Security Questions Make Me Examine My Life

Due to, apparently, Wedding Thieves, I had to choose a security question for one of our registries this afternoon.  As I scrolled through the options to find my usual choice, I noticed a new one: what was your first concert?

I haven’t been to one, I thought.  Concerts weren’t something I thought of spending my money on.  For one thing, I was raised largely on Disney and Broadway soundtracks, so the closest thing I had to seeing those songs in person was Beauty and the Beast On Ice or going up to the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle.  For another, I didn’t notice advertisements for bands.  In high school, when two of my friends got Death Cab For Cutie tickets, I was utterly baffled by the idea that a band whose name I barely recognized would be nearby.

Then later this evening I suddenly remembered sophomore year, when I was helping the Engineer unpack his new apartment and dancing around to the Love and Theft album I had just bought.  A few days later, the Engineer said, “So do you want to go to CampusFest?”

“W…why?”  (This was not a normal activity for him to suggest.)

“Love and Theft are playing.”

In that case, sign me up.

It was actually pretty fun, crammed onto our campus mall with a bunch of other students, dancing around to the songs (one of which is still “our song”).

And then there was last year, when the Engineer’s sister came to visit because Chase Bryant was coming for a concert.  The Engineer bought our tickets and entered a raffle for a meet-and-greet.  “There are only five people entered right now, so you’ll probably win,” they told him.

He did.

The meet-and-greet was rapidfire and not that fun, but swing dancing on the edges of the room till we were breathless was great.

And I just now remembered that the Commodore and some friends and I went to a One Republic/Sara Bareilles concert at the beginning of sophomore year for a friend’s birthday.

So my initial response to the security question was wrong.  But considering I can’t seem to remember any of these concerts, it still wouldn’t be a great password protector.

Home Part II

the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered

(in games) the destination or goal

The Engineer has lived in the same house his whole life.  I have lived in five – the one in Ohio where I was born, our first house in Washington (the “old old house”), the house that was great for pretending to be Cinderella (the “old house”), and my mom and dad’s current respective houses.  That’s not even counting Dad’s apartments while he looked for a more permanent house.

I dismantled my old room when I went to college, since Bird wanted the big room for her high school years.  I pared down my belongings even more when I moved to our Small College Town full time last year, putting mementos and old school projects into plastic totes for storage in the basement and cramming the rest into Bird’s and my cars to drive across the state.

Fitting, then, that she also accompanied me last week to move the last of my stuff out of that apartment.

I have transferred my affections from one home to another several times.  The Engineer’s childhood room is still exactly as he left it.

But this weekend we’re packing all our now-mutual belongings into a truck for him and his brother to drive to North Carolina.  The Pacific Northwest will still be home even in that gaming sense, because our ultimate plan is to move back here.

So the two definitions for “home” at the beginning of this post are comforting to me, because while we wait for our “domestic affections” to catch up with us and recenter on the opposite coast (at least for a few years), our pretty new townhome and all that goes into it can represent our new goals.  It will be our home base while we explore a new part of the country.  It will be a sort of home for Bird, who plans to take advantage of our presence in her university’s timezone to visit often.  It will be our first home together.

And honestly, though I know we’ll both be homesick at first, the Engineer himself has been “home” to me for a while now.

Move

to go from one place of residence to another
to advance or progress
to arouse or excite the feelings or passions of; affect with emotion
Someone had to drive across the state to move the last of our stuff, so Bird was nice enough to accompany me on one last road trip.
We’re gathering our boxes, mine and the Engineer’s, in my mom’s basement until he and his brother take everything cross-country to our new home in North Carolina.  It’s been a lot of back and forth – it took multiple trips to get all our belongings from our little college town to our respective homes, and we’re still consolidating boxes.
It’s mostly lateral movement so far, both literally, east-west on the map, and figuratively, in that we’re shuffling stuff between impermanent housing options.  But in just a few weeks we’ll be advancing instead of just snuffling.
And our new house is so pretty!
It’s not super fancy or anything, but it’s somewhere we can both see ourselves starting a new phase of adulthood, starting a marriage, and making a home.  I’m in love with the windows – despite it being a middle unit townhome, the big windows let in so much light that nothing feels squished.  Thinking about arranging it, about hanging those two pictures in the blue and silver frames at the landing of the staircase, is exciting.  (And doing laundry.  We have an in-house washer and dryer.  They don’t require coins to operate!)
So although the process of moving has moved me to tears at least twice – I can’t wait to move forward.

Is This Really the Story We Want to Keep Telling?

When I first saw the trailer for Split, I knew I wouldn’t be going to see it.  For one thing, the scene shown in the teaser where three girls are abducted in a parking lot marked it clearly as Horror, and I hate scary movies.  (Not to mention that I already check under, behind, and around my car before I get in, lock my doors, and immediately drive away from any given location, so thank you Hollywood for reinforcing my paranoid safety check.)  Then there was James McAvoy’s character, who apparently is yet another example of Hollywood’s fascination with (and frequent mistaken representation of) dissociative identity disorder (DID).  It seemed unlikely to me that situating a person with mental illness as a kidnapper and probable villain could involve tasteful representation of mental health problems, so that gave me another reason not to bother.

Last week, two of my coworkers began discussing the movie.  They expressed their admiration for the apparent “twist” ending, praised James McAvoy’s acting, then turned to me and asked if I’d seen it.

“No, and I don’t plan to.”

“Why not?” one coworker exclaimed. “It’s awesome!”

“I don’t like thrillers,” I started, “and even more importantly,” louder over their protests that it wasn’t that scary, “I think it’s contributing to social stigma surrounding mental illness by continuing to portray people with those illnesses as automatically dangerous or monstrous.”

They looked at me.  “It’s actually sooooo good!” one of them said, but her voice was quieter.

“I’m sure it’s an interesting story,” I said, “and I’m sure that as far as movies go it has all the drama and suspense that it needs to.  But I don’t agree with perpetuating damaging stereotypes to do that.”

There was a slightly awkward pause.

“His acting was, like, insane, though,” the other coworker finally said, and they were off again.

I have no doubt that McAvoy’s acting in this movie was impressive; just watching the trailer, I was amazed by his ability to differentiate and fully inhabit even the few personalities shown there.  I have no doubt that the writers constructed a compelling enough storyline to accomplish all the goals of the genre.

My problem is with the priorities that this movie represents, the priorities that keep allowing movies like this to be made instead of giving us popular culture filled with realistic and non-shameful pictures of mental illness.  My problem is that even this article in The Guardian outlining cinematic misrepresentation of DID through the years ends with praise for McAvoy’s acting.  We keep putting “It’s a good story!” and “It’s a chance for the actor to show off their talent!” above the damage done by shoving mental illness into the same old categories.  And mental health deserves better from our popular culture.

Individuals with illnesses other than DID suffer from this idea of the “mentally ill monster” too.  Schizophrenia is the most directly affected, since it is often mistakenly conflated with DID and therefore seen as farther along on the “crazy” spectrum.  Depressed people are often assumed to be suicidal, even though the reality is that symptoms vary widely in intensity and depending on the individual.  As for anxiety, our society already mistrusts people who cannot conform to the Extrovert Ideal, so sufferers of anxiety are often watched as though they might “snap” at any moment.

This isn’t just me over thinking things, either.  The American Psychological Association has done studies interpreting the link between media and the perception of mental illness as dangerousness.  While conclusions vary, the researchers agree that this link does exist and that it is actively contributing to continuing stigma against mental illness.

Given all these perceptions and pictures of mental illness surrounding us, no wonder few people seek help when they need it.  Who would want to seek out a diagnosis or admit to having one of these problems?  Who would voluntarily categorize themselves as a monster?

I congratulate James McAvoy on his talent in his chosen profession.  But I refuse to pretend that admiration for a complete stranger is more important than the work we need to do to alter the perception of mental illness in our popular media.  Now, a movie about a man with DID figuring out how to live everyday life despite the society he lives in constantly viewing him with fear?  That’s a movie I’d go see.

Gallivanting Between Grad Schools

The Engineer and I are trying our hand at the travel side of adulting: namely, booking our own flights and transportation to all the grad schools he plans to visit before making the final decision about where he (and I) will live for the next five-ish years.  So for most of the month of March, we’ve been traipsing around the country.  For the week before spring break, we visited two schools in five days:

Purdue

At my boss’s urging, I scheduled a visit to the Purdue Writing Lab, from whence came the amazing resource that is the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) that we use for virtually every tutorial involving MLA, APA, or Chicago style citations.  Needless to say, I nerded out a bit.  Although I plan to find a job off-campus after this year, it was interesting to see how another writing lab operates.

The student union building is basically a castle.  There are stone arches and stained glass windows and double staircases and a hall where people nap on couches that look like they belong in a museum.

Also, we found the not-at-all-sketchily-labeled “Tunnel to Phys. Bldg.” on a door that looked like it should lead to a bomb shelter.  Sure enough, despite some pipes sticking out of the ceiling and a few random sets of stairs that led straight into walls, we found ourselves in the physics basement!

Though I spent most of the days in the hotel or at the Panera next door, the Engineer brought me along to the final dinner with a few professors from the physics department.  One of the profs asked each of us at the table about our area of study.  “Astrophysics.”  “Nuclear.”  “Creative writing…”  He was a tad confused.

The Ohio State University

The day after the Purdue visit ended, we rented a car and road tripped to Ohio (which was weird, since we’re used to much longer trips just to cross our single state, and also when did we get old enough to rent a car unsupervised?).  I was looking forward to this visit even more than the Purdue OWL tour, because I got to hang out with Bird!  The Engineer was whisked away on physics department activities, so I met up with my beloved sister for the evening.  She bought me chocolate covered coffee beans and we talked for hours, as we tend to do.

On our second day, after a slow start thanks to our travel-related exhaustion, Bird and I got breakfast while the Engineer saw the physics research building.  When we went back to her dorm, Bird was shivering and yawning, so I sent her to take a nap while I got some work done at her desk (leading 2 of her roommates to greet me with Bird’s name when they came in the door…for some reason people think we look alike).  Turns out she had a fever, so the Engineer and I told her to go straight to sleep and just got dinner ourselves.

The Engineer and I explored while Bird was in class the next day (she had slept for 16 hours and her fever was gone, so that was good), and then he flew home.  Bird wanted me to go with her to Bible study and a praise and worship thing at church that night, so I stayed an extra night.  It was great to meet everyone at her Newman Center – one of her friends actually ended up giving me a ride to the airport at 4:30 a.m. the next morning, having extended the offer after 5 minutes of conversation!  Sleeping on a dorm room floor for about 4 hours isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but it was well worth it to spend time with my sister.


The next week was spring break, so I actually saw Bird a few days later after a brief return to our own college town.  The Engineer had gone to North Carolina right after Ohio to tour another school without me, so his spring break was a bit abbreviated.  Our vacation was lovely (more on that in another post), but at the end of the week we flew straight out for another round of visits:

Santa Barbara

We’ve agreed that the next time we go to Santa Barbara, we’ll just fly straight in to their airport rather than taking the cheaper-but-much-longer-and-more-headache-inducing route that involves LAX and a 2-hour shuttle ride.  California was pretty, but I was under the weather during our one full day there, so I didn’t get to do much exploring.  On most of these visits, the Engineer and I have sort of tag-teamed it: he goes on the academic, scheduled tours, and I try to get out and get a feel for the surrounding area, since I hope to live and work off-campus for the majority of the time he’s in grad school.  Then we compare notes on our general impressions.  Santa Barbara was fine, I guess, but I am not a warm-weather person.  (As Bird once put it, “We are of strong Norwegian stock.  We were built for 6-month winters and icy fjords.”)  Since the visit was only one day, it was most whirlwind of our visits.

And then we had another 2-hour shuttle ride to get back to LAX.

Boulder

After one full day at home (well, my home, the Engineer’s being 3 hours away), my dad dropped us off at the airport yet again for our final trip: University of Colorado, Boulder.  I got a tour guide of my own on this trip, too, since the Commodore lives in Colorado!  She was kind enough to shuttle us around, bringing us from the airport to our hotel and meeting up with me while the Engineer was busy even though she lives an hour away.

The Commodore and I being bookworms, we spent our first two days wandering around the downtown area of Pearl Street and perusing multiple bookstores.  I limited myself to only two books this time, despite the Commodore being a blatant enabler when it comes to spending money on literary pursuits.  (To be fair, I was equally encouraging of her desire to get yet another book about Tolkien.  But it was one she hadn’t read before!)  We also just hung out in our hotel room and talked, which I’ve missed doing with her since she moved.

Our departure from Boulder was weirdly scheduled, thanks to the Engineer realizing that he had to be back at school on Monday for an unavoidable commitment after we had already booked separate tickets.  My flight was Saturday night, so the Commodore came to pick me up and took me to see her new apartment, where I finally got to meet her guinea pig, before taking me to the airport.  The Engineer stayed in Boulder one more night before I picked him up Sunday morning and we both drove back to school.

The visits were definitely beneficial and will help us make our final decision, but for now both the Engineer and I are just excited to stop hopping time zones and stay in the same place for more than 3 nights in a row!

Review(ish): L.M. Montgomery as Unexpected Mentor

I’m not really sure how to categorize this post, because the extent to which I identified with Lucy Maud Montgomery throughout the first volume of her selected journals had an enormous impact on my impression of that collection. From her opening entry declaring that she had burned all of her childhood diaries (I have more than a few I would like to shred) to her descriptions of the “melancholy” that seized her when she was older (and sounded hauntingly like my experiences with depression), I felt like this woman was my “kindred spirit,” as her most famous character would say.

Anyone who loved Anne of Green Gables will essentially find bonus material in this collection of the beloved author’s journals from 1889 to 1910.  It’s easy to find the places where Montgomery drew on her personal experiences to create Anne’s world, using her own memories and sometimes brutally honest depictions of her own feelings to remember what the emotional turmoil of childhood really feels like.  It’s also easy to see her writing style as it grew into the L.M. Montgomery we know and love.  I could recognize phrases she used directly or in altered form in the Anne books, as well as general sentiments that Anne would later echo.

I could also recognize myself in Montgomery’s inner life, as I said before.

It wasn’t just the melancholia that gripped her in the winter, leaving her without the motivation even to get off couch, as the worst of my own depression has done to me.  It wasn’t just the way she felt about books as friends, the way my own bookshelves act as a comfort when I feel lonely.  It was little things, little dislikes for irritating classmates and frustrations with unseen obstacles to her dreams.  Reading her journals even went so far as to comfort me for my own sporadic entries (I cannot seem to maintain a daily habit no matter how good it is for me).

Maybe I just connected to her as a fellow woman writer.  Maybe this is just one of those things among writers, to seek out a mentor version of yourself in the ranks of those who have gone before.  Maybe it’s just a more generic writer thing (it’s well known, for instance, that many writers have struggled with depression).  Maybe I just felt close to this real person who had created one of my favorite childhood characters.

Whatever the reason, I was not expecting such a personal level of connection when I picked up these journals on a whim at Half Price Books – but I’m glad I did.

Review: People of the Book

This is a book-lover’s book.

The Commodore gave me this book for my birthday/Christmas (the pain of not seeing each other for months now that she lives in another state slightly assuaged by meeting up for a day of gift exchanging and talking and coffee) because she read it and thought I’d like it.  It’s a biography of a book, an illuminated haggadah found in Sarajevo, that the (initial) narrator, Hanna, is hired to examine and preserve.  The tiny clues she finds in the book’s binding and on its pages, like a wine stain (that also turns out to hold some blood) and a cat hair, send the reader into flashbacks showing the book’s history.

Anyone who enjoys that old book smell will love living vicariously through Hanna’s examination of the book, and anyone who enjoys picking up used books with mysterious inscriptions in the flyleaf and marginal notes from previous readers will certainly get a sense of delicious satisfaction from knowing the full story behind the haggadah.  Honestly, the worst part of the story was knowing that Hanna didn’t learn everything the reader did.  Knowing where the blood came from, where the silver clasps had disappeared to, I felt bad for Hanna’s frustration.

With the haggadah as the sort-of protagonist, the surrounding characters need only be developed enough to explain what they do or don’t do to the haggadah.  This meant it was easier to connect with some characters than others, and while sometimes I wondered why particular events were necessary to include, for the most part I enjoyed each piece of the haggadah’s history.

Overall, a well-written, enjoyable read.

4/5 stars on Goodreads.


What book do you wish had a biography? 

NerdCon Stories Part 1: Getting There is Half the Battle

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending NerdCon: Stories in Minneapolis.  I’ll post about the various instances of awesomeness in later posts, but first: the adventure of getting there.

I raced home from work on Thursday to frantically finish packing and dash to the airport, only to receive a notification from my handy dandy airline app informing me that my flight had been delayed. On the plus side, I had time between flights, so I wouldn’t miss my connection. And now I had time to eat some lunch without getting too stressed. Still, I’ve never been good at sitting around and waiting for things to happen or planes to take off. I don’t always like the journeying part of travel.

So I got to the airport in the pouring rain with about an hour to spare, taking the steadily increasing delay into account. And I waited. I made it through our tiny little convenience-store-sized security system. And I waited some more.

When they began boarding, I realized that I had yet to be assigned a seat according to the app (I was flying standby thanks to my dad’s Pilot Privileges). So there was some slight panic as I approached the gate agent and asked, “Is there room for me?” That’s always the danger when you’re non-revving – will someone else, someone who can pay, dash up at the last minute and get you kicked off? Will you find yourself stranded?

I did not. I was quickly assigned a seat in a half-empty plane and made it to Seattle with no issues. My dad and his wife met me there for a brief dinner and hugs before I was the last person let onto my flight to Minneapolis. We landed around midnight local time, but my body clock thought it was only 10:00, so I felt okay. I made my way through the airport to the shuttle kiosk, and I reached for my phone to look up my confirmation code.

It wasn’t there.

I pawed through my bag, upending it in front of the kiosk, sitting cross-legged on the floor and swearing for a good five minutes. It wasn’t there. How could I have been so stupid as to lose my phone in an airport?  Well, if I was lucky, I had left it somewhere outside of security.

I was not lucky.

If I was lucky, someone would find it and turn it in. And someone did, but not until I had called the airport assistance line and left a message describing the phone and telling them to call my dad if anyone found it, and by the time the nice people directed me to the employee who had collected my phone, she had already locked it up nice and safe and inaccessible until regular business hours the next morning. I would have to come back, she said, or they could ship it to me.

Now, I had been without a working phone whilst traveling before, in Nottingham, and I vaguely recalled this initial feeling of immediately wanting to call and text anyone and everyone who might ever want to communicate with me for any reason. The very fact that I couldn’t get through to Mom or Dad or the Engineer made me want nothing more than to hear their voices.

So I fretted all the way to the hotel, resolving to take the light rail to the airport first thing in the morning and retrieve my communicatory abilities.

At the hotel, I met a bow-tied, bespectacled concierge who very nicely informed me that the hotel was sold out, so they were putting me up in the Executive Suite for the night.

“It’s usually used for meetings,” he said, showing me a brochure picture, “but it also has a queen-sized pullout couch!”

I could have cried. It was nearly 1 in the morning by this point, the hour that even my time-zone-differentiated body wanted nothing more than a comfortable place to sleep. Of course, it wasn’t the concierge’s fault, and he gave me Executive Level Privileges and free coffee vouchers for the entirety of my stay, assuring me as he did so that I would of course be allowed to move rooms the next day. Still, upon my arrival at the 23rd floor (really the 22nd since they skip 13, but we’ll ignore that), I was dismayed, not impressed, by the size of the room. There was indeed a faux marble conference table with high-backed chairs around it, a kitchen, a fancy bathroom, a little foyer, and a huge TV. But all I could focus on was the sad little lumpy pillow in the middle of the pullout couch. At least I didn’t have to set it up myself, I supposed. Even so, the room had too many corners, too many things in it to make me feel secure.

Thinking of security, I went to call my parents and the Engineer on the landline to assure them that I had reached the hotel and was not kidnapped or otherwise incapacitated on my way. But none of the long-distance calls would go through. It might have been for the best, since that would have been more expensive than I could afford, but it just made me more upset (we were now approaching 2 in the morning). So I decided to email them all.

Except the WiFi wouldn’t work.

At this point, I’m sure someone of sounder mind than I would have called or marched downstairs and demanded that these things be fixed. All I wanted to do, though, was go to sleep.

And sleep (fitfully) I did, until the phone rang with what I assumed to be my wakeup call.  Instead, it was my loving, long-suffering father, who had gotten a call from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport at 5 am his time, letting him know that my phone had been turned in.


Read about my first day of the convention in NerdCon: Stories Part 2!

Adventures on the Peninsula

Since she was leaving for college in a few weeks (though Mom, Dad, and I were largely still in denial about it), I decided to take Bird with me to visit the Engineer’s family on the peninsula.  She’d never seen it before, and she wanted to meet his dog, so we went up for a few days.

Salt Creek

The first evening, we went down to Salt Creek, one of my favorite places in the world.  As we walked along the beach where the river ran down to the ocean, we noticed an…odor.  The Engineer commented that it smelled like low tide, then added, “Oh.  Or it’s that.”

That was a dead sea lion.  It had been washed up long enough that its ribs and vertebrae were starting to show and the fur was beginning to slough off its skin (I’d forgotten that sea lions had fur, actually).  As we edged around it, Bird, future veterinarian that she is, said, “Aw, it’s cute!”  The Engineer and I did not exactly agree, but at least Bird’s curiosity didn’t let the dead animal ruin the evening.

We walked along (now suspicious of every pile of kelp lest it contain another dead animal), climbed some rocks, and watched the sun set over the water.

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Bird got a cute silhouette shot of the Engineer and me

Hurricane Ridge

After some car troubles, we made it up to Olympic National Park.  The road up to Hurricane Ridge involves a lot of winding turns and a few tunnels hugging the side of the mountain.  At the visitor center, we saw a few marmots in a meadow and an utterly complacent deer sauntering through the parking lot.  Not wanting to stay too long since we had borrowed the Engineer’s mom’s car, we headed up one of the short trails, a 1.5 mile loop that promised “spectacular views.”

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On our way up the trail

As we climbed, we saw a doe grazing on the hillside below us – then noticed her two adorable fawns!  Farther on, a brown shape scurried across the trail, eliciting a yelp of, “Marmot!” from Bird.

“That’s a grouse,” the Engineer said.  I noticed movement at the foot of a nearby bush.  The grouse had a chick with her, a fluffy, energetic chick that seemed to ignore all of its mother’s cackles that probably meant, “Get over here this second or I swear I will feed you to those humans myself.”  Kids, right?

At the top of the trail…well, the view did not disappoint.

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Marymere Falls

Since we seem to make this hike nearly every time I visit the Engineer’s family, we had to visit Marymere Falls before we left.  The trail winds through the forest to find the creek, where you can wade straight into the water from a wide gravel shore.

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20160803_140030Bird pointed to a natural, miniature harbor and said, “That’s where Ratty ties up his boat, and he and Mole can get up to their house through that tunnel in the bank, there.”  We discussed the logistics of hiding the canoe from humans, and where Badger’s house might be (further up in the woods, we decided), baffling the Engineer, who had never read The Wind in the Willows.  (Though he’s quite used to me pointing to little holes in tree trunks and insisting that fairies and elves must live there, so we probably didn’t sound too absurd.)

 

After crossing two bridges over the creek and its tributary, the trail turns steep.  We led Bird up to the higher vantage point first, then followed the loop down to where you can look up at the full height of the falls.  The Engineer and I slipped past the railing and climbed down to the pool at the base of the waterfall.

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Once we’d made it back down the trail, we decided to go for ice cream at Granny’s Cafe, where we met a 12-toed cat!

 

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He looks like he has mittens on!

So there you have it, dear readers: proof that Bird and I do, occasionally, go outside and enjoy ourselves.