Anniversary Rêveuse

So believe it or not, today is the one-year anniversary of the Rêveurs Revelation Fashion Project!  Fabulous, right?

First, I want to say how grateful I am to everyone who has participated in this along with me, either in pictures or on their blogs or just by doing it in their shy, subtle way, dressing the part with a whisper in my ear and a Mona Lisa smile each month.

Second, congratulations to the people who found out about this jaunt and then read The Night Circus and fell in love with it.  (You’re welcome.)

Third, thank you also to the people who have encouraged me to keep doing it.  I have been thinking about this project quite a bit lately, what with the anniversary of it approaching and all, and I’ve decided Continue reading “Anniversary Rêveuse”

R.I.P. Count von Count

One…one piece of sad news to unfortunately mar your hopefully otherwise wonderful start to the weekend…ahh haa haaaaa.

Jerry Nelson, the talent behind Sesame Street‘s Count von Count and The Muppets’ Robin (Kermit the Frog’s nephew) and Mr. Snuffleupagus, among many other beloved characters, has died.  (Here’s the LA Times article about it.)  I’m not sure the world will ever be the same.

Is it any wonder I turned out the way I did when a vampire taught me to count?  He very probably is where my counting obsession came from.

Check out this beautiful image made by Ivan Guerrero, posted on my Facebook author page, which is currently floating around FB and Twitter and probably everywhere else right now.

And Robin the Frog?  I loved him.  He was the Frog Prince in The Muppets’ version of the fairy tale.

I had the recording on vinyl.  Sweetums as the Ogre and his mother The Wicked Witch used to frighten me half out of my wits when I’d listen to it.  And Melora, the lovely princess and Robin’s love interest, had been cursed with Wackbird Talk.  That fascinated me to no end, and I used to speak in Wackbird Talk myself because it was slightly more interesting than Pig Latin.  I was so struck by her unusual and euphoric name, I slightly altered it and used it in my first novel.

When my own children began watching Sesame Street, I was fortunate enough to catch this clip, which is one of my favorites.

I invite you to share your favorite clip of Count von Count or Mr. Snuffleupagus or Robin or any of Nelson’s other awesome characters in the comments section, if you are so inclined.  Be well.

Best Commenter Awards

So I was recently awarded a Dodisharkicorn Best Commenter Award from the lovely ladies over at Snobbery.  (Yay!)

In fulfillment of this award, there are some things I must do.  First, proudly display my award badge, which I will do here:

Here it is! 🙂 The dodisharkicorn lives!

Next, I must answer the following questions:

  1. What is your third favourite colour?
  2. Would you rather be:  a Jedi, a Pokemon Master or a Wizard/Witch?  Choose ONE.
  3. Who is your favourite Doctor?
  4. Can you whistle?
  5. Would you name your child Sirius Albus?
  6. What is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything?
  7. Do you own a lawnmower?
  8. Do you think Legolas is a (very pretty) pansy?
  9. What’s the trashiest thing you’ve read in the last year?  Should we cover it for Trashy Tuesday?

My answers are below.

Next, I must announce my winners and pass them on to my Top 5 Commenters.  However, since the directive of the original award is to “spread it around like Nutella” and some of my commenters are tied for frequency, I’m giving it to more than five people.  Lucky them!  They are (drumroll…)

1.  Cindy and Seema tied for 1st place

2.  Kara in 2nd place

3.  Alanna, LouAnne, and Peggy tied for 3rd place

Now, this award is all about frequency.  Please rest assured that all my commenters are awesome in terms of quality!  And if you weren’t named this time for the award, you definitely have the chance to participate more on the blog to increase your chances for next time.  (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)

So winners, please answer the questions!  You may do so in the comments here, so that we can all enjoy them, or if you have blogs of your own, please pay this award forward there and link back to this post.  (It’s just good for your karma to do so, and you know it.)

To set a shining example, I will now answer these difficult questions to the best of my ability.  Enjoy.

1.  My third favorite color is emerald green.

2.  What would I rather be?  It’s a very tough choice between a wizard/witch and a Jedi, but I think I’m going to have to go with Jedi Knight.  I once dressed up as one for work — I teach in a high school — for a themed costume day.  The theme was “Come Dressed As What You Want To Be When You Grow Up,” and when I was a kid, Jedi was high on my list.  My costume was awesome.

3.  My favorite Doctor is probably David Tenant because I like his other work.  Sadly, I missed the boat on Doctor Who decades ago and have only a fleeting familiarity with it.  Heresy, I know, and I hope you will all forgive me this severe cultural transgression.

4.  I cannot whistle and am thus an embarrassment to my family and to my species in general.

5.  I would name my child Sirius Albus if his father were Harry Potter.  Beyond that, this is an exclusively theoretical question, so I’ll just say, sure.  Why not.

6.  42.  This one’s almost too easy.  RIP Douglas Adams, you betoweled hoopy frood extraordinaire.

7.  I own a lawnmower in the sense that my husband has one, and what’s his is mine and what’s mine is his. But you’re not likely to see me lay a finger upon said lawnmower, unless it needs to be moved from behind my car before I back out of the driveway because my husband left it there.  Reciprocally, my husband has a collection of absolutely exquisite hats he wouldn’t touch with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole. I like to wear them when I go out for tea.

8.  Yup, I sure do.  Please observe this photograph from very shortly before Peter Jackson’s first LotR movie came out, of my darling husband who is as unpansyish as a man can get and still be intellectual and liberal, and of his cat who is no longer with us.  For further evidence of his unpansyishness, see the note about the hats, above.

My cute hubby with his cat Sarah Jane: He looks sort of like Beowulf, don’t you think?

9.  Although there’s a tough competition between this and any of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, I think the trashiest thing I’ve read lately must be A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole.  Please feel free to cover it for Trashy Tuesday.  I’m not sure I could do it TT justice myself, although I might blog about it at some point in the future.  I promise, I do read quality stuff, too, most of the time!  In fact, Cole’s book really didn’t have much competition here.

So that’s all!  Have a good week.  Award winners, comment here with your answers and demonstrate just how awesome you are, and how sincerely you deserve this award!

Reminder About Poetry Contest, Which Ends This Weekend

Hey there.  I just want to bump this back onto your radar, in case you’ve lost track of time.  The inspired-by-another-poet poetry contest ends this weekend, when March runs out.  (Click here to get to the original contest and see the entries that have come in so far.  They’re really enjoyable!)

I know there are more poets out there, so don’t be shy.  Participate.  It’s good for you.

Cheers!

Victoria Love “Just Breathes” New Energy into a Long-Admired Music Career with Latest EP

I’m not a singer-songwriter, but listening to Victoria Love’s new EP makes me wish I were.

The cover of "Just Breathe" features Victoria Love herself.

Imagine taking Arabic rhythms and then twisting them slightly to the side.  Now fill the space with gothic-friendly vocals and a host of stringed instruments.  Give lyrics with familiar and relatable themes:  redemptive love, righteous indignation, artistic passion.  What you’ll find when the dust settles is Just Breathe, a haunting five-track disc that will make you want more even if this isn’t the sort of music you normally listen to.

Ever since I got this disc, I’ve been listening to it over and over.  It’s been on rotation in my car so often that I think my kids are starting to learn the words.  But I’ve also seen Victoria Love live in concert, many times over the years — the monthly Elle Acoustique show at the House of Blues in Houston is her brain-child — and one thing that I really like about Just Breathe is that the record complements the energy of the live performance, rather than the disc and the live show trying to be copies of each other.  This is refreshing.

One of the tracks, “Yours for the Taking,” begins stealthily.  I knew this song from her live shows for a while before I heard it recorded, and it was a new experience when I popped the disc in.  I thought of Trent Reznor, but not in his usual aspect; now he was being seduced by an industrial/tribal bellydancer.  A temporary situation, because she’d be abandoning him before the end of the song, and even though he’d be affected by it for a long while afterward, he wouldn’t have any regrets.

Maybe I’m letting my imagination run away with me?  I don’t know.  The thing about this music is that the sound is so full, it’s easy to recede into it, to let the layers of instrumentation — including exquisitely supportive violin, cello, bass — pile on top of you while your subconscious plays around with the vocals.  It’s a singularly fun experience to lose yourself in it for a while.

Love has, frankly, a beautiful voice.  And her lyrics have depth, subtlety — just enough to make even a reserved person want to sing along out loud — but there’s nothing obscure about what she’s singing.  The effects on the plugged-in tracks are tasteful, not at all overpowering.  They add to the mood rather than conspicuously announce their presence, a balance which can be difficult for some artists to achieve.  I rather enjoy that the last verse of “Needs” is actually “sung” by an electric guitar, as if the instrument were taking over for the singer.  (When you hear the song, you’ll understand.  In fact, you’ll probably understand a lot.)  The acoustic bonus tracks are a real delight.

If you keep up with my Facebook page, you’ll note that I posted some of her songs there.  I can’t wait for the full-length album.

See videos, hear music clips, buy the EP, and generally find out more about this artist and Elle Acoustique (a non-profit which seeks to promote musical education for women and girls of all ages) on her website:  http://www.VictoriaLoveMusic.com

Hallowe’en Routines

My son awakened me the other day, his beautiful blonde dumpling noggin very close to mine at the side of my bed, saying, “Mommy, I didn’t have an accident.  I need fruit snacks.”

It was still dark outside.  It was so dark, in fact, that the sun wouldn’t be rising for a couple more hours.  Groggily I registered this fact, and then reflected on the relative merits of pushing the kids’ bedtime back a little bit so they wouldn’t wake up so early.

“Mommy, fruit snacks,” he continued, reminding me of the bribe we’ve offered him for not wetting the bed.  (And yes, that method is the current expert opinion.)  “Mommy, please.  I didn’t have an accident.”

“Okay, sweetie, just a minute,” I said.  “I’m proud of you for staying dry.”

“Me too.  Can I have my fruit snacks now?  I even got myself dressed.”

I rubbed my eyes and tried to focus them, thought I bet I’m going to need glasses soon, and then finally saw that he was in fact dressed for school.  Even his little leather belt was around his waist.  It was over his untucked shirt instead of through his belt loops, but we’ll take that.

By now Daddy was awake, too, and lauding our little man on his morning’s accomplishments.  Our son is four years old, and these little milestones are a big and welcome deal, one that, in the not-too-distant past, we felt like we wouldn’t ever see.

I rolled out of bed and paddled down to the kitchen to get the fruit snacks, rewarded him, and then decided it was in fact late enough for me to be up and in the shower.  The morning routine commenced, and I was grateful it didn’t start with whiny, sleep-deprived children resisting the sullen call of the Wake-Up-For-School Fairy (also known as a cranky parent who really could have had another three or four hours of sleep, too, thanks very much).

They say that, when training one’s very young children, three days of a consistent pattern establishes a routine.  So sleep training and potty training and brush-your-teeth training and stories and songs at bedtime, as well as a host of other things, need only three days or nights in a row to become habit.  This is delightful rhetoric, an optimistic forecast that many parents will probably laugh at in hindsight.

As much as I enjoy a certain degree of spontaneity in my life, I have to admit I am a creature of habit, one who appreciates routine and order, even if I’m not great at maintaining them myself.  Routine and order are predictable, stable, familiar.  They are a safeguard against anxiety.  They make enormous tasks conquerable.  They give us something to hold onto when our lives go spiraling out of control.

* * *

Hallowe’en is one of my favorite holidays — second, in fact, only to Christmas.  I consider it the official kick-off to the holiday season, the very best time of year.  In the autumn, the weather is better, everything feels festive, the semester is winding down to its glorious end, and people in general are more generous and kind and happy.

Yes, of course I’m generalizing.  I’m sweeping broad strokes across my palette of existence.  This leaves me able to appreciate the specific details of every holiday season in a fresh way, since those details tend to shift around in surprising little moments.  Most of the time they are happy or pleasant at least.  And yes, “real life” still intrudes sometimes.  But if I pan out from the scene and look from a wide angle, I will see that life is very good, and I will count my blessings and be grateful.  I don’t want to forget to do that, though it can be easy to do so in the crazy-hectic routine of every day.

* * *

When I was in eighth grade, my social circle consisted of very few people.  There were a couple of other kids in my class at school whom I was sometimes friends with, but mostly I was dramatically unpopular.  I had been at that awful school since kindergarten, and although I’d had friends in the elementary grades, over the years they’d moved away, been held back a year, decided I was just too weird for them — whatever.  By eighth grade, all I could think about was graduating and moving on to high school.  Sure, most of the kids I had gone to junior high with would be there with me — the girls at least:  this was Catholic school, after all — but all the other Catholic grade schools in Houston and some of the public ones, too, would be feeding in as well, and so the potential for friendship would yawn wide like the Grand Canyon.

I did have two very good friends, however, though neither was my age and neither attended my school.  They were two of my first cousins, Meredith and Chuck.  Chuck was in sixth grade, Meredith in fourth, and because our large extended family tended to get together a lot on the weekends, I could reliably depend on something like a social life, and so the trauma of having to go to school every day where I was, for all intents and purposes, treated like a bug, was lessened a little bit.

On Hallowe’en, that year I was in eighth grade, my twelve-year-old cousin Chuck died.  It was unexpected.  He’d been in the hospital three days.  He’d been diagnosed earlier that week with what my mother referred to as “acute adult leukemia,” and then in the hospital he’d contracted strep throat.  That afternoon — it was a Saturday — they’d turned off his life support, and the shell of a precious boy who had once been my cousin was no more.

* * *

I would spend the next six weeks crying myself to sleep, unable to articulate to anyone what I was going through, but the days following the death were undoubtedly horrendous for everyone.  I remember the tortured face of my Great-Aunt Mary, leading the San Antonio contingent, climbing the steps to my cousins’ front porch with arms flung open to embrace my grieving uncle.  I remember Sister Jane, the principal of the high school I would be attending next year, coming over because Chuck’s older sister was already in ninth grade there, and Sister Jane knew it was her duty to come.

The monsignor at my school, Father James Dinkins, did not come to my house, or to my cousin’s house.  At the All Saints’ Day Mass Monday morning, his homily in front of the entire school was about an experience he’d had as an adolescent, when his twelve-year-old cousin had died of leukemia.  I remember nothing else about his sermon except that it seemed strange he would have had any experience like mine, and I assumed he was making it all up, straight out of The Catcher in the Rye, directing his homily at me without making eye contact, without offering me or my family a word of direct support, even though we’d been in the parish for years longer than he had.  He appreciated my family’s tithes, that much I knew, but that was where the social contract ended.

That afternoon, he paid a visit to my eighth grade class, and after a few words of pleasant greeting with everyone in general and a little discussion about what everyone had done for Hallowe’en, he walked right up to my desk and said jovially, “I understand you had a very interesting weekend,” as if I’d gone white-water rafting or deer hunting for the first time.

“Yes,” I said quietly.

“Do you want to tell us about it?” he asked.  I glanced at my teacher.  She looked taut, ready to spring into action, assuming her help would be needed or welcome, or permitted.  The priest was between her and me.  I shifted in my desk.

“My cousin died,” I said.

“What was that?” he asked, leaning his ear over.  I could detect whispers in the room around me.

I cleared my throat.  “My cousin died.  He was twelve.  He had leukemia.”

“Oh, that’s very interesting,” Father Dinkins said, standing straight again.  I excused myself to the bathroom and didn’t come back for a while.  When I returned, he was still chatting pleasantly with the class, no doubt about something dogmatic and theological.  He and I did not make eye contact again.  I heard from my parents later that when the news of our family’s tragedy broke, our pastor said, “The Jamails are a big family.  They will console themselves.”

* * *

I didn’t know how to mourn something so profound as the death of one of my best friends.  I quit playing the piano and even stopped, for a while, writing stories.  I began wearing black on the weekends.  I tried to find as many pictures of my cousin as possible to make a collage for my room until my mother scolded me not to build a shrine.  Everyone was sad, my grandmother explained, enfolding me in a hug and telling me I needed to stop crying.

At school a couple of boys who sat next to me in science class asked me, “Are you mourning?”

I nodded my head.  “Yes, I am.”

“Are you nighttime?”  Their punchline, hilarious to them, stung me just the way it was supposed to, and I swallowed my grief down, understanding that it was not a safe thing to show.

Eventually, what saved me from a crippling sadness was stoic routine.  I had things to do.  Tests to study for.  A school newspaper column to write.  Essay contests and spelling bees to win.  That grade school to put behind me as I embarked on a hopeful time, high school.  Eventually, life continued on at its genial pace, and all the grief I and my entire family was feeling got tucked away into the corners of our traditions, one more new wrinkle to incorporate.

* * *

I got back to celebrating Hallowe’en slowly at first.  Even though I still dressed up and participated in parties and trick-or-treating, it was a long time before I could look at my candy bucket and not remember the handfuls of Jolly Ranchers and tiny Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that had been dropped into my cousin’s casket with him by his classmates.  I spent about a decade letting my grief for him be the go-to sadness I defaulted to when I was feeling depressed, the thing I most remembered when someone else died, the gravitas that I, as a young adolescent, could not shake and which fed my Otherness.

I’ve never been much of a drinker.  The only time I’ve ever drunk alone was on what would have been Chuck’s twenty-first birthday.  I had just broken up with a boyfriend whom I should have kicked to the curb six months before.  He wasn’t dealing well with the break-up and wanted really badly to be friends.  I went to a pub and ordered myself dinner and an imposing pint of Ace Pear in honor of my cousin.  The boy I’d just dumped showed up at the tail end of it, invading my solitude, and I let him listen to stories about my cousin.  He looked eager and supportive and hopeful.  I told him good-bye and left him at the table without even a glance over my shoulder.

Later, at home, I launched myself into my routine, locking my grief back into the recesses of my heart for what I hoped would be the last painful time.

* * *

It’s been nearly twenty-five years since my cousin died, and here I am writing about it — which I hadn’t really intended to do when I sat down to write today.  Hallowe’en is a big holiday at my house now.  And in my immediate family.  Again.  My parents picked the holiday back up once I had children of my own.  Traditions, you know.  Comfortable, familiar habits.  Costumes, candy, knocking on strangers’ doors in search of treats that will bring the little ones joy.

We put out decorations every year:  witches, spiders, pumpkins with knowing grins.  And always ghosts, the representation of our collective fears and hopes about the afterlife.  We traipse around on what the old religions tell us is the night when the veil between the worlds — those of the living and the dead — is the thinnest.  We light candles.  We don’t tell the kids they can’t eat candy before bedtime and with breakfast the next morning.  We watch Tim Burton movies.  We dress ourselves in costumes, costumes, costumes.  My girlfriends are I wear pointy hats to tea.

And then we put it all away until next year. We focus on Thanksgiving.  The guest list, the order at the butcher’s market.  The sculpted turkey with a double-fan scrollwork tail I put on the mantel for decoration.  The ceramic pumpkin tureen and little pumpkin bowls which will hold my famous creamy pumpkin soup in just a few short weeks.  And the discussions with my husband over what we’re going to get the kids for Christmas this year.  The ghosts recede, and this too is their habit.

Ah, routine.

Mama Spider’s Sacrifice

This essay has been removed because an updated version of it appears in THE MILK OF FEMALE KINDNESS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF HONEST MOTHERHOOD, along with the writings and artwork of others on the theme of motherhood. 

 

Milk of Female Kindness front cover

 

 

Click here to purchase the anthology from Amazon, or contact me directly at forest.of.diamonds@gmail.com for a signed copy.