The Beautiful Pain of Rick and Morty

Have you watched Rick and Morty? It’s my latest cartoon obsession. Half sci-fi adventure and half dysfunctional family drama, Rick and Morty is about a mad scientist and his grandson, as they hop back and forth between universes, having adventures and imperiling all of mankind.

It’s not a cartoon for everyone, but the stories are so good that they hurt! My ribs hurt from laughing, and my heart aches from all the feels. Here are a few reasons to check it out:

Sunday Night Movies

Life feels different now that P isn’t working. Good different.

What is it like to have my partner at home during the day? It’s like stepping into a parallel universe with minor differences from the one that I’m used to.

  • The days seem longer but the weeks feel shorter.
  • My “ambient happiness level” is improved because I get to spend more time with P.
  • I routinely forget what day of the week it is, unless I have consulting work scheduled.
  • Sometimes lunch magically appears in front of me in the middle of the day.
  • Without his work schedule as an anchor, I keep forgetting to do my chores!

Even though my routines haven’t changed much, so far everything feels like that month we took off last summer, when life got really easy for a while. Hungry? Eat. Tired? Sleep. Bored? Go do something.

You might say we’re just rolling along.

Probably the first time our new situation felt real was the first Sunday night after his last day at work. P asked when we were going to see Batman vs. Superman. I said “Whenever we want. Want to see it tonight?”

We looked at each other like we were getting away with something. Seeing a movie late on a Sunday evening?

How wild!

Lookat

Take that, Monday morning!

There are trade-offs of course, but they haven’t been too onerous so far. We’re frugal-ing hard, doubling down on books from the library, home-cooked meals, and public transportation.

Every dollar we don’t spend goes into our travel bucket. So I’m motivated to keep my spending on track.

We had a fancy dinner out with friends last week and I almost fainted at the bill. Well, not really, because we planned for that dinner as a special treat. It was technically in the budget. But I couldn’t help but think about how many delicious Thai takeouts we could get in exchange for one meal where a snooty waiter explained everything on the menu.

Snooty Meal = $120
Delicious Thai Takeout = $20

Marginal Cost of Snoot = $100

I enjoy restaurant meals, but I’m now that person who smiles politely while wondering why the hell I am paying an extra $100 to have someone ‘explain the menu’ to me like it’s a rare historical document.

Don’t get me started on the $12 baked potato. IT WAS A FUCKING BAKED POTATO.

I’m going off the rails here… Time to get back on topic.

Aside from turning me into a cheap bastard, the only other issue I’m seeing is that it’s harder for me to say ‘yes’ to consulting projects now that P is home. Consulting is still awesome, but I think really hard before I accept work because my favorite person is home and I want to go have adventures with him.

That’s pretty neat, I think.

Why am I writing this post? I want to remind myself not to take any of this for granted. Life has a distinct pinch-me-is-it-real quality to it since P came home.

I’m grateful. I’m awake. And I’m ready for our next adventure.

Emerald City Comicon 2016

Four Days in Geek Heaven

What makes Emerald City Comicon even better? Going in costume!

CheriCostume

This was my fourth year at Seattle’s comic book and pop culture convention and my first time in costume. I chose to go as the latest incarnation of Ms. Marvel, New Jersey’s Kamala Khan. And I quickly discovered that cosplay (that’s geek speak for dressing up) turns a convention into a whole new experience for a few reasons:

  • Instead of being an observer of the convention, you become a part of the entertainment.
  • You have an instant bond with those in similar costumes. It was impossible for Kamala Khan and Captain Marvel to pass in the hallway without waving at each other furiously.
  • People will address you in the name of your character. I was “Ms. Marvel” everywhere I went.

That second one is especially fun. You run across strangers dressed in costume from the same world as you and you are both like YOU LOVE THE THING I LOVE LET’S BE AWESOME TOGETHER. And then there are photos.

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These were fleeting interactions. I never learned their ‘real’ names. But it was a blast!

The happiness from cosplay seems to ripple outwards. It’s an experience I’d been missing ever since dressing up for Halloween became unfashionable. Even outside the con. As we headed home on Saturday a cluster of women headed to the Moore to see a show shouted at me across the intersection. “Hey Supergirl! Whoo! Come rescue us later!”

They laughed and I laughed. It was great. Like I said, the happiness ripples outward and it seems to catch almost everyone. Even our local baristas got in on the fun.

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In four days of Comicon so much happened that it feels impossible to capture. But here are some of the things I enjoyed the most:

  • I bought a fabulous new piece of Lego jewelry from Cutebricks.
  • There were so many Wonder Women. Lassos everywhere!
  • D.C. Comics seemed to be trying so damn hard to catch up to Marvel. They talked a lot about the importance of female characters but what impressed me more than their words was the number of women artists and writers they had.
  • The panel on “Porn and the Cartoonists who Make It” was hilarious and honest and joyful. And also kind of sad because several of the artists had been estranged from their families because of the kind of work they produce. Click here (NOT SAFE FOR WORK!) if you’d like to see the comics they make.
  • I saw an R2D2 “dance” to All About That Bass.
  • Jon Bernthal (Who plays The Punisher on Daredevil Season Two) was charming and philosophical and also kind of prickly.
  • I heard about a few comics that I need to start reading, including Bombshells and No Mercy.
  • We attended a writers’ panel about editing, which was timely because I’m editing right now.

I could go on and on but I won’t. Even with attending all four days of the con there was so much we didn’t see. Every year you pick and choose and each time it’s a unique experience. That’s part of the fun I think.

When we came home late Sunday afternoon I was tired and ready to curl up in a blanket for a while. Big crowded events like that tend to sap my extrovert energy and leave me feeling drained. But it’s a happy kind of tired, for sure. I sat down on the couch with my Ms. Marvel costume and a pair of scissors. I had planned to remove the lightning bolt from the blue dress so I could use the dress for work, but I couldn’t bring myself to deconstruct it! There was too much happiness wrapped up into that little parcel of fabric. So instead I folded it up neatly and set it aside for next year.

Emerald City Comicon 2017!  I’ll be ready.

Where Does Happiness Live?

And does it change as you get older?

When discussing happiness researchers often describe a U shaped curve.

The idea is that you begin your adult life happy and then as you pile on the responsibilities (career, children, caring for aging parents, mortgages) your happiness slowly slides down into the dumps before recovering in your fifties-or-so when you get your freedom back.

Certain rabid childfree people view this curve as evidence that children ruin your life. I think that’s nonsense. But I do suspect our responsibilities can weigh us down in ways we hadn’t anticipated. When you’re trudging through a job that has lost it’s luster and you never have time for yourself but you can’t change anything because you’ve got kids to feed and a house to pay for and you’re mired up to the neck in obligations…  yeah, I can see how that might bring you down.

Does feeling locked-in get in the way of our happiness? Possibly. Then again I’ve always valued my freedom.

P and I are jettisoning responsibilities left and right at the same time that our peers seem to be doubling down on theirs. We’re working less and spending less. And we’re shying away from anything that feels like a long term commitment. Meanwhile many our friends are raising kids, investing in their careers, upgrading their homes and cars, and sinking their roots down deep into the earth.

As far as I can tell we’re all pursuing happiness in our own ways. And that’s good! But does our concept of happiness change as we get older?

When we are in our twenties and thirties most of us are just trying to get by. We’re working to keep our bills paid and our selves fed. We’re trying to build our careers. And if you want kids human biology says you’d better get started.

And then you enter your forties and you see that the decisions you made over the last decade or two have worn certain ruts into your life. If you birthed some kids you’ll spend the next ten to twenty years caring for them. If you’ve built a good career, chances are that it’ll be hard to switch without a big cut in pay.

You’ve built a life for yourself, but is it still the life you want?

Boom! That question tosses you into the throes of the midlife transition.

Old choices that seemed smart at the time may feel constraining.
Old dreams may resurface and haunt us.
Security and sameness might become less appealing.

You might do something crazy!

Pop culture says that we’ll punctuate this time with a shiny red convertible or an extramarital affair but I disagree. Instead midlife can be the time when we finally give ourselves permission to pursue the dreams we set aside in the pursuit of responsible adulthood.  It’s a time to bring excitement into our lives while also appreciating the goodness that’s already there.

That sounds great, but getting there can be tricky.

Losing my ambition and struggling with my priorities and reanimating old dreams and getting rid of stuff… those were my emotional equivalents to the shiny red convertible. And it’s brought me to a new perspective on what happiness is and where it comes from.

I’m feeling excited about my next few decades for a new set of reasons. My responsibilities are fairly light. I’m doing some of the things I always said I wanted to do but never really made time for. I’m still madly in love with my husband. My health is good and my boobs are still pretty high up on my chest. Climate change may be coming to kill us all BUT IT’S NOT HERE YET and the trees are blooming outside my window.

The future may be as uncertain as ever but the right-this-minute is rather sublime.

The right-this-minute is where I’ve been finding my happiness lately. I’m done living for the future (although I’ll be responsible). I’m done worrying about the past (although I’ll appreciate the lessons).

Growing up isn’t easy. I think that’s as true in your thirties as it is when you’re sixteen. And why do we like to pretend we’re done growing up when we settle down with a mortgage and a car? How silly is that?

That’s my latest aha moment. Happiness lives in the right-this-minute. 

My heart says Wow!
My heart says Yes!

Perhaps getting older isn’t so bad after all.

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PS: Where does happiness live, for you? And has it changed as you’ve gotten older?

Halloween in Vegas

It feels good to travel again.

Our home feels hollow without Victor’s  sweetness and gentle presence. I keep reflexively turning back to tell him goodbye when I leave for work.

Our ability to pack a bag and go has been a silver lining. It’s something to look forward to when we’re feeling sad.

For the first time travel has become easy. Yes, we need to coordinate with our jobs. But we’re not workaholics anymore so that isn’t the barrier that it used to be. And we no longer need to arrange for pet sitters or juggle a half-dozen medications or feel guilty while we’re gone.

Last Thursday we zipped off to Vegas for Halloween weekend.  We arrived at our hotel room after midnight and I walked over to the window to see the strip spread out below us like a golden carpet. We tumbled into what felt like a football-field of mattress and slept like the dead for the first time in weeks.

It was a weekend of unfettered play. We took in a gorgeous show, spent a few hours running from zombies and killer clowns at Frightdome, and gawked at the hundreds of costumed partiers lined up at the nightclubs. The food was incredible. The hotel room was bigger than our condo. We walked and ate and (redacted) and laughed and slept and marveled at it all.

Our hotel room had a living room. Yowza.

Our hotel room had its own living room. Yowza.

This is our fourth time in Sin City and while we’ve always enjoyed ourselves this trip seemed different.

Look at the size of our room! Wow!
We have a bath and a shower! Wow!
Hey, the housekeepers arranged our toiletries on the shelf for us. Wow!
Wow. Wow. Wow!

When we had all the accouterments of an upscale city life we thought that Vegas was nice. Now that we’re living like college students again it felt like we spent the weekend on cloud nine.

My lesson in Vegas was that living modestly makes you more appreciative. P and I have become much easier to delight. And it feels so good to be delighted!

We slept in on Sunday and had a nice brunch before grabbing a taxi to the airport.  I befuddled the bellman by lifting my own suitcase into the taxi (I can do that, Miss!) and then used our flight time home to prepare for this week’s strategic planning sessions.

I could get used to this!

Thirty-Eight Books

I read 38 books this year.

That number doesn’t include books that I read for a second time. And I might have missed a few. You can see my updated list on Goodreads.

A writer who doesn’t read is rather like a chef who never eats. And while 38 books still feels a tad low to me I’m happy that I made the time this year to read widely and outside my comfort zone. I don’t much like memoirs but I read a few good ones. I tried thrillers and graphic novels and literary fiction and high fantasy. And while I still prefer murder mysteries and science fiction, I learned just as much from the books that weren’t my cup of tea.

Just because a book is well written it doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy it. The converse was also true! If the story is engaging enough it doesn’t matter that the writing is only so-so. Story and Writing Quality are distinct things in my opinion. Having both is ideal. But if I’m forced to choose I’ll take a good story over good writing any day, so long as the writing isn’t so bad that it’s distracting.

Here are a few highlights from this year’s reading:

  • Elmore Leonard showed me that you can bring a character to life using nothing more than the words they say.
  • Andy Weir showed me that conflict doesn’t need to be dark to be effective. Optimism can permeate a story without making that story lose it’s intensity.
  • Ernest Klein showed me that withholding key details at the right moment can make for an excellent boss-battle.
  • John Scalzi showed me that an author can be successful writing both serious and lighthearted fiction.

I’ve discovered that the books I love the most are fun books. Genre is secondary.

Harry Potter was fun. Ready Player One and The Martian and Redshirts and The Question of the Missing Head were all fun. They are stories that surprise you, delight you, take you on a ride, and leave you smiling as you close the last page. Then like a kid emerging shaky-legged from a roller coaster you say “Again! Again!” and flip back to the front of the book to do it one more time.

If there is one wish I could make for my future books it’s that I’ll learn how to write fun stories.

What makes a story fun? It’s something I’m pondering.

My goal for 2016 is to read at least 52 books – one for each week of the year.  Any suggestions? Drop me a recommendation! I’m on Goodreads and Facebook.

 

Appreciating Comic Books as an Adult

I used to think that I didn’t like comic books.  I tried reading Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Dark Horse Comics after the show ended, and I found it more disturbing than entertaining.

DawnMeme

Dawn and Xander are banging? Gross.

Deciding that you don’t like comics based upon a single reading makes as much sense as throwing down a copy of a Nicholas Sparks novel and declaring that all fiction is barf-worthy.  What I failed to appreciate is that a comic book is simply one more storytelling medium. The stories themselves are what matter.

Earlier this year I was walking past Xanadu, an old school comic book store in Belltown. It’s one of those scruffy little businesses that you know is destined to be pushed out of town as soon as the next wave of Amazonians come demanding upscale condos, but for right now it’s still there – the bell dings when you walk in the front door, and the guys at the counter key in your order on a cash register that looks like it remembers the Reagan administration.

A couple of my friends (including my marketing guru Elizabeth Case) had recommended a particular comic book and I thought I’d give it a try. Supposedly Ms. Marvel was about a Muslim teenage girl from New Jersey who fights crime on the side after she is given superpowers by a spooky mist. That sounded quirky, I like quirky, and I had a five dollar bill in my pocket

To my delight all of the things that I love about a good story were right inside that thin little booklet! A plucky underdog protagonist who needs to develop confidence. Internal and external struggles that work in concert to keep the heroine on her toes. A couple funny quips thrown in, a world that feels both real and unreal, and a dose of subversive social commentary.

I was hooked! Who knew that a comic book could be so good?  I closed the comic with a huge smile on my face. That was fun!

Comic books have changed since we were kids. The era of overly lumpy men punching each other and yelling POW are behind us. Or at least there is plenty of good stuff out there to counter the cheesy cliches.

But I will say that reading comics is different than reading books, and it took me a bit of getting used to. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

First of all, it helps to slow way down. When I first started, I focused mostly on the dialog and didn’t pay enough attention to the pictures. In a comic book that is a good way to miss things. Most of the time, the picture *is* the story. Go one panel at a time and don’t rush.

Just like you won’t like every fiction book, you won’t like every comic book. If you’re interested in comics, ask your comic reading friends what they enjoy. Or walk up to the person at your local comic book shop and tell them what kind of stories you like.  Adventure? Romance? Plucky teenage superheroes? Chances are there is something out there for you.

I also found that because comics are episodic and pretty short, it’s more satisfying to read them in 3-5 episode chunks. Reading just one comic book feels annoying to me, so I buy the bigger compilations or wait until I’ve got a few of them accumulated.

If you’ve got a series that you’d recommend, drop a note in the comments! And if you’re looking for a comic book store near you, check out the store locator hosted by the folks at Free Comic Book Day.

30 Days of Freedom

I still remember that feeling I used to get when school let out for summer.

I knew there would be no homework, no alarm clocks, and no obligations. I could ride my bike around town, explore every nook and cranny of the neighborhood, and spend long lazy days with friends. I loved horror movies, and would sometimes stay up all night watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, or Elvira Mistress of the Dark. After my parents were asleep, I’d quietly slip into the backyard to look up at the stars.

Summer vacation was a time when I felt truly free. And so this year I decided to take an entire month off of work. Could I remember what it was like in those days before jobs and mortgage payments?

What I’ve Learned So Far

Vacations are so overrated. Whenever I go on vacation I feel obligated to have a certain amount of fun to justify the time off, and the expense. I never realized how pressured this felt until I had a month off with nothing at all to do. Without plans, fun occurs spontaneously, it’s not something you try to force.

Time is stretchy. Supposedly time flies when you are having fun, but that hasn’t been my experience thus far. A month off feels more like two months off. Yes, it will end with a *snap* and I’ll be back in my regular life again. But here in the moment, time seems to s-t-r-e-t-c-h out luxuriously.

My time doesn’t want to be managed. I am not managing my time right now, and feels great! When we are working, P and I are always trading text messages about dinner times and schedules. We discuss our grocery lists, determine what must be done on the weekend, and try to eke out some free time around the margins. What a pain the ass all that is! Our current mode is much more “in the moment” and so much easier. Hungry? Eat. Tired? Nap. Bored? Go do something!

I had forgotten how to read deeply. I’ve fallen head-first into several novels this month. It’s a kind of reading that I haven’t done in years. You disappear into to the story completely, your heart pounds at the exciting parts, and you actually cease to exist. For some reason I’ve gotten in the habit of reading with one part of my brain aware of “what I need to do next” and “how much time I have left to read” and this has diluted the experience. Reading deeply has recharged my batteries like nothing else.

Work isn’t the problem. When I feel tired or moody I tend to blame my work. But even in the absence of work, I experience all the same emotional highs and lows. When I’m tired it is usually because I have not gotten enough rest. Moods are like the weather. Some days you wake up gloomy, and other days you wake up perky. I find that exercise and getting enough sleep seems to be the winning combo for staying happy.

Entertainment can be cheap. As we’ve been downsizing our life and I’ve been working less, we’ve been working on our frugality muscles too. Relaxing on the rooftop deck at our condo, watching a cheesy movie on television, taking a long walk, listening to a free lunchtime concert downtown… there is so much to do that doesn’t require spending a lot of money.

Summer Vacation for Grown-Ups

In some ways, summer vacation isn’t that different than it was when I was a kid. There are no alarm clocks, no obligations, and I’ve pretty much lost track of what day it is. I’ve stayed up until 4am a few times, discovered new routes through the city, and watched Sharknado 3. Ten-year-old me would approve, I think.

At the moment, I’ve got a few more novels on the shelf, a movie to watch, and a sunny day waiting right outside the window.

Summer ain’t over yet. Back to it!  

Supernatural Made Me Cry

The 200th episode of Supernatural made me cry.

Supernatural-is-like-scooby-doo

In case you don’t know, Supernatural is TV show about two demon-hunting brothers who quite literally go to hell and back to save the world and each other. Beneath the all the demons and monsters, it’ a show that is ultimately about friendship and family. And like many cult favorites, it has sparked a lot of geeky admiration. Conventions. Costumes. Fan fiction.

Probably lots of badly written fan fiction.

In the 200th episode, Sam and Dean go to a small town where an all-girls school is putting on a play. The play is based on the book Supernatural which chronicles the brothers’ adventures. For reasons too complicated to explain here, the students don’t know that Sam and Dean are real people – they believe they are fictional characters.

The Power of Fan Fiction

Like most fan fiction, the play is rather ridiculous. Wildly embellished with robots, power ballads, and homo-erotic subtext, it is odd enough to make the brothers feel disturbed rather than flattered. Which, let’s face it, is how writers often feel about fan fiction.

I won’t spoil the story, but what impressed me about the writing was that there were three different layers of storytelling happening at the same time.

Layer One: A story about Sam and Dean hunting a demon that was haunting the school play.

Layer Two: A story about Sam and Dean’s relationship. As they see their lives reflected in the school play, they realize how precious their relationship is, and how much they’ve been through.

Layer Three: A love letter to the fans of Supernatural. In this episode, it’s the love of the fans that brings the brothers back together.

A complex story line like this could have easily fallen flat. But it didn’t. It draws you in. One minute you think you are watching a TV show about fighting monsters, and the next thing you know, you are feeling that love that flows between the people who make art and those who consume it.

Writers. Actors. TV Crews. Fans.

All held together – united – by the power of a story.

And then the song started… and I got all teary.

Well done, Robbie Thompson. You’re amazing.

Five Great Places to Write in Seattle

7134527305_76d0fe4fe9_zThe whirr of an espresso machine. The fat sound of raindrops against glass. The gleam of a city skyline against the water. Can our working environment help us become better writers?

Here are five of my favorite places to find inspiration in Seattle.

Seattle Coffeehouses

Caffeine, free wifi, and comfortable chairs. Coffeehouses are catnip for creatives. Some of my favorites are Street Bean (check out the handy power outlets that line the wooden benches), Moore Coffee (masters of latte art), and the Uptown Espresso on fourth and Wall.  Visit Uptown on a rare sunny day and they’ll slide the big window walls open, turning the whole room into an open air cafe.

Seattle Libraries

The Seattle Central library is an architectural marvel, and there are a hundred different little nooks and crannies to explore. Grab a seat in the living room at dusk and watch the glass ceiling change color as the city sinks into darkness. Even more gorgeous is the Suzzallo Library Reading Room at the University of Washington, which will make you feel like you’re at Hogwarts.

Shiny Skyscrapers

If you love a city view, working in one of Seattle’s tall towers might be more your speed. Not sure where to go? Check out the secret 40th floor Starbucks in the Columbia Tower, or bring a notebook to dinner at Frolik on top of the Red Lion.

City Parks

We’ve got some amazing parks, if you’re willing to brave the weather. Check out Myrtle Edwards Park in the hours just before sunset. You might even catch some seals spying on you from the water.

Washington State Ferries

All the perks of writing from a cruise ship stateroom without the hefty price tag. Pick a longer distance to maximize your writing time. Check out the schedules here, and enjoy the view as you compose your next piece.

Where do you like to get creative?

 

Photo by Curtis Cronn (CC)