Saturday, December 31, 2016

Princess Leia, Anxiety, and a Little Bit of Poetry.

Carrie Fisher was bi-polar.

Yes, she was Princess Leia, too, but she fought to normalize mental health issues for a good portion of her life. She included a lot of information about depression in her one woman show. She talked about her addictions and mental health problems in her book Postcards From The Edge. In an interview with Rolling Stone this year, she said about her electric shock therapy that the biggest misconception about it was that "you have convulsions, or that it's used as punishment in a mental hospital, which is how it's depicted in every movie. It's very easy and effective."

She was brave and funny and cast a different light, a brighter light, on the benefits of getting help.

In Carrie's honor, I'm sharing my final accomplishment of the year. After breaking into a cold sweat and tears every week, after feeling a mountain on my chest throughout most of my days, after being afraid for half of the year that I either would have to go outside or worse, that when I was ready to go outside I wouldn't be able to just go, I finally decided that my anti-panic methods were no longer working. I needed help.

The first thing I did was dig through my emails, because somewhere in there a dear friend, a social worker, had explained to me some things to look for in a therapist. I didn't ask her because she is one, but rather because she's one of the most compassionate people I know, and I knew she would direct me to other compassionate people.

I found a nice lady who met all the criteria, and proceeded to dread the first meeting. I asked my social worker friend in (July? Maybe?) about where to look for a good therapist. I made the appointment in the last week of December. Procrastination lives in the heart of anxiety--it is both torment and relief.

I met my new therapist, and I had prepared how to tell her what was happening. I told her about the anxiety, the agoraphobia, the physical toll. Then I explained:

"So, in the past 16 years, my Dad died of cancer in 2000, one brother of meningitis in 2001, and another brother of cancer in 2015. I've had 3 miscarriages, and I had a cancerous molar pregnancy followed by chemotherapy. I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I have three kids--two teens and a four year old--and I had really bad postpartum depression after my eldest. Oh--and my mother recently had a stroke, and surgery for breast cancer. I don't deal with things. I box them away for later.

It's 16 years later. So, I know what's causing my anxiety. I want you to fix it."

To her credit, she realized her mouth had dropped open and she closed it in time to say, "Okay. I can see you have some reasons for anxiety."

As a lover of all things Marvel, I could laugh at being given a list similar to Jessica Jones' naming-street-signs-method of coping:

5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste.

But as I practiced it, I by-passed the anxiety attack, but kept the anxiety. Instead of breaking down once and feeling deflated for an hour, I was in a state of constant fight or flight all day.

5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste

The metallic taste of fear.

I tried slow, controlled breaths. Control is not my problem. Or rather, it is, because I control myself at all times. I control the anxiety, I control the grief, I control me. Until it has control over me.

After my eldest brother died, everyone got the flu. I didn't. I drove from my house to mom's for two weeks after the wake, certain that I would have one more bad event to add to my list.

Don't worry, there are good things in my event list, too. I have 3 children (yes, it's on both lists, because the physicality of having them was stressful on my body, and teenagers fight...and yet the joy of creating them and seeing them grow is exponential.) I married an amazing man who loves me and who allows me to indulge my inner writer. My brother and I have taken martial arts together and gone running together. I've gone to Disney seven times or so, and I even got to take my mom to California and Disneyland. I get to volunteer cosplay. I get to take my kids and nieces to comic cons.


5 things I can see
4 things I can touch
3 things I can hear

2 things I can smell

My unwashed body as it gets harder to force myself to shower
The blanket I wrap around myself as I shiver.

I get cold with anxiety. I hate to be cold. But I feel it in my bones and then I can't stop shivering. I bathe in the sink and shake and shiver and wish, sometimes, that I could step in the shower, that I didn't think I'd collapse if I did. I'm TIRED.

5 things you can see
4 things you can touch

3 things you can hear

My daughter knocking on the door. For a long time I tried to cope by letting the attack take me in the bedroom, but "Mommy, open the door" doesn't take no for an answer. The blood pounding in my ears--it's trying to hold me down, and keep me there, and I'm sure that my heart will stop if I can't get a breath in. My husband's voice saying, "Come away, Mama's busy right now."

5 things you can see

4 things you can touch

One time after my brother Jay died I swore he hugged me. My then two year old eldest was talking to someone in her room at night, and when I said it's bedtime she said, "I'm talking to Jason."

I told her he was sleeping, the baby I had named after my brother who had died. She said, "Not that Jason. Your brother Jason." The breath left me and I sat down, crying. She had been three months old when he died. He was her Godfather. I asked the air if he was really there and felt the crushing bear hug that only a big guy could give....maybe what I felt was depression, or anxiety, or wishful thinking, but it felt like my brother and I've never forgotten that feeling.

5 things you can see

I see the door oppressing me.

The door leads outside and I don't like the door. Or not the door really, but the hallway before it. Like a miasma of evil designed both to hold me in and hold me back, it becomes a tunnel to victory because I am stubborn.

The keys are on the hook, the keys will unlock my doors and unblock my path and I cannot go without them. The bathroom is to my right and inevitably I must go in there for a minute, not to relieve my bladder but to relieve my anxiety. I sit on the seat as if my body will release me, but it's only enough to give me a reprieve.

A picture on the fridge because of course I need a drink I cannot leave the house if I am thirsty.

My own stupidity. I feel stupid, I feel restless, I feel like I can run out the door now and it will be fine as long as I go right this second--

"Mom, I forgot my jacket." And "I can't find my phone."


Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Year in Review

Reflecting back on the totality of this year, the first things that come to mind (after the event which shall not be named) are that a lot of firsts occurred--Happyboy & my niece Sam attended their first Anime Boston over Easter weekend, and loved it. Nieces Sam & Ceci came with us to their first Boston Comic Con. All four teens dressed in Black Butler cosplay for BCC, and sometimes they wouldn't break character even when I wanted them to. I also, finally, got to couple cosplay with Roffey...well, kind of. He was Commissioner Gordon and I was Batgirl, so I guess calling it couple cosplay could be creepy...

Shaelin joined Theatre Tech Crew and loved it so much that she can't wait for it to start up again in January. She learned to measure and cut wood with a table saw, build a bench and a wall, and apparently, how to group-nap (it's a tech thing, I don't even know.)

Jason tried to get a GSA started at the middle school level--and while they had already thought of starting one, his persistence made him one of the first people the teachers asked to help draw up posters for the new club, which will officially start after Christmas break. His artwork has been evolving into this great thing, and he has found his "tribe" at school. He is a valuable member of concert choir. He started Anime Club two years ago, and this year was told that it will now be a "permanent club" at the school, so he's leaving his mark when he heads off to High School in September. He even got to choose next year's leader.

Lily started PreK and learned to write WORDS: MAMA DADA LILY CAT AMMA. She likes to text them to me with an emoji--yes, she knows how to do that, and when someone lets her at a phone, she will do it repeatedly.

Roffey and I both had great birthdays in Boston, with dear friends, rounding out the nights with memorable drinks at the Hotel Marlowe, my new favorite place to stay. We also ate at the Friendly Toast, which had amazing gluten free Turkey Club sandwiches.

I completed an entire manuscript, and started a second. The first one got picked for a second look at HerUniverse Press (though, alas, it wasn't ready when they asked for it--I knew it wasn't ready, but was too filled with excitement and sent it when it was unedited--so ultimately they declined. So I learned! Never send it without editing first.) I won NaNoWriMo, a month long commitment to writing 50,000 words. I took an online writing course--Storied Women in Fiction--through the University of Iowa. I made an author FB page, and reached 1000 new followers on Twitter. I also got back into sewing! I made a Hannah cosplay for Punkgirl and a Batgirl costume for myself.

Roffey photographed an amazing engagement photo shoot for his nephew and soon to be niece, and I got to tag along and shoot video, and we made a short movie of the photo shoot which was, honestly, a highlight of my year.

I started a Couch to 5K program with my brother Bill that had me actually running (and still does, though a 9 week program has stretched into about 20. Nevertheless, I'm still moving.) Like many others, we all fell in love with Hamilton, which has become my go-to running music.

I volunteered through a couple of cosplay groups at the Special Olympics/Summer Games, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, and Camp Miracles and Magic, and I walked 16 miles in the Boston University Relay for Life by myself, a team of one. I've met some of the kindest and generous people of the cosplay world, and am proud to call them friends. Roffey volunteered at the Magical Moon Foundation (a camp for terminally ill children owned by the lady who wrote a version of the Velveteen Rabbit.) He literally moved a house, and always leaves a little bit of his heart behind when he comes home. Jason volunteered at a booth that sold breast cancer awareness ribbons to benefit the American Cancer Society, going in early each day and standing out in the cold to sell them. Shaelin volunteered with GSA to help get people to sign a big card for the victims and families of the Pulse Orlando shooting. She is also volunteering for "8th grade night", where 8th graders get to come and check out all of the clubs at the high school. All of us, plus my nieces Cece & Sam, marched in the Boston Pride Parade (some with GLSEN and some with BCBS.)

I managed to meet up with two people who I never get to see in person--my cousin Kevin and my dear friend Lara.

We voted for the first female Presidential nominee. I cried as she conceded, as I sat in the waiting room at Mass General Hospital Yawkey Building most of the day, waiting as my mother had surgery to remove the invasive breast cancer that had been found when she had a stroke a few weeks before.

Oh, mom had both a stroke and breast cancer in the span of weeks. The stroke kept her in the hospital for a while, and the PET scan showed a spot in her breast. I sat in a little room with her when they told her her diagnosis, and I snapped at them because we had no idea why we were there (no one called after the mammogram), and we had waited days knowing only that we were meeting a "multidisciplinary team," which is doc speech for really bad news. It was great for weight loss--I literally lost 8 pounds from stress--but we had no idea what was going on and the giant Breast Cancer Center sign on the wall greeted us as we walked in.

If you know me, yelling isn't generally what I do, but I kind of flipped out after the third person came in without telling us anything but mentioning surgery...that was sort of an accomplishment, and it succeeded in getting someone to actually explain what was going on. They explained that it was invasive ductal carcinoma, breast cancer. Cancer, the enemy of my family, which took my father and brother and messed with my uterus for awhile, was back to wreak havoc again. They did surgery a week and a half later (because she refused to miss the baby shower, of course.) My mom came through surgery well, because she is the badass I want to be when I grow up, and things are looking good--nothing in the margins or lymphs. She has been rocking physical therapy for the stroke symptoms, all while recuperating from the surgery.

(This is where I could post the picture of her playing Pokémon Go in her hospital bed, if I wanted her to smack me. Instead I'll post this nice one from Thanksgiving.)

We hosted a successful Thanksgiving, even as we worried that mom might not be up for it (she insisted on making the veggies) and got to see our four favorite teenagers belting out show tunes from the top of a wooden bench after we stuffed ourselves on Roffey's excellently prepared turkey, and got to enjoy the company of my lovely, warm, caring 90 year old great aunt Theresa and my mother's cousin, also named Theresa.

I attended Rhode Island Comic Con as Press this year, which didn't allow time for cosplay but allowed a lot more time for getting the stories I wanted to get, and best of all, gave me a sense of "working" again (I work my ass off--but I'm not answerable to anyone; it's nice to sometimes feel like a professional again.)

Roffey got an acknowledgement from Southern Poverty Law Center for his continued support, and I got a letter from President Barack Obama after thanking him for his support of the LGBTQ community, making the world a better place for my kids in the process, and we considered both of those things highlights of the year.

The New Year is coming; I believe it will contain challenges; but I also believe that this year has encouraged me to act. I will begin the year with a march for women's rights in January. I will volunteer and donate as I can. I'll continue to support the rights of the most marginalized, whether with my words, my body, or my bank account.

Let 2017 begin. We'll be ready.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Why I'm Going To Keep Talking About LGBTQ Rights (or How To Shorten Your Christmas Card List)

So, I know, people are tired of hearing about emotions and elections and want to move on and "get over it." I'm feeling the need explain the depth of my feelings, because maybe it might change a mind, and if it doesn't, well, maybe it might mean I'll have fewer Christmas cards in that pile I forget to send out every year. I'll try to keep it as short as I can.

For the next 4 years, my government will not have my children's backs. My two eldest are LGBTQ teenagers who already have felt the backlash of this election--they've already faced kids who feel emboldened to put them down (though, in my next post I will talk about the positive activism that both schools have embraced in the wake of it.) The next President's cabinet is stocked with anti-LGBT crusaders. Now you might respond with "I suffered through 8 years of Obama, you'll survive Trump," and this is where I have to buckle down. You have every right to feel that President Obama's policies didn't do good things for you. Some people do feel that way. But the next government will treat my two LGBT kids (along with many friends and close family members) like they are less than people. Like their rights aren't as important as anyone else's. Like it won't matter if they can be fired from a job or refused service simply because they are LGBTQ. Like they shouldn't be able to marry, co-parent, or even bury their own spouse.

So what I understand, at last, is that in the absence of a government that supports them, I have to step up. I can't any longer turn a blind eye to qualifying statements about them. For instance: "love the sinner, not the sin." It seems simple. But it's a hidden qualifier--I've yet to see anyone saying about a divorcee "love the sinner hate the sin." I've yet to see about a rape victim who hasn't married her rapist (yes, that's a definition of marriage in the Bible, too), "love the sinner hate the sin." Why? Because those qualifiers are absurd. My children are human beings who are intelligent, kind, and strong, and yes, are imperfect, too. But loving another person of the same sex is not what makes them so. Loving another person is not keeping anyone from practicing their religion, any more than NOT being a polygamist (again, also one way that marriage is defined in the Bible. Look it up.) does. If you think it does, if you can look me in the eye and say that my kids do not deserve the same right to love, marriage, and happiness that every other person does, that a gender-fluid person doesn't deserve the same love and dignity that a cis (physically born into your gender) person does, that a person shouldn't be able to love another consenting person of the same sex or a trans person or a gender-fluid person, then you may not want to read further and probably we will never have anything more to discuss.

Image credit:

I'll attempt to put it another way: I try not to equate the struggles of LGBT people & people of color--they are, for the most part, different struggles. I see them as sometimes similar, often differing, mostly because people of color cannot choose to hide in plain sight (which no one should have to do, but which is possible for LGBT people who fear discrimination.) So they are different struggles with some parallels. Except in the case of marriage equality. Obergefell v Hodges fell back on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment just as Loving v Virginia did, because those Constitutional rights were apparent even to the Supreme Court. And yet, I know people who, if I asked them if a black man should be able to marry a white woman, they would say, "Of course!! What is this, the 1950s??" They would be offended that I asked. And yet they cannot see the same absurdity in the question about a same-sex couple. To me, you're then saying that every other person (whether white or person of color) is equal--except LGBT people--they aren't. (And no, I don't think people of color are treated equally. They aren't.) I cannot say that I love and support my children and then say it's ok for anyone to say they are unequal.

In that same vein, no less than three people this month have said "I don't need to know what goes on in their bedrooms. I love them."

But love doesn't happen in the bedroom. Love happens with a look, or two hands holding, or a hug or a kiss goodbye at the train station. I have kissed both parents hello and goodbye on the lips for my entire life, and I kiss my husband of 18 years goodbye 3 times every single time I leave him. No one bats an eyelash. I kiss in front of my children--I always have, so that there will be a good role model of a loving relationship for them--and I haven't done that for fifteen years so that they can spend their adult lives hiding their own love, because love is not something that should ever be hidden.

Author's Proof: "Love Doesn't Happen In The Bedroom"

So there it is. It may feel like it's unfair for me to draw that line in the sand. But I can't protect my children from a President who condones racist, homophobic, misogynistic speech, a Vice President who thinks it's beneficial to use shock therapy to "convert" gay people (to what? The Church of Straightdom?), and a cabinet who has done everything from vote to make it illegal to have "gay sex" in your own home, to declaring that homosexuality is the same as pedophilia or bestiality, if I can't start closer to home first.

In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, "You will come of age with our young nation, We'll bleed and fight for you, We'll make it right for you..."

Friday, November 18, 2016

Do Not Go Gentle/Happyboy's Positivity

Yes, the election upset me. It's far too easy to fall down the rabbit hole of what could happen. My faith in people's belief in equality was shaken--and I'm not even close to one of the most marginalized groups. I'm a white girl whose husband has a well-paying job. But my family and friends are among those groups--from cousins who are people of color and indiginous people, to my children, cousins, and loved ones who are LGBTQ, to the many women I admire and count myself lucky to know. Like I said, worry for them makes it easy to curl up in a ball--but they aren't, so I won't. I'll take a page out of Happyboy's book.

This guy has been called "wannabe girl", "thing", and a couple of other names this year. He still rocked this Tshirt two days after the election.

My 13 year old boy gives me hope for this world. He woke up Saturday morning with a mission. He wanted to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at the Middle School level. He wanted to take action to show the kids around him that we should be and do better. He researched it. He made sure he had enough students and a teacher. When he didn't get permission at first, he went to the Vice Principal, who explained that it's something they're "working on." He didn't take that for an answer, and he researched and asked his sister for information and pushed and pushed and explained that we don't need this later, we need it sooner, because there are lots of LGBTQ kids hurting and lots of non-LGBTQ kids who want to do something positive and proactive to show those kids that they're wanted at school. The VP called to explain that they are moving forward with it, they just want it to have the right (knowledgeable) teachers, and they want to offer it to more than one school, and they want to come up with a name that is more inclusive to begin with (a less binary one.) Regardless if they were already (unbeknownst to Happyboy) working on it, I'm so proud of him for finding a positive way to deal with all this worry and angst-and not just his own, but that of all his friends. He asked to remain updated on the progress of the program, and I have no doubt that if it loses fizzle he will bring it back to its original verve.

There are so many things you can do: My huaband donates a portion of his check to the Southern Poverty Law Center. We are members of the ACLU. I volunteer with a cosplay group who has worked the Summer Games (Special Olympics), veterans' events, and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer among other things. You can volunteer to escort at Planned Parenthood, or if you're feeling snarky, join the other 44,000 people who have donated in Mike Pence's name, or you can do the same for The Trevor Project.. You can put up a sign that says I love people of all religions and none. You can join a local march for equality. You can wear a safety pin to let people know you support them. You can start recycling, or composting, or invest in and/or support clean energy programs. You can research valid articles on how to help and post them on your social media accounts--because to me, social media is how this election was won. So use that tool and help people with it. The point is: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night...

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Running for Dummies

I took the summer off to polish my novel, work on query letters, navigate the needs of two teens and a three-year-old, and participate in some volunteer cosplay events. Oh, right, and I forgot--to start a new Couch to 5K program that I'm enjoying enough to buy an actual good pair of sneakers. If you know me, you know that thrifty is my middle name, so for me to willingly shell out cash to run is a pretty powerful testament to the effectiveness of the program.
  • some new to me Asics sneakers
Since I'm only in week four, and haven't actually run more than sixteen total minutes per session, I preface this with "research for yourself. I'm not a doctor or exercise professional." With that out of the way, I'd like to share some things that helped me in the hopes that it will give another potential runner a head start.

First and foremost, download a good program. There are tons in the Apple App Store, and I'm sure there are for Androids, too, but I went with Active Network LLC's Couch to 5K program. Why? Because I can pick a zombie or unicorn to be my coach.

Active Network Couch to 5K app

Runicorn is supportive, happy, and full of pep. I respond better to positive reinforcement than a drill sergeant yelling at me, but if that's your thing, the app has five different coaches to choose from.

The app is easy, telling you what week you're on, what session you're on, and breaking down your walking and running mileage and speed. Walking? You thought this was a running app! Well, yes, it is, but it's one that's designed to keep you going without hurting yourself--so you start off with a pattern of warm up, walk, jog, walk, jog, walk, jog, cool down, for a total of 30 minutes of activity.
  • Runicorn is the best!

Here's where I have to warn you. I did a lot of research after my first two runs--because I was in excruciating pain, and because I figure Google was made so that I could learn everything I want to know about anything. (Seriously, people. It's your friend. It's like a library at your fingertips.) I had spent two sessions in a row with terrible hip, knee, and shin pain--and I thought that was how running was supposed to feel. It's not.

In my research I found three problems--the first is that I wiggle my hips while I run--one drops lower than the other, and that causes undue stress on the lower legs because your hips aren't doing their job of supporting your upper body. So all 170 pounds of my body were crashing down upon my shins, giving me awful shin splints (yes, I just told you my weight. I'm going to tell you something about numbers soon, so bear with me.) I corrected this by consciously holding my hips even on the next several runs. Yesterday when I ran I realized that my body had finally succumbed to muscle memory and my hips stayed in place without me actually focusing on it.

My second problem was that I was crossing my arms over my body as I ran. All the people who look like they're having fun jogging do it. Apparently, it can also cause pressure on your lower body. According to your arms should go back and forth at a 90 degree angle parallel to your body, not across it. My knees, which don't like to pivot, we're very happy when I discovered this trick.

The last problem was my stride. Your body should be be above your foot as it strikes the ground, and if it's behind it you may find yourself with some pretty intense shin splints. I shortened my stride length to a very short one for now, and once I did the shin splints seemed to disappear. I also invested in a pair of new to me Avia sneakers which work with the way my foot moves when I run (you can check your pronation here:

Fixing those three problems gave me a good physical start on running--but something that surprised me was that running isn't only physical. I'm not even talking about the endorphins you produce while exercising--though those are pretty great! I'm talking about the difference I feel depending on where I run, as well as when I run and who I run with. Obviously, this will be different for everyone. But for me, I run much more effectively by the beach. While I can get my run done in my neighborhood, I'm thinking more about getting through the run and getting home to finish this, that, and the other whereas on the beach I'm focusing on the beautiful shoreline. I feel supercharged after running at the beach, as if I've absorbed the sun, wind, and waves through my skin.

I also find that my runs are different when I run with a partner than when I run alone. When I run with my brother, I'm motivated to go further and run faster because I'm competitive, and I also get to chit chat with him while walking. I find that when I run alone I have less motivation to match his pace, but that I also pay more attention to my own technique to make sure I'm creating good running habits. In my opinion, both running alone and with a partner are essential--and again, I know that it will be different for everyone. But I feel like I benefit from running with someone and running alone in completely different, equally important ways.

Lastly, I'm going back to that number: 170. It's the most I've weighed in my life. But while, in the month+ I've been using the Couch to 5K program, that number has changed little to not at all (despite eating healthy and under the necessary amount of calories to lose a pound a week), my body is absolutely changing. My legs are stronger and firmer; my arms are more toned; and my waistline is suddenly visible. I look in the mirror and see a strong person instead of the number. Each time I finish a session, I feel motivated to go run again. Don't get me wrong: there are some days I finish and feel like this:
  • I might be dead in this picture. I'm not sure.

I'm an injury prone woman with celiac disease, joint pain, and severe anxiety, I have three kids and am writing my second novel, so it's not inconceivable that I won't have a day here and there where I'm just glad to get through it. But I've stuck with this one long enough that it's become one of my favorite things to do. I hope this encourages you to try the Couch to 5K!
  • Feeling strong!

That Hamilton Thing

Image credit: Wikipedia

For months I didn't quite understand the Hamilton hype. I knew it was special, and that the unique decision to have women and people of color tell the story was groundbreaking, but I didn't get why so many people loved the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton. In fact I must confess, when Roffey began playing the Hamilton soundtrack around the house, I thought, "ok. This sounds decent. I don't hate it." I loved the concept of the play; I love Lin-Manuel Miranda....but I had nothing to connect it to my heart. Then my son Jason decided to sing "Wait For It" with his friend for the talent show. He began singing the lyrics to practice, and listening to that one song over and over. One line caught me: "If there's a reason I'm still alive when everyone who loves me has died, I'm willing to wait for it."
I've lost my Dad and two of my brothers, and lately, my mother has been sick. That line stabbed me, drove straight into my heart, and left me on my knees. I drove around bawling to that song, to that one line. I ran to it, slapping my feet to its rhythm.
I began to listen to other parts of the story. The connection between Burr and Hamilton began to dawn on me, where one of them took the loss of their family and turned that into driving ambition and no fear of what people thought, and for the other it led to caution and fear of wasting a legacy or a life. I could identify with both, they're both familiar kinds of grief.
Most people most likely fall for Hamilton for the drama, or the music, or the love stories or the history; I fell for the pain, that feels so similar to mine. And most importantly, the hope in the middle of that--"Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now."
How lucky we are to be alive right now.
Suddenly the story was so much more than a theatrical rendering of a founding father. It was a testimony to what we can do with grief-- let our light burn out, as it did for Hamilton after his son died, or use it to reach for the stars and go for it (so long as we don't stand still, a la Burr.) The moral of the lesson: do not throw away your shot.
Slay At Home Mom's Brothers

Monday, June 6, 2016

Bathrooms Aren't The Only Problem

My son is in the seventh grade, and he likes to wear pink shirts, long hair, and earrings.  If you live in the Northeast, you might ask, "So what?" No big deal.

And, for the most part, except for a few comparatively small moments, it hasn't been a big deal.  But recently there has been a surge in media coverage about transgender people and their use of the bathroom.  My son isn't transgender--that is, he doesn't feel like a girl in a boy's body.  But he doesn't identify with any of the boys around him, all of his friends are girls, and he would rather shop in the girls' department for clothes.

Last weekend, after school, two boys asked him if he was a girl.  Taught that some people are just curious, he answered politely, "No, I'm not a girl.  I'm a boy."
The boys didn't believe him, and in not believing him, began treating him the way they thought girls should be treated.  I can't use the language they did without my stomach churning and my heart pounding; but suffice it to say that it was tantamount to rape speech. At best it was sexual harassment.  The statement one boy made to another, "No, he's not a boy, he wants to be a girl. It's okay if he wants to be a little girl," was followed by what sexual thing should happen to him because he "wants to be a girl."  Prior to this they had grabbed at his backpack a few times, and I don't know what would have happened if he didn't text me with an urgent message.  I rushed to the school--I didn't even stop to put on my shoes.  The boys were being taken inside by an office assistant.  When I picked my son up, he got in the car, holding himself together until we drove away. He told me what happened, shaking and sobbing and telling me he didn't want to go back to school.  
Infuriated, shaken, I called my husband, and he called the school (because my husband, when angry, is icily succinct, whereas I get so mad that the words come out jumbled and unclear.)

The school administration, to its credit, handled everything incredibly well, not balking for a moment at taking things seriously and dealing with the situation quickly and conscientiously, involving both the parents and the police.  I have no complaints about the outcome of the actions the school took, and was relieved to hear that the parents were as horrified that their children said and did these things as the administrators were.  

But my mind dwells on the fact that we have so much media coverage about transgender issues, but no real education on what being transgender (or for that matter, gender-fluid or gender-neutral,) actually means.  We have sexual education.  My son knows what happens when you go through puberty and you get a morning erection.  He knows how to make babies.  But it's not a priority for the school system to teach children how to treat another human being who doesn't identify the way they do--some don't even know how to treat another human being, period. Our children deserve better.

"But my child goes to school to get an education." 

It's a valid concern.  But one to which I respond that if we have something called Health Class, isn't mental health just as important in every way as sex education and nutrition? I'm not talking about transgender issues or LGBT issues, because I don't want to promote the false ideology that those are mental health issues.  I'm talking about bullying and sexual harassment. The stress of being harassed wears on the human psyche.   And it's not just my son. Yesterday, as Happyboy walked home with a female friend, members of a sports team walked behind them and said things like, "What's that? You want Happyboy's (blank) in your (blank)?" You can insert your own nasty words. He and his friend moved out of the way and let them pass, and they left, laughing. 

There's a part of me that wants him to just hit someone. "One good hit," I think, my mama-bear instincts kicking in, "and they'll leave him alone."  He took Martial Arts for two years, but for him, actually hurting someone was always a problem. He's a gentle soul, an artist, and why should he have to give that up because some kids are acting so miserably? 

      Some of Happyboy's art

The school is planning a seminar next year that will address issues of harassment, bullying, cyber-bullying and their consequences--and I do appreciate that. But I long for the day when my son can go to school to get an education without fear of feeling different. When being yourself is as lauded as being part of a team. When he can go to the bathroom without people looking at him as if he's in the wrong place. When it doesn't matter if you're transgender, cisgender, gender fluid, or don't identify with any of those.  My son isn't transgender, and I don't want to appropriate those struggles; but some of the basic challenges he faces are often similar to those of transgender children. I think about that often--that if he goes through this and he's not even transgender, what must children who, on top of this kind of harassment, have to emotionally navigate having a body that isn't the one they identify with have to go through? In this day and age, where many more children are feeling confident enough to express themselves in more than just the ways society deems appropriate (read: blue & trucks=boy or dolls & pink=girl), we need to make sure that school is a safe space for them, a place where they can learn without fear of being called out for differences. And maybe even a place where someday all of our children can go to just get an education.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Birthdays and Balloons. Or: Ode To My Comic Book Brother

How do I tell you about my comic book brother?
Today's his birthday, the 46th from birth and the 15th from death.
15 seems like an eon, "get over it already!", 
But you can't get over missing a limb, or an organ, or your heart.

Sunday driving isn't the same without car dancing
Comic book movies fill me with love and sorrow on your behalf 
(Where are Nick Fury and Thor? Two of the baddest badasses
And why are Inhumans masquerading as mutants?)

Nobody shares the same stories that we did
Nobody shares my birthday, I thought I'd love that
But birthday candles and cake can't compare to the wishes I make
They always involve some kind of dream reunion

You and Dad and Charlie, Lily says you're up in the stars
Because I can't believe that Heaven isn't too far away
You would've loved all these nieces and nephew, Godchildren who would have blessed you
If only life hadn't had so many other plans.

I frequent our place in Quincy, the kids think it's "their" store now, too
I can't walk in the door without seeing your face, even the guy is the same... 
It took me 30 years to ask his name, but you know, the one with the ponytail and glasses
I'm too afraid to ask him if he remembers a boy with Brillo pad hair, because if he doesn't it will break my heart.

Sigh. It's your birthday. We'll send up balloons.  Balloons used to soothe me so.
Now every balloon is a minute, and there are too many balloons behind us, and too many balloons to go.
Because I fucking miss you.  I had to say fucking.  Nothing else was strong enough.
I have too many things and people here to want to go, to die any time soon...

But that just makes me ache a little more, because I know, I KNOW what it means:
Balloons, and longing, and missing you, and wishing you'd visit my dreams.

PS: Thanks a lot for making our last dance together YMCA. I look great bawling to the Village People.

PPS:  Happy birthday, Jay.  I love you. I miss you.  Come visit my dreams.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Weekend of Memories

I've been focusing on some positive things to get me through the weekend (after which I'll be having a very important meeting at Happyboy's school.)

So.  Here are my (mostly) happy thoughts... 

Today is the day (20 years ago) that Roffey proposed. It was my grandparents' wedding anniversary. (BTW, it was the smartest decision I ever made, saying yes even though he didn't have the ring yet.) We aren't celebrating it, but it always serves as a reminder of how long we've been together and what things we've weathered together.

Is it any wonder I said yes? He wore those jeans in the summer.  

Tonight, I get to see my amazing niece Joybabe in concert. Joybabe and Madlove are my oldest brother's daughters, and I have crazy, embarrassing, sloppy old love for them.  The universe has thrown a lot at them lately and through grief, stress, and too much adulting they have taken all the punches and still kicked the universe's ass.  Joybabe is playing the flute tonight, and helping to raise funds to support the arts.  It reminds me that she's growing up, and will be 16 in August, which is both inevitable and unacceptable(!), and that my brother would have been so proud of her for taking up her instrument again.  I'm proud of her, though her sister Madlove, who shares a room, does not have a mad-love of the flute. 

All the whackadoodles together.

And tomorrow, my family will gather together to send up balloons that we write on to my brother Jay, who would have been 46 years old.  It will be 15 years in July since he died of Meningitis, and still not a day goes by that I don't think of him in some Lily says, "Uncle Jason is in the stars with Uncle Charlie and Grampa."  They're having a party up there.  Jay and I used to share our parties when we were kids, because we were exactly 2 years 1 month apart. I think some part of me is always subconsciously unsatisfied on my birthday, not because it wasn't great, but because there's a missing piece.  This year, Coffeeguy loved his birthday so much that he has taken it as a personal challenge to make mine amazing (more on that in another post), and my biggest fear is that I'll have a great time and still feel incomplete. Or, I don't know, maybe that I won't.  My birthday is always tied up in Jay, and our birthdays together, so that missing piece is kind of a reminder that he's still here inside my heart. (Don't worry, Coffeeguy, it's still going to be awesome!)

My brother's and my birthday.  [Side note: I know, today the feathered headband would be known as cultural appropriation--but it was the 70s, and also, we had a super-cool uncle who was a Wompanoag, so at the time it seemed more like we were being "cool like Uncle Ronnie" than anything else.]

So that's my weekend, after which we get to go up to Happyboy's school to address an incident that is too painful to write about right now.  How is your weekend shaping up?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

How to Grow Old Ungracefully

My daughter found four white hairs in my head on Monday night.  I'm not ashamed to say that it was pretty upsetting at that moment.  I've never had to dye my hair (not that I have to now) to hide white/gray hair.  

I'm noticing the wrinkles around my eyes--which are getting a little deeper each year.  But as I told my 15 year old, I've earned them.  I've earned the fine wrinkles and I've earned the white hairs (oh, I'll still hide them, dammit, and I'm not ashamed of that, either. I'm not even ashamed to feel bad about growing old.  I've earned the right to do that, too.) 

I'm almost 44 years old and I've been to more funerals than my 90 year old great-aunt--and she's the last surviving of 9 siblings.  I've beat cancer and dealt with crippling anxiety.  For the most part, the grief that is always waiting to pounce is outdone by the positivity in my heart (my good friends and close family know I can bring the negativity too, but I'm working on it.)  That's not to say that I can in any way see a positive in the deaths of my family members--but I can focus on the way my brother's beautiful girls are growing up, the way my younger brother and I shared so many Sunday drive-to-Dad's memories, or the way my children have my father's dimpled chin. 

So yes, I have some white hairs and a few new wrinkles.  But I also live my life to the fullest, doing exactly as I please, writing and geeking as I like.  Despite the appearance of the white hairs or the wrinkles I don't feel too old to volunteer or cosplay or enjoy life.  I've learned the lesson that life is just too short to skip out on doing anything you love because you have a few off-color invaders on your head (eww, I'm not talking about lice--if you have lice, please, skip out on attending public events & get treatment.) 

Getting older is still, I'm sure, going to be hard for me--I may be 29 at heart, but after three kids my body doesn't always feel the same.  But I've done more to further my personal happiness this year than I have in a very long time, so I'm going to share a secret with you--I'm 43, and I'm just getting started.

Crinkles and all.

Monday, April 4, 2016

20 Things I Never Said Before You Left

Having lost a father and two brothers, I know a little about regret.  I try to live my life these days with that in mind, so that the sinking feeling that "I never got to say" doesn't ever plague me again.  
But before I was so world-weary and wise, I left a lot on the table.  I forgot to say some things, and I forgot to do others.  With that in mind, this one's for my Da.

20 Things I Didn't Say Or Do Before You Died

1.  It's okay to be scared.  You had lung cancer, and you grew up in an era where a man worked, a woman stayed home, and guys were not allowed to feel fear.  I was scared for you, and I know you were too, and I wish I'd let you know that I knew, and that I didn't think any less of you for it.

2.  At the end of my wedding video the videographer put us on the spot and asked if we wanted to say anything to our loved ones. I fumbled, and stuttered, and I said "Mom, thanks for everything, you are the wind beneath my wings...and Dad, thanks for being such a great dancer!" It sounds silly, but the idea that you thought that it was your only contribution to that special day haunts me.  I was honored to walk down the aisle on your arm.  And yes, you were a great dancer; but what I really meant was that I waited my whole life to dance with you in your handsome suit, just the way I remember dancing on your shiny brown shoes when I was a child.

3. I talk too much.  It's a nervous habit, and on Sundays I'd jabber away, instead of listening more to you about your life.

4.  I'm sorry you only met Chris after we were engaged.  I never thought you'd be interested in meeting my boyfriend, and now that I'm a parent I realize how much that must have hurt. I wish you'd had more time to bond over old movies and character actors, and maybe you wouldn't have had to stare him down the first time you met if we hadn't already been engaged.

5.  I'm sorry if you thought I didn't care when you were sick.  I hope you didn't believe that, even as your wife threw it at me in the kitchen.  You told me not to listen to her, and I have to hope you didn't either.

6.  I'm sorry I didn't believe you could die.  Even when they said there was no hope, that you only had a few months to live, in my head I believed that MY Dad was stronger than any disease.  I planned the following week off to spend time with you--but I was too late.

7.  I wish I hadn't been so concerned about doing everything in its due time, because waiting to have a baby meant that you didn't get to meet Shaelin, or Jason, or Lily.

8.  I'm sorry...but I'm glad you weren't alive to see the death of not one, but two sons.  I can't stand seeing what it's done to Mom, and we both know she's always been the stronger one.  

9.  Being a child of divorce was painful, but I appreciate that there were times you tried to make it easier in your way.  You made a point to tell us that your new girlfriend's cooking wasn't as good as mom's, and as a kid I thought that was a weird thing to an adult I realize you were trying to take away any sense of replacement or competition. 

10.  Thank you for traveling two hours on a Sunday just to spend the day with us, to take us to China Sky or McDonald's or the movies.  To this day I can't see a first run movie without thinking of the way we would wait in the lines that went around the building to see the next Star Trek or Star Wars movie.  (FYI, I can't see a Star Wars or Star Trek movie without thinking about you, either.)

11.  I wasn't the rabbit that ate the carrot.  I know you thought I was, but I wouldn't have left a half eaten carrot in the couch cushion--I would have eaten the whole carrot.

12.  I'm sorry if I disappointed you.  I know you (and I, to be honest) expected me to take the R.O.T.C. scholarship and join the military.  Things didn't work out that way, and there will always be a part of me that wonders if you would have been prouder of me if they did.  I have no regrets--I loved the career I chose instead, and I love the writer's life I live now, but I also would've loved to make you proud.

13.  I picked Butterfly Kisses to dance the father-daughter dance at my wedding because I was focused on the Butterfly Kisses-- you always gave me "Eskimo Kisses" with your nose when I was little..but all you were focused on was "after all that I've done wrong I must have done something right."  I never thought about things you did wrong,  both because I loved you too much to care and because Mom always hid that stuff from us.

14.  Stop smoking.  Stop smoking years ago.

15.  I love you.  I know I've said it before, but there's just no way I could've ever said it enough.

16.  I hate John Wayne movies.  I wouldn't change the fact that you watched them all the time, because now it's nostalgic and they remind me of you, but God! I didn't fall asleep on the couch because I was lazy or over-worked, I fell asleep because I couldn't keep my eyes open when that cowboy drawl came on.

17.  I always thought you were 6 feet tall, even though you were only a couple of inches taller than me.

18.  No man could ever replace you.  If you ever feared that you were loved less because somebody else lived in our house, you were blind to the hero-worship that we had for you.  Proof positive:  I married a tall, handsome guy who loves old war movies, cheap beer, and bad jokes.

19.  I'm jealous that you brought each of the boys to play golf with you.  I know I can't hit the ball to save my life, but it was such a huge part of you that it always bothered me that you didn't share it with me.  (It's like that "mountain"--which I've since discovered is really more of a small hill--at Breakheart that you always took the boys to see but I was too little.  I'm bigger now.  Grown up.  I can golf.  Sort of.)

20.  I'm proud of you.  I know that there are things you've done in your life that are not things to be proud of.  But you also worked hard at a job you loved,  taught me to read at the age of three and fostered a love of a good Stephen King book, laughed at losing half a finger because it bettered your golf grip, weren't afraid to hug or kiss your kids, fought cancer as hard as you could, and left at the moment you chose to leave.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


I have a new piece on The Good Men Project's All Things Geek today. If you have a fantasy or sci-fi novel in your back pocket, Her Universe Press, the new publishing company by Ashley Eckstein (voice of Ahsoka Tano on Star Wars Rebels) has an open call for submissions!

Read more here:

Sunday, January 24, 2016

To Be A Writer

I've been slow to post lately, though I do have a pretty good reason.  I've been working on a novel, and after years of working on writing the story that comes after, I realized that what I really needed to tell was the story that comes first.  For an early Christmas gift my mother gave me a James Patterson writing class.  It's through a company called Master Class, and for less than $100 I was able to get tips from the author, interact with the class, and get feedback and resources all in one place.  It was interesting, and James Patterson is an engaging speaker. I loved the class, but the section on outlining was where I really learned something.  In my head, outlining involved paragraphs and supporting facts and a beginning and an end.  Mr. Patterson has a completely different method of outlining, and while I didn't end up using his method, it opened my eyes to the idea that there were many different ways of outlining.

I tabled the book I'd been working on and went back to the beginning.  I had written a short story a while ago, and loved it, but re-reading it made me realize that it should be the start of the first novel.  I took the short story and made it into my first draft during National Novel Writing Month, a whirlwind 30 days where you spend every minute of your life completing 50,000 words of your novel. 

Shortly before NaNoWriMo, my editor at The Good Men Project's All Things Geek, Alex Yarde, had shared the news that Her Universe, a female-centric chic geek apparel website founded by Ashley Eckstein, entrepreneur and voice of Star Wars Rebels' Ahsoka Tano, was branching out into publishing.  Her Universe Publishing was looking for female writers--that's me!--who had a fantasy or sci-fi manuscript--again, that's me!--with a preferably female protagonist--wow, that's me, too!

I sent along my information and a five page synopsis of the story, and set about the onerous task of waiting.  In the meantime, I wrote and edited--I've found that writing involves a LOT of editing.  In the back of my head, I was convinced I'd get the dreaded "no thanks", or "good luck placing it elsewhere."  This was my baby, my story, my people.  If they didn't like it, it was telling me I wasn't good enough.

Two months later they asked for my manuscript. 

I panicked.  It wasn't perfect yet!  I couldn't send it yet, could I?  I worked on it for three days straight, avoiding housework, cooking, children, husband, and in some instances, eating or sleeping.  I did what probably would be frowned upon in most cases, and sent them my first draft, explaining that it hadn't had any heavy editing yet.  In this case, the first draft didn't have enough conflict (I felt), so I set about rearranging a few sections to fix that while I await the response yet again.  

I dragooned a few people into beta reading to get feedback, and I did some more editing.  I figured out how to use Scrivener to make an e-book format for my novel, so I (and my betas) could read it on a Kindle. 

It looks so pretty on a Kindle.  All rights belong to this author.

If you write a lot, and you're looking for something better than Word for plugging your thoughts in, take my advice and buy Scrivener.  It comes in both Mac and Windows versions, and it makes rearranging sections, comparing chapters, and keeping up continuity throughout your novel a snap.  It even has a virtual cork board and an outliner if you choose to use them.  You can even try it for free!

So this is where I am, waiting for more feedback from beta readers and waiting for a response from Her Universe Publishing.  I've begun plotting the second book.

Here's the important part.  I began writing about this character in fits and bursts since I was twelve years old.  I know, that makes me sound a little crazy.  But it's true.  This is the first time in 31 years that I've completed this story (or at least one part of it) from start to finish.  I credit three things with my determination to finish:  James Patterson's Master Class, which gave me encouragement and new ways of looking at novel-building; Her Universe Publishing's willingness and desire to reach out to female authors of fantasy and sci-fi; and my eldest daughter's interest in writing.  I've determined as I wait that if HerUniverse says no, I'll try another publishing house, and another, but even if I have to self-publish, I want PunkGirl to see that it's worthwhile to follow that writing path.  To complete the story.  To be a writer.