I have told him this before, with different words. I have been telling him this a lot lately.

There have been hard days in the past. Months. Sometimes more. Knowing it’s temporary doesn’t make it any easier in the moment, and neither does the guilt I feel in not being completely present, in feeling like I am wasting beautiful moments by not being able to truly give in to them. Still, I read this tonight and I am heartened. Because it is in my nature to feel first and write soon after I am here now, sitting beside my Christmas tree. There are too many presents underneath but because I am not supposed to feel sorry about yet more things I am trying not to.

The light is steady.

The light is warm.

The light is mine, and it is my children and in my children, in the love I feel for my husband. It shows us who and how we are, roots us in what we can do together, for each other, for others. I am frightened and I am sad but I am not undone.

I am daily remaking.

It is Christmas Eve and what I have and hope for myself I hope for you, too.

On Being Good, Being Kind

Current State My husband and I watched Kubo and the Two Strings last night and it was breathtakingly lovely. Near the end, for no specific reason that I can point to, I began to think about dying. Not the abstract certainty that yes, I’ll die some day because we all do, or the deep mourning I have felt when someone close to me or to my family has died, or the fear that comes on me when my children are too quiet or absent too long or running high fevers in the middle of the night. Deeper, darker, realer than that.

Being dead.

Going to sleep and never waking again dead.

Getting in my car and crashing into someone or something, feeling it roll over and over and over me dead.

Just, ceasing to be.

I had my head on my husband’s chest, felt his shifting muscles, his beating heart, my own seize up and tighten, tighter, as I imagined not being. Even now I can’t even capture the terror that gripped me. That I am, now, that I live and breathe and dream, now, and someday I won’t anything. One day I’ll be gone, and I might not even know that I’m gone because I’ll just. Be. Gone.

I don’t prescribe to any particular faith. I never have, and perhaps I never will. A very good friend of mine recently told me of how she prays during times of uncertainty and trouble, how she’s learned to recognize the answers to her prayers in herself, in others, in the world. It sounded to me like a pleasant dream I’m not sharing, a guidance I sorely lack but don’t even know how to begin to crave. I have always been firmly agnostic, though I feel it’s one of those things that lacks firmness. I’m not sure what’s out there, what’s after, what came before, but I’m not ready to say there’s nothing.

Neither am I ready to say there’s something.

The movie ended and I sat up and when he started to talk to me about how he felt about it, I started to talk, too, and my mouth just hung open. I started to cry. Harder. And then I couldn’t breathe, and my heart felt slow and fast at the same time.

“I’m scared,” I told him. “It’s scary.”

I’ve not had a panic attack of this magnitude since college, and I’ve never contended with my own mortality in so visceral a way. But I’ll tell you what’s the same between this response and the crippling anxiety I experienced as an undergraduate: stress and lack of control. At 23, I was so overwhelmed by my course load, my job, my family, and my aspirations that I quit two of those things and sought counseling. Eleven years later, I have the presence of mind to know that this is just a moment in time, and eventually I’ll feel better. Unfortunately, my scope of worry is now so much bigger.

I feel maddeningly powerless about a number of things right now, but I’m painfully Type A, guilt-ridden, and suffer an unreasonable sense of duty that urges me to continue to try anyway. To throw myself against the wall until it breaks or I do. I look at what’s in my life and tell myself I can’t quit anything, but that’s not really true. I can and I must, because it’s pretty clear to me I can’t keep on like I have been. I don’t have any more to give to stress and fear and uncertainty and speculation. I need to focus on what I can do: raise strong girls. Elevate the stories, amplify the voices, and share the incredible transformations in schools and communities through my work. Love my husband and my friends. Tell my own stories, not to escape the world I am living in, but to put magic into it.  I can’t be sorry but I already am.

I need to believe that this is enough.

This is plenty.

This is good.

 

Ass-Backwards

There are few spectacles more ridiculous at the community Y than a pregnant woman doing hand stands in the pool. Tread-tottering, I come up spluttering, my eight-months-gone belly over turning me before I can turn this baby.

Aquatic acrobatics are only the latest in a wild list of things I’ve been willing lately to try. Balanced precariously on the edge of the couch earlier this week, I felt the blood rushing to my head and baby’s lodged somehow more firmly under my ribs. Hips lifted on a stack of pillows, my shoulders grinding into the carpet, I wondered if I could read a book balanced on my breasts at this angle. An ice pack pressed against the top of my tummy as long as I can stand it; an iPod tucked into the elastic edge of my panties underneath my belly, crooning Fleet Foxes and Carolina Chocolate Drops. Come closer, baby.

It’s not that I’m afraid of a c-section (my only option at the hospital, ass-backwards as my baby), which isn’t to say I’m not. Because I am, big time. But it’s more than my desire to avoid unnecessary surgery; I’ve realized that I want to labor. I want to work for it, want the euphoria that follows twelve hours (or much, much more) of the hardest and best work I’ll ever have the privilege to do. I’ve surrounded myself with She-Ra midwives and doulas, the support of the best husband in the known universe, read a whole hell of a lot, all in hopes of being stronger than I’ve ever known myself to be. Despite being told over and over again that my birth would never go just as I planned, I psyched myself into a place where I thought that could mean I might eventually need an epidural, or baby would become distressed and I would need an emergency c-section. But the thought of scheduling a c-section before labor begins on its own? Picking baby’s birthday? Depresses the fuck out of me.

I would and will do anything to cradle this healthy guy or gal in my arms. Still, we’ve got time. 25 percent of babies are breech at 32 weeks, only 3 percent at term. Let’s conform just this one time, little one.

Crying Wolf

The steering wheel sweat-slipped across my palms. I followed the printed directions to the hospital with my eyes and the manic directives of my heart with everything else, wondering if what I felt in my belly was a thump or the road or my head playing tricks. In my prenatal care sessions we stand together in a circle and hold hands, we repeat after the midwives and the social workers when they tell us to: I love my body, I love my baby. But that wasn’t what I told myself in the car on the way to triage after a day without a discernible kick or roll or five-fingered-punch. The word I used instead of love was trust.

Trust is what I tell myself I need if I’m going to be a mother. Hell, to be a human. I’m real good at putting my faith in other people, but I wouldn’t say I feel like I’m the most reliable, that my heart and head aren’t in the business of betraying me and everybody else. My blood pumps an unpredictable bridge between choruses; my nerves cry wolf.

This baby is taking after mama, intentionally or not. The fetal monitor had hardly hit my stomach before the hum-thump of his or her little heart tidal-tugged a smile on to my lips, tears from my eyes. After the requisite twenty minutes without a single contraction, the nurse said she had enough, but left the monitor on all the same. We’d tuned in to a good channel. Why turn it off?

When the midwife waved her magic wand and brought baby up on the ultrasound, she wasn’t surprised I hadn’t felt much in the way of movement. Baby sat cross legged like a little Buddha in my pelvis, head snug under my ribs. I’m glad at least one of us is totally zen.

But I’m thinking of a quote my aunt shared with me recently, “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever your heart go walking outside your body.” I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m trying to trust this little person to take better care of it than I have.

A Person’s a Person, No Matter How Small

Here are a few things I’ve cried about lately.

A man and a woman laughed at me in the parking lot after work when I politely asked them not to block the driveway. I sobbed like my eyes and nose might run right off my face.

I was short with a bank teller. After apologizing twice, I still felt beyond redemption.

M and I enjoyed a night out and I cried into a paper napkin thinking of how it won’t be just the two of us for very much longer. Again, later, when he held my hand and told me about the dream he’d had shortly after we’d found out I was pregnant, how some bodiless voice had warned him I would never be his wife again, only the mother to his child. We’re afraid of the same things even as our eyes brighten in anticipation.

To say I’m not excited about this baby, about being a parent, would be too gross an understatement. But for all my thrills over pocket cloth diapers emblazoned with cheerful monsters and a shelf overflowing with library loaned books on pregnancy and parenting, I have no delusions about what starting a family really means, at least for me, for us. I might never have been anyone’s mother, but I’ve been a friend, an enemy, a conspirator. Sure, we’re having a baby. But we’re also inviting another person to share what we share. We’re introducing their likes and dislikes, their intellect, their sense of humor, their wants and needs (beyond feeding, changing, and sleeping) into the cozy routines, the dynamic, we two have tempered for nearly ten years. M and I are happy.

Maybe we won’t be recommending books to each other for a few years, but babies are people, too. We’ll be meeting someone new. We’ll be a family.

I told M that I can’t imagine loving anyone as much as I love him. We’re sitting outside of a coffee house where I’ve already imagined myself wearing my baby in a cozy wrap across my chest, the light music of laptop keys a familiar lull for us both. I finished my first novel here. It’s a special place.

“It’s not like that,” he says, and he doesn’t have to elaborate. I squeeze his fingers. Love is love. It grows. And the best kind is never in competition.

On Magic Lamps: You’re Doing It Wrong

There are a few things I take very seriously that are very silly. One of them is wishes.

When I was a child I used to become visibly irritated by that joke that people always make when genies or other divine and magnificent dream-makers are mentioned, that if given only three wishes their first wish would be for more wishes. Didn’t they understand a single thing about the way these mythical figures operated? Didn’t they know that they were defeating the entire purpose of being granted only three wishes, and not being in the least little bit clever? It was the principle of the thing that bothered me, that one person felt they should have unlimited access to whatever they could possibly want, forever. In my opinion they just didn’t know what it was to want something so bodily that you wouldn’t be able to keep yourself from making a desperate request at the first chance.

And also that in fairy tales your ass was just going to get burned for being greedy, and you really ought to know better.

Even now when it comes to things like blowing out the candles on a birthday cake or breaking the wishbone or plucking a rogue eyelash from a cheek and blowing a breath of hope across a finger or thumb, I feel that the language I use to articulate my heart’s desire is very important. I can’t leave anything to chance. As a student when I took every opportunity to ask to just graduate already, I had to be sure to specify that I graduate on time, with good grades I’d earned, and without having to jump through the hoops of fire I was sure my African American Studies professor kept in his desk. Of late when I wish for things like babies and book deals, I hope explicitly for a healthy body that can produce both, all seven pounds and one-hundred-seventy thousand words.

It’s a manic sort of thing, I know. But I’m just covering all my bases.

Saturday’s Child Works Hard for a Living

I’ve always loved that particular folk rhyme, or perhaps it was the book I read as a child where the children – named after the days of their birth – are all turned into the foods they like best and nearly eaten by a witch.

I was born on a Saturday. For me at least this doesn’t mean I’m living by the skin off my hands or the sweat on my brow, but by the drive I have to do and be, to feel guilty for every moment of rest away from the work of my life: writing. It isn’t that I consider time spent away from my work necessary, because I totally do, but the murderous, ruler-rapping impulses courtesy of my Type-Triple-A personality – kind of like the T-888, only soft and prone to tears – make everything that isn’t something feel like I ought to flog myself. I could and did skip any number of classes in college without warranting this kind of response, but if I elect to read before bed instead of tap-tap-tapping out a few words I might even end up deleting tomorrow, it’s on.

Maybe I ought to have been Wednesday’s child?

But I do give myself a break, even when I don’t feel like I deserve one. With that in mind and my desire for something here to cater to my exhaustive hunger for geek culture – and what my obsessive fervor often transmutes to geek culture, like honing my gardening and sewing skills for the zombie apocalypse – I bring you Saturday’s Child, where I am admitting the opposite of what I ought to be doing. What I’m reading, watching, playing; the things that just took my heart and squeezed it like a naughty cat.

  1. I’ve got a crush on the Naz’jar Battlemaiden. World of Warcraft has some really tremendous storytelling, and as I tend only to game when there’s a rich world and story involved, this is dangerous business, indeed.
  2. I’m not a genius, which explains why I’m late to the Eureka party. The success of this show, I think, lies in what a friend smartly called the fact that it’s “light on the science, big on the fiction.” I love a space opera or fantasy epic as much as the next geek, but a romp that doesn’t take itself so seriously is refreshing.
  3. Jason Sanford’s Never Never Stories, especially the scope and sheer weirdness of the science fiction stories, are just captivating. Every question I felt I needed answered on the first page was forgotten in the wandering and wondering pleasure of just reading.

Guilty pleasures? Spill ’em.

Burying Blooms

All of the editing I’ve undertaken lately means I’ve been avoiding editing as much as actually editing, which translates into reading a lot about what I ought to be doing as a writer (read: am not doing yet), how brutal the publishing industry is (read: no-fucking-duh) and how I really ought to give up and pour my energy into making babies instead of books.

My rising hormone levels and capacity to whine are tempered by the fact that none of this matters. I’m going to write anyway. My degree of comfort with self-promotion, whether or not I believe Jonathan Franzen has anything to say worth hearing, if I’m bound to query away my youth or self-publish, I repeat: I’m going to write anyway. I’m going to wallow in the mud of mixed metaphors and later trim them as savagely as I did my own hair when I was nine-years-old.

I might, as I did then, still apologize to my mother.

Before Twitter and Tumblr and the blogosphere, what did writers do? They wrote. They talked about writing without all of the self-congratulatory bullshit. So I’m gonna write, too.