I think we can file this under “Unqualified Success”

Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

— C.S. Lewis, from “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”

Anyone who has read much on this blog or who knows me outside of it knows that my love for writing and, of course, reading, does not only extend to “great literature.”  It extends deeply into stuff which ranges from “published but silly” to “fanfiction and supremely silly.”  I’ve read Shakespeare and Ovid and Bronte, and loved them, but I’ve also read stories written by 13-year-olds about cartoon characters and loved those, too.

Sometimes a person just needs to love what they love without feeling bad about it.

And that’s not just about people of varying gender expressions.

It’s about EVERYTHING.

When I was 5, I was introduced to the cartoon Rainbow Brite.  It’s a perfect show for kids in that age-range, and it hooked me completely.  But what came as a great consternation to my parents was that I CONTINUED to love it long past age 5.  They felt it was too childish for me, not advanced enough for my growing age, intelligence, and awareness.  They worried that it would stunt me to love something aimed at barely-out-of-toddlerdom.

What they couldn’t understand was that the only thing which could stunt me was to prevent me from loving the thing I loved.  And still love.  Though differently.

Rainbow Brite is not epic, Nobel-worthy work, but it has great value.  It was the first cartoon I ever saw as a child which was uncompromising in its feminism and egalitarianism.  Rainbow goes on a quest as ambitious as any Frodo or Taren or Luke Skywalker or Aladdin or Indiana Jones.  She defeats an evil monster on her own and wins rule over a kingdom which she is charged to defend against further evil.  She accepts the responsibility for caring for the planet Earth as a daily job — while her friends are playing games or having fun, she goes to her daily work of keeping the Earth beautiful and filled with joy.  The only times her gender ever comes up is in contrast to a few boy characters who argue that her competence is somehow lessened by her being a girl, which she promptly proves to be wrong.  Rainbow outsmarts various villains, enters into magical “combat” without backup, saves the universe, and continues to carry the mantle of leader and ruler and joy-bringer.  She has friends who help her, she has allies who fight with her, but she never needs to be saved or rescued from the harshness she herself is sworn to defeat.

Yes, of course, sometimes there are dumb episodes or setups.  Yes, of course, there are aspects of the story which can be problematic (or downright confusing for anyone who actually tries to reason out her capacity to ride a horse in the actual void of space at speeds that would make Star Trek engineers faint).  Yes, it is still a cartoon aimed at little girls.

But it has great value.  It set me up to believe that if you work hard, if you are willing to sacrifice and do the right things, if you hold onto joy and hope, you can do anything.  Even if you’re a girl.  Is there any doubt why I loved it?  And why it stuck with me for so long?

More and more, mainstream movies and media are realizing that it is not only possible to make childrens’ programming accessible and enjoyable to adults, but it is profitable.  It’s not just about dropping one or two jokes into a movie to shore up parents stuck watching something with their toddlers.  It’s about making art which works on various levels for everyone.  Some of the best movies of the last few years are traditionally for kids, but have been touted and loved by adults; Pixar in particular is incredibly good at this.  Think about Up, Inside Out, Toy Story 3.  Yes, movies for the PG crowd.  But it was adults who bawled their eyes out while their kids laughed at the fart jokes.

If you investigate the fanfiction I write, you’ll find it’s mostly cartoons.  Some anime, which has much fuzzier lines of adult vs kid content, and some live-action “grown up” shows, but mostly I stick to American cartoons.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of my most active fandoms.  Mighty Max, a show literally invented to sell plastic toys to 8-year-old boys is one of the closest things to my heart — ever.  I have written stories for Rainbow Brite (of course I have) and Teddy Ruxpin, and I’ve spent time carving out an entire mythology to go along with their worlds to explain what threads are left hanging by the originals.

The fact of my deep love for what one could easily call “childish” stuff does not, however, mean it is wrong.  The fact that these cartoons for kids not out of kindergarten give me profound, life-affirming joy, is not wrong or demeaning or indicative of some kind of immaturity.

Because really?  All it means is that these things have what I need in the moment I need it.

Sometimes you want complexity, deep political messages, complex sexual tensions.  There’s lots of places to get those between books, TV, movies, and the internet.  Sometimes you need something gritty and too real and bloody just to help you see your own world clearly.

But I think there’s a great mistake in thinking ONLY those things can entertain, can offer value, can hold you up.  If you count on Game of Thrones to alleviate all your worries about the real world, I fear you’re going to be in trouble.  GOT may have many amazing messages and things to say, but it is not necessarily going to be a comfort.  Not all the time.

Sometimes, comfort is what you need more than anything.

If it hasn’t been obvious from the last few weeks of my posts, I’ve really been struggling here in 2017 with my anxieties and depression.  I’ve swung back and forth between an empty apathy even to the things I truly and always love, and a dark despair edging close to danger.  I’ve had enormous difficulty finding the clarity and calm inside myself to write, to sing, to want to engage any part of me that’s real in a world I don’t want to be in.  To live creatively, you have to live with your chest torn open and your heart bared to every slice of wind and ice and iron that flies around in the wider world.  I don’t think it’s possible to be an artist and to also be immune to the world in which your art emerges.

At this time in 2016, I had written about 143,500 words.  In 2015 I was at 118,650; in 2014 I was around 131,260.  This year?  2017?  I’m somewhere around 76,000 — a little bit more than half what I did last year.  And they aren’t all complete stories, either; for every one that I’ve actually finished, I have another I began but just couldn’t pull all the way together.  It’s been enormously frustrating and vexing.  It isn’t a block and it isn’t lack of interest or discipline.  This is anxiety and depression, pure and simple.

And for me, for me personally, the only cure I’ve ever had to get me writing even in the midst of my worst downturn, is a shock of joy and love.

Early in 2015, I was in a dark place.  It was different from here, tinged with far more depression and far less existential anxiety, but it was no less damaging or dangerous.  And yet I still wrote 118,650ish words in the first months of the year.  How?  By writing in fandoms that fed me when nothing else did.  More than anything else, I needed Donatello and Quatre and Max.  I needed them like I needed air, and nothing else worked.  I needed them because they fed bright happiness into the dark well that was dragging down everything else inside me.

This year, I turned to them again, but they just didn’t hold me.  I wrote a bit and petered out just as quickly.  What I needed this year was something else, something new.  Something I had yet to find.

So I floundered.  I pushed and tried to write in familiar fandoms and unfamiliar ones.  I let my new discovery of and love for the show Leverage carry me for a while.  I went back to my TTSA ‘verse and put an AU spin on it so I could put psychics into Jaegers.  I started several works that have been on my to-do list because they helped bandage up the parts of me that are bleeding.  It wasn’t enough, but it was something.

Anybody with depression or anxiety will tell you that something, even if it isn’t halfway to everything, can keep you afloat.  Even a twig is better than nothing if it’s all you have to keep you from drowning.  I made a basket of my twigs and I clung to them.

Because eventually, if you hold on long enough and keep fighting the water and keep looking for alternatives, eventually a life raft will come into view.  You might have to break yourself in half to reach it, but when you do, you’ll get out.  You’ll be okay.  You’ll have something strong enough and stable enough to carry you through the storm.

I’ll try to talk about that part more some other time.

Because now, mostly thanks to the FX channel running a bunch of wacky movies together on a night when I was too listless to do anything else but sit and stare, I have found something new to hold onto, something new to cherish and fill me with effortless joy.

Yes.  It is stupid.  It’s a movie fandom made for 8 year-olds.  It’s a movie that didn’t even do particularly well at the box office or with the reviews it received.

But it struck just the right tone, hit all the right emotional notes and dramatic points for me.  It made me laugh; it filled me with ideas; and I’ve watched it 2.5 times in 3 days and can’t wait to watch it again.

As with all things that I find I suddenly love, that also meant my creativity burst open and a world of various new headcanons emerged.

(The last time this happened was when I discovered the TV show The Sentinel and I promptly wrote 4 novels and 14 short stories, almost 400,000 words in 8 months.)

Now, it’s not impossible that this new love will not prove quite enduring enough to hold out and the depression and anxiety will return all too soon.  But right now this child’s movie is exactly what I need to love in order to breathe.  I don’t care anymore if it’s “good” or not by some outside scale.  It’s good for me.  It’s holding me up.  It’s making me FEEL again.

So I’m not going to knock it.  Sometimes a person just needs to love what they love without feeling bad about it.

Right now, I just need to love a competent, charming, genius father and his clumsy, loyal, struggling-for-confidence son.

That love is keeping me together.  And I never would have found it if I had limited myself to “adult” shows and movies and books.  I never would have devoured every fanfic written about these characters I now adore and found myself desperately wanting more.  I found my mind firing at speed again, my heart pounding, and, of course, sighing with dramatic frustration as I realized that these ideas are not something I can tie up neatly in a oneshot.  Looks like I have another novel on the horizon.

There’s another C.S. Lewis quote for this part:

I wrote the books I should have liked to read. That’s always been my reason for writing. People won’t write the books I want, so I have to do it for myself.

–As quoted in C.S. Lewis, by Roger Lancelyn Green

Because when you really love something and it changes you, you want as much of it as you can get.  And if you create as a default approach to the world, it means you write the stories you want and need to exist for you to have.  I have wanted and needed so many stories, and they litter my fanfic portfolio.

(And sometimes other people need those stories, too.  That novel I’mma have to write at some point here?  It’s at least as much for Sarah, my wife and (in this case) more importantly, my beta.  I’m not the only one glomming onto this fandom.  I’m not the only one being fed happiness and betterment by it.  Which means she wants more of it, too.  And I can deny her absolutely nothing.  Blame any subsequent writings on her, if you would.  But credit them to me, of course.)

Rainbow Brite kept me together as a child and as I exited childhood, the example and beacon of the kind of person I could be if I lived without fear.  Mighty Max taught me to think about facing reality and having the courage to keep going even when there was blood on the floor and death on the horizon (yes, it’s for little boys but it is DARK; there’s a reason the Nightmare Fuel section on TVTropes for this show is FULL).  What began as youthful fannish squee became something real, something that influenced the way I think about myself and the life I can build.  Something that held me so completely, I could only add to it, create more of it, and offer it to anyone else with the same love and need.

I don’t know yet where this one will take me — I’m still in the fannish squee stage.  But it WILL take me somewhere, somewhere better than where I am right now.

And I haven’t cared about loving something meant for children since I was a child myself and holding onto the things that brought me joy even then.  Is it too young for me?  I dunno.  Is JOY too young for a person?  Helpless giggles at terrible puns?  How about simple, uncomplicated discussions about the meaning of family?

Sometimes a person just needs to love what they love without feeling bad about it.

I have a deep regard for this dog and his boy, and I finally feel better.


St Patrick’s Day

I have a strange relationship with this particular celebration of Irish heritage and also green doughnuts.  Which, by the way, — no.  Seriously.  We have green milk, green rivers, green beer.  Not EVERYTHING needs to be green today!


When you’re born and raised anywhere near the East Coast of the US, you have at least some connection to St Patrick’s Day.  I remember being in elementary school and there being a regular game of pinching anyone who didn’t wear green.  I also remember one friend of mine getting out of a day full of pinching by virtue of having green eyes.  Then we had green cookies and milk at lunch and made shamrock cut-outs and, you know, all the kid stuff.  I don’t think I knew how much else went on, from dyeing the Chicago River green to the parades and general revelry, until later, though.

I do have a fair amount of Irish heritage, though nobody seems to know exactly how much because both sides of my family approach any study of genealogy like they are considering riding on some sort of horse/cougar mix — they’d just rather not.  But my grandmother can tell stories about the Irish women she heard stories about back in our bloodline somewhere.

My other connection to St Patrick’s Day comes from a religious source by way of YA fantasy.

Among the most formative books I ever read as a kid was the Time Quintet series by Madeleine L’Engle.  Particularly the first three to be published — A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet — made their marks in my mind and my soul.  The last of these is the adventure of Charles Wallace trying to rewrite history so that the world can be pulled back from the brink of nuclear disaster.

Along the way, he makes use of what the book calls “Saint Patrick’s Rune” which is really a poem derived from the more famous Lorica, or Saint Patrick’s Breastplate.  It reads:

At Tara in this fateful hour,
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the wind with its swiftness along its path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the Earth with its starkness;
All these I place
By God’s almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness.

This rune has been with me for the majority of my life, and I’ve always found it helpful to recite in times of stress or irrational fear, like taking off in an airplane or facing down a bad storm.  Whether it has any empirical effect, it’s always helped me center myself, reorient myself in the scope of the world, and find the inner balance to keep going.

So I owe a lot of inner peace and fortitude, especially in my younger years, to Saint Patrick of Ireland.

I’m not nor ever have been Catholic, but I feel gratitude that one person of that order penned (or, allegedly penned) the full Lorica, which is a powerful, swelling recitation that, to a person of the Christian faith, must be like sounding the ultimate anthem of courage and victory.  Even I am moved by its power and its intensity.  Get that thing going, rev it up, and you could take on the world.  For me, it’s been a light of prayer even when I didn’t pray, and I’m grateful for that.

So, between my innate, if muddled, Irish ancestry and my personal appreciation for this work of Saint Patrick, I “do” St Patrick’s Day.  I wear green, usually various pieces of different shades of green.  I will not eat the appalling green doughnut or bread or whatever awful thing someone’s stuck dye in this time, though.  There are LIMITS, you guys.

(Also, I don’t, I DO NOT, attempt a Lucky Charms-like accent or throw around the ‘faith and begorrah’ nonsense because YUCK.  Anti-Irish racism was (and still is?) a thing, you know.  So is cultural appropriation.  And that’s BEFORE you start tossing around problematic stereotypes.)

This is my perfect example, though, of my expression of St Patrick’s Day:

On the one hand, my American, commercialized version in the bow I actually do have in my hair.  My proof of being what amounts to a “Plastic Paddy,” since I truly never have been to Ireland and it would be disingenuous for me to claim to *be* Irish, but my pride in the Green all the same.  And on the other is this pendant which was given to me by my grandmother which she received from one of her own Irish relatives.  The pendant is pure nickel and is based on an Anglo-Saxon or Hiberno Norse long cross penny from a thousand years ago.  Though nobody can really figure out what it says.  The words don’t QUITE match up to the originals.  But this pendant was carried by my bloodline long enough to make it an heirloom, to make it real.  Even if it isn’t “genuine” by any technical definition.

A person can be a lot of things.  I am American, but I am proud to have even a trace of Irish ancestry.  I wear my green in ignorance of what it really means to a person actually from/in Ireland, but I also wear the memory of my family which traces its roots to somewhere in Ireland’s history.  The affinity is real, even if the lineage is lost.  And the respect is real either way.

Happy St Patrick’s Day, everyone!  Enjoy it however you like.

…Even if you like green beer and greener doughnuts.


Defiance the Dragon

The last couple of weeks have been pretty tough on my end.  I’ve had everything from a hospital scare with an elderly and beloved family member to a financial crisis to a stomach-bug-thing in the last 10 days or so.  The accumulated stress of which, as if my bipolar depression decided not to be outdone by circumstances, made everything harder; the nights when I wasn’t imitating my insomniac high school experience were disrupted by nightmares that had me waking up sobbing.

Hey, it happens to everybody sometimes.  With or without any kind of bipolar downswing, depression, anxiety, or anything else that might push its way into the situation.  We all have those periods of accumulated suckitude that our psyches use to beat us to a pulp.

The worst stuff always does seem to happen when we are least able to deal with it.

I was going to write a whole post about how I specifically cope with stuff like this, but the more I wrote, the more it took out of me.  Like giving too much blood, even going through the process of my emerging from the deep well of helpless negativity was threatening to put me back there.  So I stopped.

I will write about it someday.  I’ve got lots to say.  But I’d be a pretty poor model of how one system of coping with depression can work if I actually increased the problem with the telling of it.  I have learned to trust my inner This Shit Is Not Helping Meter.

So, instead, I’m going to focus on something fun.

I have a dragon!Her name is Defiance and I got her from Rocky Mountain Dragons as part of a Kickstarter.  Sarah got one as well, red instead of blue, which she has named Trinket.

The dragons work as small carrying-packs for a cell phone and an ID and not a lot else, but that’s about all we really need for wandering a Con so that’s what we’re going to do.  I’ve already taken Defiance to a leaders’ meeting for CONvergence (more on that some other time) and she received a fair amount of appreciation and got at least one hug.

The only drawback to the pack design is the strap, which feels like it’s cutting into my throat when I wear it strapped under my armpit.  I can affix it lower, tie it to my belt or something, but then it gets tight on my shoulder and sternum.  What I really need to do is find a way of snapping it into whatever cosplay or something I’m wearing so she wouldn’t just have to hang on me.  If I figure it out, there will be pictures.

I’ve always loved dragons.  I also love unicorns, gryphons, sea serpents, and every other magical/mythological creature (who isn’t inherently evil — not a fan of evil, generally).  Defiance is a little bigger and built differently from the fire lizards of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, but there is a definite similarity.  The big dragons of Pern are near-human intelligent and telepathic, forming lifelong bonds with their riders.  The fire lizards, their tiny cousins, are less intelligent and more empathic than telepathic, but they still bond to people and can share memories and feelings.  In the same way, the dragons of the How To Train Your Dragon movie/TV franchise makes dragons more than animals with the mental capacity of a dopey cow.  Toothless is almost as clever as Hiccup, and all the dragons are able to interpret human speech after very little exposure (except Hookfang, who mainly ignores Snotlout; but, hey, I’d ignore him most of the time, too).  They are not pets — they are friends.  Partners.  Companions.

Assuming I can situate her comfortably on my shoulder, Defiance will be my constant companion for CONvergence.

When we were naming our dragons, Sarah opted for Trinket because it seemed like a good name for a fire lizard-sized dragon who might be useful for carrying little things and messages, but flighty and too curious as well.  She’ll carry the little one at CONvergence sometimes, too, or keep it at her side when she’s on shift on the Bridge.  Trinket will be her familiar, her teddy bear protector and her stuffed co-conspirator.  And keeper of her room key, probably.

My Defiance is a little different.

I see my dragon as being closer to the daemons of the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman — an extension of myself as well as a sidekick.  I named Defiance with that in mind, after one of the six pillars of my basic personality/attitude/mental attributes.  I think I am made up of some kind of muddy confluence of honor, loyalty, kindness, courage, endurance, and defiance.  These are the things that help me thrive, that give me strength and energy, that hold me up and sparkle the brightest.

Sometime I’ll go into what they really mean to me and how I mean them about myself.

But of these, Defiance is the one I wanted represented outside myself, especially in places like CONvergence.

I am a rebel, born and undaunted.  Which is hilarious considering that I never did ANY of the supposedly normal teenage rebellion things.  I never tried to miss my curfew, never wanted a tattoo or to dye my hair, never pushed the normal social/parental boundaries.  And yet HOLY CRAP did I ever push boundaries.  Just…not the usual ones.

Why should I be conventional in my revolution?  Why would anyone, given the choice?

Now, I’m not suggesting I am a jerk who fights all rules JUST BECAUSE and plays the constant devil’s advocate or contrarian at every possible turn.  I’m perfectly happy to go along with things that make sense or are inherently healthy or follow with some kind of sensible logic.

But give me a rule “because that’s how it is” when I can poke easy holes in it?  Nope.

This pretty much extends to EVERYTHING.

A dear friend once made a mix CD for me back in college and she named it “Willful Defiance of the Box.”  And I have adopted that as one of my proudest monikers.  The only boxes that hold me are the ones I choose for myself, on my own terms, in my own time/way.  Anything else?  Fuck it.  I will joyfully, happily, gigglingly ignore the rest.  I might not do it in someone’s face or in a cruel way, but you’ll look to see how things are and — whoops, there I am busily being myself and defying expectations again.

I find that if I don’t let myself defy what binds me, I’m too easily confined.

CONvergence is an amazing, soul-affirming yearly pilgrimage, but things will be different for me from now on, having officially joined the leadership of the Con.  And I know I can do what will be asked of me, I know I can help people and I can be the kind of volunteer that will make things better in the end.  But sometimes I get lost in that press of people, thousands of others who are taller or more experienced or prettier or more confident.  I look into the crowd and I forget to hold myself up, my head raised and my shoulders back and my certainty undaunted.

Defiance is going to remind me.

She will be my shield, my physical, constant affirmation that I am at the right place at the right time and I can trust myself.  She will be my grounding reality that just because it would be easier to back down doesn’t mean I should when I really, really shouldn’t.  She will be the external reminder of the defiance that lives in me while unchallenged so I keep burning through the first real challenge.

It’s a slightly cheap psychological trick, but it works.  With Defiance literally perched like a chip on my shoulder, it will help me hold onto that part of myself when uncertainty or discomfort arrives.  She will help me be the best version of myself.  And she’ll be an ice-breaker and a conversation piece as well, all useful when you send an unconfident introvert into a sea of strangers.

Plus, then I get to carry a dragon around!

I will happily admit that I love Defiance with the same love that I had for my stuffed animals as a small child and that I’ll probably hug her just the same on some sort of frequent basis.  But that’s the great thing about CONvergence — I’m probably not the only person who will want to cuddle a dragon that weekend!

Though I will have to explain that I didn’t name Defiance for a class of ships from Star Trek.  That’s pure coincidence.

The only star I named Defiance for is the one I follow from inside my heart.

And you know what?

Having a dragon familiar is seriously cool.  Nerdy and adorable, but cool.

Everything’s better with dragons.