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spike and buffy got screwed–now with proof! (part 1)

There is a great “This American Life” episode called “The Real Story”  that includes a hilarious section from a writer, a huge fan of Star Wars (IV, V, and VI), who was distraught over how wrong they had gotten Episode I.  At night, lying awake in bed, he would rewrite it, making it the perfect shining thing it should have been.

Is this a writer thing?  A geek thing?  I’ve done the same thing repeatedly with various stories, once before on this blog for the Matrix sequels.

Now I’m going to do it with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Like bazillions of others, I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it was live on the networks and loved it.  And while there were story lines and characters that had me totally hooked, there were others that bugged the crap out of me.  And apparently still do, ten years later, because here I am writing about something they got totally right, and something they got–for me–wrong enough to piss me off for a decade.

So, I submit Part 1: how Willow and Buffy were on parallel journey’s, mirroring each other in often lockstep style (focusing on season six and seven) and Part 2: where and how the writers broke that linkage, and why I think things should have gone differently (with evidence! Lots of evidence!).

And let me add this: props to everyone involved on Buffy for creating a terrific story I still care about ten years later!  No disrespect meant with my little deconstruction to come.

One more note: I’m going to be talking about all the information we get up to the final episode—the full text as it were—a perspective we didn’t have back when we were watching live.  It’s a different experience to know the end as you watch the beginning and the middle.  It alters the meanings of things as they progress.  For example, the whole magic-as-drug addiction thing looked like a weak metaphor for an after-school-special when it was airing.  But knowing the whole picture of Willow’s arc deepens that perspective.  I’ll say more about that in a minute.

People who could care less about Buffy and the Scoobies should bow out now.  So, let’s get to it!

Okay.  This show is about is power.  Who has it, who wants it, how they get it, and how they deal with it when they’ve got it.  For Willow, power is clearly mapped out as Magic, first as a hobby, then as an addiction, then as something inside of her she has to deal with (paraphrase from Giles in the season 7 opener).  For Buffy, power is  being the Slayer, which we learn late in season 7 comes from a magical ritual done thousands of years ago where a girl was essentially raped by a demon to gain the demon’s power to kill other demons—a power that would pass on to a new Slayer each generation.  I think Spike (and Buffy’s attraction for him), in many ways embodied that demonic/slayer power for Buffy in the later seasons.  So we have Willow’s relationship to witchy power and Buffy’s relationship to Spike/Slayer power, two girls, two versions of power, but over the years, the way these two young women come to understand and use their power is mirrored repeatedly, each girl’s path informing the other.  In this section, I’m going to take a quick tour of this mirroring.  Here we go…

In the early seasons, good and bad are clearly demarcated: humans are good (or at least have that potential) because they have a soul, and demons are bad, because they don’t.  Angel was the exemplar of this line: when he had his soul he was a good guy, when he didn’t, he was evil.  No character ever felt guilt or remorse for killing a demon, but killing a human was murder: bad.  Black and white, good and bad.  Easy.

As the show progressed, however, these lines got blurred.  Great example: Spike.  A vampire (demon) with no soul, and so Bad, at least in the early seasons.  But Spike is an odd duck, from his beginnings (turning his mother into a vampire out of love for her), or his centuries-long love affair with Drusilla…a demon feeling love?…and then falling in love with Buffy, pre-behavior-modification-chip, even!  Spike chose to work for the white hats when he was still a demon (something Angel never did) and had no soul.  A grey area indeed.

So, Willow starts out wanting to learn “good” magic, not messing with the “dark stuff” and Buffy kills all demons easily–the lines between Slayer and Vampire, white magic and dark magic are all nicely marked out.  And it turned out the magic liked Willow–she quickly acquired power and skill in the Wicca world.  And, surprise, Spike liked Buffy (much to his initial dismay), and Buffy comes to depend on Spike, trusting him, for example, to protect her mother and sister from Glory in season five.  From this position of affinity, we begin season six.

At the opening of season six, Willow does her first dark spell, bringing Buffy back from the dead…

who didn’t gasp the first time you saw Willow kill that deer?

…a huge act of magical power.  We also see arrogance creeping into our formerly meek Willow in her fight with Giles, “These forces are very powerful.  I’m very powerful.  And maybe it’s not such a good idea to piss me off,” (“Flooded).  At the same time Buffy, unable to honestly face her friends, has her only moments of connection with Spike (for example, both having wounded hands, hers for climbing out of her coffin, him recognizing those at once and then injuring his own hand punching a wall, “same as you.”).  When she can’t tell her friends the truth about where she’s been, she is able to tell him.  The affinity deepens.

Real life sets the stage of problems for our characters, and neither young woman wants to face it.  Willow uses magic to solve everything and Buffy runs off to hang out drinking with Spike (“Life Serial”).  Willow runs into trouble with her girlfriend, Tara, for using magic to avoid problems and Buffy runs into similar trouble with Giles for avoiding her problems.  Finally Willow casts a spell on Tara’s memory and Buffy kisses Spike—parallel moments of diving deeper into that which makes them feel better.  On one level it might look like a thinly disguised story about the bad choices young people can make, but with the whole picture before us, I suggest something else: both are diving into the source of their power. AND, and I think this is the real arc of the season, both are trying to use power to fill themselves, that is, fill the empty places inside where they do not like themselves.  I believe it is this self-hate that is the real problem they face, not the black magic, nor the demon sex.

Look: in “Restless” (finale of season 4) Willow’s big fear isn’t that she is revealed to be naked, or that she’s revealed to be gay, it’s that she’s revealed to be her old geeky, high-school-reject self.  In season 6, Amy the ex-rat plays on this fear of Willow’s when she goads Willow into going out on the town. “Maybe you’d like to sit at home alone, like in high school?” Willow admits to this fear herself when she says, “If you could be plain old Willow or Super Willow, which would you be?”  Clearly, Willow doesn’t think much of “plain old Willow.”  Season six Willow is using magic to cover over “plain old Willow,” geeky Willow, stay at home by herself Willow.

No Plain Willow here…

In other words, Willow is trying to TAKE from magic to fill up the places inside herself she thinks are empty.

Buffy’s fear at the beginning of Season Six is that her friends will find out that she  isn’t the girl they think she is.  She isn’t glad they “saved” her, in fact, she isn’t happy at all, something they really want her to be, as Dawn says in “Afterlife,” “It’ll be better now.  Now that they can see you being happy.  That’s all they want.”  Not only is Buffy not happy, when Spike finds out he can hit her–that his don’t-hit-humans chip isn’t triggered by her–she is certain that she “came back wrong,” something else she feels she has to hide.  But still Buffy pursues him and they have sex (taking down a house, and metaphorically, her Self, as she does) (jesus, wasn’t that scene amazing?), because he’s “the only person I can stand to be around” (“Life Serial”) and “the only time I feel anything is when…[they have sex].” (“Dead Things”).  Season Six Buffy is using sex with Spike to feel, to connect to something, because she is rejecting what she is (unhappy with being resurrected).

“Holy shit, did she just do what I think she just did?”

In other words, Buffy is trying to TAKE from Spike to make herself feel better.

Hang onto that…

In “Smashed”, Xander says (speaking of Willow, but Buffy takes it to be about herself as well), “She’s getting a taste of something powerful, way bigger than her.  It’s got to be seductive, just jumping into it, going totally wild.”  Willow herself says, “I just think there’s got to some place…bigger than this.”  Which is exactly what both young women go after.  Buffy gets it on with Spike, and Willow goes to Rack, a dealer in dark magic who blisses her out while making her feel dirty (remember miserable Willow in the shower, trying to wash the dirty away in “Wrecked”?)  Willow hates what she’s doing to get the magic-bliss she craves, and Buffy hates what she’s doing to get the feeling she craves (“Last night was the most perverse, degrading experience of my life,” Buffy in “Wrecked”)(I love Spike’s answer, a sly, happy, “Yeah, me, too.”).  Parallel paths.  But stay with me because I really don’t think this season was a “good girls making bad choices” story.  It’s a heck of a lot more complicated than that.

But, quickly, a handful of parallel moments… 1-Both young women lose a white-hat gate-keeper just as they begin pursuing their paths through darker territory: Tara leaves Willow and Giles leaves Buffy.  2-Willow’s I-feel-dirty shower is mirrors Buffy trying to get the stain out of her coat (acquired in an outdoor romp with Spike).  3-Willow sweating it out in magic-detox is mirrored in the same episode with Buffy covering her windows in garlic, but also, in a later episode when she is walking through the cemetery chanting, “Don’t think about the evil, blood-sucking fiend,” trying so hard to stay away from the thing she wants.  4-Amy taunts Willow again saying, “You’re not denying you had fun, [when Amy dosed her with magic]” and “you’re saying you’re never going to let yourself feel like that again?”  At the same time, Buffy faces her Doublemeat Palace manager who points to her “5 years!” button and says, “I want you to be aiming for this from now on!” (“Doublemeat Palace”).  Yikes.  5-Tara says to Willow, “You’re helping yourself now [with magic] fixing thing to your liking,” (“Tabula Rasa”) and Spike says to Buffy, “…all you’ve ever done is play me.  You make up the rules as you like,” (“As You Were”).  There are many other mirror-moments, but these give a taste of how each girl is on the same path.

Moving on.  Both young women are drawn to what helps them deal with their painful feelings, while at the same time both blame the thing they are drawn to for their problems.   Willow is using “dark magics” so it’s the magic’s fault for the problems…therefore she thinks she has to give it up.  Buffy is having a secret relationship with a demon…and demon’s are “everything I hate, everything I’m supposed to be against,” (Buffy in “Dead Things”)…therefore she thinks she has to give it up.  Willow bottoms out when she causes Dawn to get hurt (“I can’t stop.  I need help.” “Wrecked”) and gives up magic, while Buffy calls it quits with Spike a few episodes later when Reilly returns.  That is, both young women believe they must give up the “bad thing” in order to be a good person.

(If we keep in mind that the Slayer’s original power comes from the rape of a girl by a demon-spirit to give her its power, Buffy’s pursuit of sex with a demon (Spike) to feel alive starts to look like an instinctual connecting with the power of her Slayer-ness to deal with her pain of being brought back from the dead.  It’s not a bad instinct.  Except that she hates herself for it.  I’d say there are two parts to that hate.  On the one hand, vampires and demons have been clearly marked Bad.  So if Buffy likes a demon, that must make her bad, too.  But the thing that finally makes her stop being with Spike at this time is that she realizes she is using him and can’t stand herself for treating him this way.  “I’m using you. I’m being weak and selfish and it’s killing me.” (Buffy in “As You Were).  Either he’s a thing, to be used, or a person, not to be used.  She goes with the latter. )

But it isn’t that simple.  Neither one can give up the source of their power.  Instead, they need to learn not to try to take from it.  That is, they must connect to their power not from the places they feel empty inside.  I say: using their power to try to fill themselves up is where they were going wrong, not the power itself.

“Normal Again” gives us our first clue to the future healing the two young women will need.  In this episode, Buffy gets “poked by a waxy, dead demon” that wears a long black coat, poked by a spike, actually, and did I mention that it makes her go crazy?  Just like Spike.  NotSpike makes Buffy think she’s really a normal girl who is crazy.  In order to cure herself, Buffy has to give up the fantasy that she is a normal girl and embrace that she is the Slayer, crazy or no.  To top it off, the antidote to the poison is also within the NotSpike demon.  Playing that back, getting poked by Spike at first makes her crazy, but if she can face being the Slayer, he also contains the cure.

Oh, and she tears out NotSpike’s heart with her bare hands.  Which is pretty much what she does to Spike, too.

Willow, on her 12-step recovery path, appears to be doing better, reconnecting with Tara her white-wicca lover, and things are looking rosy for her.  Buffy is doing better, trying to get on with her life by staying away from Spike.

But the power both have hasn’t gone anywhere.  When Buffy pushes Spike away, hurting him for the last time, he goes crazy and tries to force her to admit that they are connected, that she feels something for him, in a rape attempt.  “I’m going to make you feel it,” (“Seeing Red”).  And When Tara is killed, Willow grabs at the biggest power she can in order to deal with her rage and grief, and fills herself with dark magic that has gone crazy.  She turns murderous, mean and hurtful even to those she loves.  Power deferred, festering and turning black…?

But in these parallel nadir points, healing is found.  Giles returns bringing a connection (via a coven in England) to “the true source of magic” (“Grave”) and Spike, after many painful demon trials, gets his soul back.  Both sources of power are returned to balance, not Good, not Bad, as in the more youthful and simplistic early season, but BOTH.

Two girls, learning about power, trying to use it to spackle over the bits of themselves they have judged Not Good Enough, and learning how badly that can go.

Season seven is about Buffy and Willow integrating and learning how to be in relationship with this new, morally complicated ower.  But something important runs right off the rails, if you ask me.  The best parts are yet to come…

And hey, if you’re a Buffy fan, please comment, tell me where you think I’m full of it, or where you think I’m onto something.  I’m sure smarter people than I have already written about this stuff…and probably intelligently refuted my every point.  I’d love to hear about it…

UPDATE: part 2 is now live.  Enjoy!

going all erin brockovich on your ass

Paul and I have been watching Leverage, have burned through all three seasons on dvd, and are now waiting impatiently for the new season to start in a few weeks. It’s a great show for many entertaining reasons, but I think my favorite part is Elliot Spencer, the “hitter” for this team of thieves, professional butt-kicker, and one terminally angry guy. I find myself bouncing around in happiness every time Elliot gets so angry he starts stuttering. He’s so mad all the time! I love that.

Okay, backstory: I was this timid, shy, kid—my family called me “mouse” and joked about how I could be in the room and no one would notice. I know, right? Hard to imagine, this loud-ass, foul-talking, permanently annoyed person that I have become was ever a scardy-pants wimp, but it’s true. So what happened? I’ll tell you. I was about twenty-two, I was standing in line at a big hotel, waiting to check in, exhausted after a long flight, holding too-heavy a bag, shoulder aching, waiting and waiting and freaking waiting for my turn so I could get my key, get to my room, and get unconscious—and this woman, this tiny, rampaging woman, stomped to the front of the line, imperiously demanded the manager, and proceeded to rail on the poor check-in people…and get every single thing she asked for, plus free room upgrade, someone to carry her luggage, and no waiting. Oh, the injustice!

I was dazzled by her power.

Not quite consciously, I started cultivating the path of Righteous Anger. No longer would I be the polite wuss people cut in line in front of. And five years later you’d never have believed I was ever called mouse. Around that time I had several co-worker friends on a similar path, all 8th Level Masters of the Comic Rant. I studied at their feet. They could deliver a side-splitting tirade at a moment’s notice, of the kind that would singe your eyebrows, or possibly leave a crater if you happened to be standing at ground zero. It was awesome.

Because it turned out getting a good burn on was not only empowering, it could be hugely entertaining. Here’s an example, a mild example, the lemon rant from Portal 2, courtesy of Mur Lafferty:

All right, I’ve been thinking. When life gives you lemons? Don’t make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! “I don’t want our damn lemons! What am I supposed to do with these?” Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give you lemons! Do you know who I am? I’m the man who’s going to burn your house down! With the lemons! I’m going to get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns you house down! –Cave Johnson

See? It’s funny. It’s like performance art, with flames. Think of Julia Robert’s Oscar-winning performance in Erin Brockovich. Think of the energy you feel watching her tear the heads off those water company assholes. Think of the biker-boyfriend-to-be falling to his knees, practically in love on the spot, after her “I’ll give you a number” rant. It’s fun to watch, and, in the right circumstances, it’s really fun to do. You get a good head of steam going, and then ride that power, directing it with your creativity to create a Perfect Rant. I mean, sometimes you could feel the heat of it coming right off any one us when we were riding a good one. It’s true: a creative, surprising tirade has the power to inspire and ignite people.

By the time I hit thirty, people did not mess with me. Not getting stepped on, not being afraid, these were good things for me. I was this tiny bomb, looking for a fight. My plan had worked.

Then I had kids.

Turns out, being able to creatively and hilariously get mad is an absolutely USELESS skill in being a parent. It was like training for a decade to be a world class figure skater and then finding myself living in the Sahara. Wtf? What am I supposed to do without any ice? Being out in the world, yeah, having a “make my day” gleam in my eye could be a real plus. But at home, with people I loved…not so much.

Duh. Suddenly all these neurons and reflexes I had trained to heat up on command were going in exactly the wrong direction—because when my kids pissed me off, what I needed to do was not to go off on them, what I needed to do was calm the fuck down. Way down. Kids need peaceful, calm, steady energy. They thrive in an atmosphere where no one is ever going to go off on them. And I wanted to be that for them.

Not to mention my poor husband. Because no matter how satisfying, in the short term, tearing one’s spouse a new one can be, it is not the kind of activity that makes him wake up in the morning saying, “You know, honey? This marriage just keeps getting better and better.”

Oops. Um, yeah. What a gem I was. How did Paul ever put up with me? [Paul says, and I quote, “I didn’t. Because you know I don’t take no shit from my bitches. Now, get me a beer, woman.”] Anyway…

So there I was, ten years into fueling the freight train of vengeance, trying to switch gears. I won’t lie. This was hard. The energy rush of anger has momentum and mass, and the pathways in my body were well worn and smooth. The rush of energy from a good mad feels really…good. The aftermath, however, feels like shit.

I remember looking at my then-two-year old daughter—she was deep in the midst of some serious civil-disobedience about the tyranny of tooth brushing—and feeling my circuits heating up…except I got her side, too. Fuck you, Mom, she was saying with her glaring eyes and her chin sticking out, this is my body and I don’t want that damn brush thingy in my mouth, all right? I felt so proud of her! No one would call this kid a mouse! In addition to that, despite her inborn ferocity, she was just a tiny little girl. Someone I loved. She definitely did not need me yelling at her, no matter how creative or funny my delivery. I needed a new strategy. I needed a new personality.

Cultivating peace is hard. A lot harder than learning how to get mad. All that anger energy is like a flood–and it has a chemical component, too. You have to deal with that. You have to give it another channel to flow through, let it flow away, give yourself time for those chemicals to wing through your system and pass. Deep breathing helps. Keeping in mind that the kids will remember this moment when they are grown-ups, that helps. When things are tense, working to make just the next three minutes explosion-free (and then the next three minutes) helps.

And what helps even more, is working to prevent the angry-flood from ever building up. Eating protein. Getting enough sleep. Seeing the other person’s side. Giving them the benefit of the doubt—always give your kids the benefit of the doubt! Being generous enough to cut my loved ones some slack, that’s the ticket. Because everyone needs some slack in this world.

(God, sometimes I hate that. I get all worked up and I don’t want to be that good a person. I just want my fucking life, fuck off, leave me alone—but I have to stop that thinking. Breathe. That is not how I want to be with my family. They will remember this moment, Lassiter, do you really want to be the Nightmare Mother they tell horror stories about to their friends who are Not You when they grow up? Don’t blow for the next 60 seconds. Remember who you’re talking to, your babies. Breathe. See it from their perspective. They just need a little help, that’s all. This is not the end of the world. Basically, get a mother-loving grip, Lassiter.)

Training my kids to stand up to me and tell me I’m being a bitch, that rocks in the help department. “Mommy, you are yelling too much,” they say to me, and for each other, too. “I know she was being annoying,” Luc will say to me, “But I think you were too harsh with her.” I love that. “You are so right, Luc, I’m a jerk. I’m going to go apologize.” Because apologizing helps, too. “I am so sorry I was such a doodoo head. I wish I had never yelled. I should have not said anything until I calmed down.” They giggle and say, “You said doodoo head. You ARE a doodoo head, Mommy. Doodoo head!” Really, they appreciate a heartfelt apology. They appreciate me not yelling even more, of course. But we do what we can.

The number one step in Patanjali’s yoga is ahimsa. Non-harming. Non-violence. Being kind. Being peaceful. Being non-violent in speech, thought, and deed. Ahimsa. It’s a daily practice. I’m five years in. Maybe in another five years, people will be shocked to hear I was once this ranting crazy person. Okay, maybe not.

If learning how to get mad was like tearing down a dam and learning to surf the flood, then learning how to be peaceful, that’s using all that water to grow those gorgeous, tiered, Balinese rice fields, so that there is never a flood. Just lots of good food for everyone to eat.

But, truth. I miss it sometimes. I think that’s why Elliot Spencer tickles me so much. He reminds me of the fun and the freedom of being royally pissed off and not caring who knows it. But I get it now: rage as a lifestyle is great for a fictional warrior. Not so great for a real-life mom and a wife.

But listen up.  You mess with my kids, and you better have good health insurance.

Because I’m taking you down.

the 13 year visitation of the demon red-eyed cicada

Every thirteen years the red-eyed cicadas come out of their holes in the ground in a sex frenzy and they don’t care who knows it.

This one has recently come out of that skin thingy hanging there beside it.  Aren’t they spooky looking?  With those beady, staring, red eyes?  Flying through the air, perched on every branch of every tree, in the grass, in my hair, the red-eyed cicadas are marching on the world, rubbing their legs together, creating a simply astonishing noise that, I swear, in the forest around the yurt sounds like the nuclear power plant oh-fuck alarm is going off.  It’s so loud you have to shout to be heard outside—no joke—and it’s almost as loud inside for us, since we live in a glorified tent.  They hit about a high G and there must by millions of them.  Millions. Everywhere I walk my boots crunch on abandoned exoskelotons, like I’m a terminator and I stride upon the bones of my enemies.  I’m telling you, it’s intense.

Mochi, our cat, loves it.

She just caught one here.  A moment later she strutted away with it hanging out of her mouth, still buzzing, still trying to get laid even as the cat crushes it in her mighty jaws.  BZZZZ, BZZZZ, hey, baby, hey baby!

These cicadas really do hang out in the dirt for thirteen years.  Everywhere, every six inches or so, there are dime-sized holes in the ground, tiny abandoned graves.  Zombie-bug rising! Or, you know, like someone has come along and aerated the entire forest with a really aggressive hole-maker machine.

The next time these cicadas come out Sophie will be twenty years old.  Luc will be 18.  My baby’s childhoods will be over.  Sob!

[Give me a moment here.]

Okay.  Anyway.  The cicadas are pale, even milky when they first come out, which makes the red-eyed thing even weirder.  I’m serious, these critters are the insect-undead, red-eyed zombie bugs, and they are here to eat our brains! They liquify the brains first, you see, with their tremendous noise.  I’m convinced of it.  It’s a freaking bugapocalypse out here!

Sophie took this shot, when it was all novel and interesting.  Now we just can’t believe the proliferation, nor the sound.

Last week it was fire, this week it’s locusts.  What is the world coming to?

the power of mom’s day can melt even the most bitter of hearts, not that my heart is bitter, but it has gotten a bit crusty around the edges

I told the kids yesterday that I really do not like breakfast in bed, just in case anyone was considering it.  Because breakfast in bed is, of course, the traditional mother’s day gift, and I wanted to preempt any designs in that direction because, hey, I don’t get it.  What is the appeal, anyway?  You get food in your sheets, there’s no place to put anything, kids are jumping you while you try to eat, and I don’t eat breakfast anyway, being a coffee-only kind of gal.  Then, to top it off, you get the disaster in the kitchen they left behind as a unintentional “present” to clean up. Oh thank you soo much.

No breakfast in bed for me, no thank you.  See, I’m not bitter.  Not at all.

I woke this morning to the sound of gentle rain on the yurt and heard clattering about on the other side of the closet/shelf/wall thingy we have and when I got up I found Sophie had cleaned the table off.  The kitchen table, you must understand, is rarely visible as a flat surface, being the primary work surface for, well, for everything we do.  It is normally heaped with art supplies, mountains of tablets and books and paintings, vases of long dead things, dishes from the last several meals, it’s ridiculous, really.  And she had put it all up.  In its center, instead of the mess, there was a blue bottle holding a red rose Sophie picked herself this morning while I slept.

Best.  Present. Ever.

She also made me a bracelet with turquoise beads, which I am now wearing.  She was so proud and pleased with herself!  I may never take this bracelet off.  Although it is a little tight, and I might get gangrene.  So what.  Sometimes love hurts.

Luc, seeing all of this, quickly realized he had been outclassed.  Working feverishly under the table, he built a box out of legos, with a lego bow on top, for me to unwrap.  Inside I found a quartz crystal he had pulled off the shelf. “It’s a crystal!” I said, smiling.

“No, Mommy, it’s treasure,” he said.  “Because I love you.”

Okay, I cried.

It’s good to go all gooey every now and then.  Don’t tell anybody.

bad things come in threes. or fours. (or maybe fives?)

(1) Last week, when I was feeding our neighbor’s cats (they were out of town for a wedding—the neighbors, not the cats) some bozos broke into their house and stole their flatscreen. No shit! The weirdest part (besides feeling extremely vulnerable and freaked out) was that I heard the whole thing. I thought it was the landscapers and their leaf blowers (yes, my neighbor’s have landscapers—oh, what they must think of our junk piles). But then there was this crash and several “Woo Hoo!”s and I thought, that’s odd. I was just gearing up to go check it out when they left (you can hear, but not see, now that the summer foliage has filled in). The crash, I realized later when I went to feed the kitties, was the Kwan Yin statue from the porch being thrown through the glass front door. I am so glad I didn’t wander over there to see what was going on. Wouldn’t that have added a layer of complication to the story? Complication I don’t need.

But it just goes to show, when the Goddess of Compassion smashes through your life, it may not be in the form you expect.

(2) This weekend, my site got hacked (again). But it was fairly low key on the life-sucks-o-meter, more annoying and boring than anything. I’m not sure this one counts.

(3) Paul jumped into the pond with his glasses on, oops, and lost them. Poor guy is wearing mine (I have contacts I can use) while he waits for his replacements. But my prescription isn’t as strong so, you know, he mostly can’t see, and he’s got this low-grade headache, which makes him crabby as all hell. I can understand, but still. I hope those glasses come today.

And then, as if all that wasn’t enough,

(4) I sprained my freaking ankle! That would be yesterday morning when I was taking the compost out to the chickens. I stepped off the deck and whammo! I go down like a jellyfish. And stay down. After consulting my Google Health Plan (first you google the diagnosis, then you google the treatment)(I know, I’ve used that line before, but it’s just so true) I learned that I have a Level 3 Medial Ankle Ligament Spring. Translation? I am totally screwed for about a month.

I spent the day RICEing my ankle and watching Spongebob with the kids, who took this opportunity to do massive body paint, eat a box of bunny grahams, and just generally be little hellions because, hey, what am I going to do about it? I can’t blame them, it’s a drag to have a mom who can’t do shit. Even still, Sophie got me things all day, and Luc picked me a flower, and they both kissed me and did laying-on-of-hands. I’m certain it helped.

Then it was time to milk the goats. “You’ll have to do it,” I say to Paul.

“No way. I don’t know how,” he says. “I’ll help you hobble out there.”

“No way, it’s too far.”

“Okay then, I’ll carry you.”

“You can do that?”

“Harumph. Of course I can do that.”

Me, grumbling, “All right, but you’re going to have to help me do stuff. You’re going to have to do exactly what I say.”

“Fine [grumble grumble].”

Me: EVIL LAUGH.

You should have seen us, me slung onto his back and whimpering, punctuated by the occasional, “Don’t jostle my foot! Christ! &#$!@” And him, swearing because he can’t see anything, and he says, “Is this what it’s going to be like when we’re old?”   

We started laughing so hard. I could totally see it: him blind, me lame, crashing our way through the end of our days, swearing, and I thought, this is what marriage is. But then I was laughing so much that I could barely cling to his neck, (“You’re choking me—” “I can’t help it, I’m slipping!” “I’m not going to drop you—” “ARG my foot—!”) and he’s swinging around with that crutch sticking out, slamming into things (“Watch out, watch out, watch out—!” “I can’t watch out, I can’t see!” BAM! “Ouch!!” ) and tears were just streaming down my face from the overwhelming insanity of it all by the time we arrived.

The goats, on the other hand, were completely silent. Instead of hollering at me to come feed them, they were standing on top of their bed like they were under attack, eyes wide, wondering what monster was coming to eat them. When she saw me, Fancy gave me this questioning m-a-a in her throat, like “Is it re-e-e-eally you?” But Lucy tossed her head and snorted, and got down off the bed. “What is WR-R-R-RONG with you people?” she said, and demanded her dinner.

Freaking A—what will happen tomorrow?

welcome to mayaland’s virtual macabre crawfish feast of death!

In an apparently ongoing series on eating shellfish, I present to you the Memorial Day Crawfish Feast!

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That’s right, we got a coveted invite to a fantastic cajun feast, put on by our once-neighbors, now living in their new digs, but still putting on The Feast, and sweet enough to remember us. Awesome folk, indeed.

But wait! Crawdads? Where the heck did somebody get crawdads? From Louisiana, of course, the childhood home of our lovely Crawfish Feast Host. Two giant coolers of the things, because at The Feast they keep cooking ’em late into the night. It isn’t a Feast if you can’t stuff yourself silly, right?

Of course we had to take a peek in a cooler. Here they sit, sleepy from the cold, innocent of their blighted future….

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.. Or maybe not so innocent because when we lifted the lid, one came at us with claws outstretched. Yikes! I’m ashamed to say shrieked like the girl that I am and dropped the cooler lid on his head. I don’t do well under pressure.

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Here are Sophie and Luc, pretending to be crawdads. Very lifelike, if you ask me.

While the cooking water was getting hot Our Host soaked the crawfish in salt water, which makes them poop like crazy (the crawfish, not Our Host), which makes them taste oh, so much better. This is called Purging the Bugs. Well, duh, right? Who wants a mouthful of crawdad poop? Not me.

Here are the sacrificial victims, poured from their icy transport and into a giant bucket full of salt water.

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Aw. They look so pitiful in there.

Anyway, after 15 minutes in their poop bath spa cleanse, they get dumped into the pot for a slow and miserable death by live boiling. Yeah for us! Bad for the crawfish. We will now have a moment of silence for their suffering.

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Okay, moving right along.

In addition to water and crayfish, the pot was full of corn on the cob, lemons, potatoes and this:

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Zataraine’s Concentrated Shrimp and Crab Boil! In death defying quantities. That’s the glass bottles. The bags of Seafood Boil were also in use. Basically, as far as I could tell, if it was spicy, they dumped it in. I’m sure there was more to it, but I was having to clean dog poop off Luc’s shoes while they were doing that part, and I missed it. Priorities, right? And how come there is so much poop in this story? Wtf? I promise, from here on out, there will no more mention of poop.

Um, anyway, when Luc and I got back ,the ‘dads were in the pot, the yard filling with this awesome spicy smell.

The waiting was torture! I mean, not as bad as what the crayfish were going through, but still. While we endured, Luc really wanted me to take a picture of this leaf. “It’s heart shaped, Mama,” he said. “I like it.”

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He is SO SWEET.

We all kept checking in, “are they ready yet? Are they ready yet?” our eyes huge and our mouths watering. Our gracious host tried one, then another saying, wait for it, wait for it….

Now! Here they are lifting the massive strainer of crawfish out of the hot water.

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Ugh! More waiting! This time to let them cool enough so that no one gets burned on the steam when they dump those puppies out. The crowd was in a crawfish frenzy at this point. Pitchforks were mentioned, I’m not sure what for, maybe eating.

All but Luc who said, “Yuck.”

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But here they are dumping them out, three tables worth (and that’s just the first batch) with handy trash-cans for the shells taped up in between. Crawdads are MESSY.

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Here I go, about to peel one for my very own self.

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OMG it was so delicious. Bless Paul who peeled more for me as I chased kiddos, because otherwise I might have only gotten a couple before they were all gobbled by the greedy hoards.

If you take a look, you’ll see that a crayfish is mostly head and claws—a tremendous amount of crawdad is tossed. You only eat the small (in comparison) tail—unless you want to suck the head, which our host did, making his wife, not a Louisiana native, faux-puke. Me too, I have to admit. I mean what’s in there, like, this green slime? No way am I eating that.

One more tip: beware the straight tailed ‘dad! Those died before they were boiled and won’t be good. Eat only the curly tailed ‘dad and you will live long and prosper.

Lots of hooting and screaming commenced, what with the tres spicy food, but soon people were smiling and laughing, a sense of elation filling us—due to the endorphins, I’m sure. I mean, we were giddy. I was told by a regular (they do this every year), that the giddiness only gets more intense as the night wears on. Apparently, they don’t dump the water for the next batch of crayfish, they just add more spices. So, by the third or fourth batch, these critters are reaching nuclear-meltdown spice levels. My informant told me that last year, his cuticles were on fire and he actually had to ice himself as he peeled more and more of the dangerous thing. I asked him why he didn’t stop and he said, “Well, the bugs get spicier but I get drunker, so it kind of evens out.” Well said, my friend!

Sophie, who is a total badass, loved the spicy crawfish. She also discovered a creative new use for the discarded heads. Puppet shows!crayfish 12.jpg

Here is Luc, making his crawfish head talk in a little voice. What is it saying? “Don’t eat me, don’t eat me, ARRRGGGG!”

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Imagine this macabre scene from the crawfish point of view! We are horrific monsters!

That’s life on top of the food chain….

2 stories, 1 joke, and a song

Story #1

Sophie was drawing an huge, scary, creature-looking thing last night and I asked her who it was.

“This guy is the meanest guy in the whole world. His name is Peacock Stink-poot! He has the stinkiest poots in the whole universe! When he poots, they can smell it all the way in China! His eyelashes are so long, when he is at the zoo, his eyelashes are at the grocery store! He has people who work for him who go out and be MEAN. They sneak up on you when you’re asleep and GRAB you and throw you in a dungeon where you have to eat all the time and only watch tv and they just keep watching you! Until you’re six! And then they throw you in the potty!”

Me: “Wow. So, um, how did he become so evil?”

Sophie: “When he died of old age, he was shot with an invisible gun that turned him into a MONSTER! So he really can’t help it. His teeth are brown and they stink so bad he has flies flying through his mouth. GROSS! And his head is green, and his feet are orange, and his hair is all colors. See?” [shows all color hair on the drawing]

Me: “Amazing. What happened to him?”

Sophie; “In episode 44, he lost his hair, but then he found it in his shoes. And his arms are shiny blue. They explain that in episode 21. No one can resist the color of his arms!”

Story #2

Luc walked into the room this morning looking thoughtful. I said, “Hey, guy, what’s up?” And he answered, “Well, I had to poop. There was a long one and a short one. I thought they would both go down, but the long one went down and the short one stayed up. But it was okay. And that’s the story.”

Me: laughing

A Joke

Luc was eating sardines for lunch the other day. And he was naked. It is very hard to get that little boy to leave his clothes on! Anyway, as is wont to happen when a 3 year old eats, he dribbled sardine all down his front. And, being naked, I mean ALL the way down. (Ewwww!)

Sophie happened to walk by and said, in this totally dry voice, “Looks like Mr. Willy went fishing.”

Ba-dum-bump!

A Song

Luc: “Mom, can I have some ice cream?”

Me: “Yes.”

Luc: [singing to himself] That’s the way, uh huh, uh huh, I liiike it, uh huh, uh huh!

unexpected benefit of living in a round house #27

Paul and I were having a fight one day, I don’t remember what about, something stupid probably—aren’t most of these fights about something stupid? It’s too bad you only realize that after the fact. Anyway, the fight reached a head and we both stomped off dramatically, as one is wont to do in those moments. Ah, the beauty of an angry exit!

Except we live in a round house. So… although we stomped off in opposite directions, in about 20 seconds we were facing each other again, our expressions mirror images of Pissed Off Spouse. We couldn’t help it—we burst out laughing.

Just goes to show, you can’t run away when you’re walking in circles.

yurts: the downside

We love our yurt. I am really glad we decided to go this route.

But no space is perfect in all ways, and yurts are no exception. After nearly four years in ours, here is the unvarnished truth to living in a gigantic, glorified tent.

Sound

If you put up your yurt on a mountaintop, 100 acres from your nearest neighbor, this one will not be a problem. It is lovely to lie in bed at night and hear the owls and frogs and deer doing their nighttime thang in the woods around our yurt. You can hear it all, and when the sounds are good, this is a good thing. However, we can also here the neighbors coming and going, hear the folks down the road giving a party, and rainstorms make shouting a necessity. There is NO sound proofing to the walls of a yurt. When the fan on our waterstove started rattling, it kept me awake at night, even though it is outside and fifty feet from the wall. Yuck.

And don’t forget sounds goes both ways. If you listen to music, fight with your spouse, or, say, have a really good time with your spouse, ahem, the neighbors will hear you. Forget the privacy you may be accustomed to with six-inch thick, standard construction, insulated walls. Sound goes straight through a yurt skin. So give your yurt a lot of space around it to compensate.

Temperature

Yurts are HOT. At least ours is. They were designed for Mongolia where it’s freaking freezing, so, duh. But if you’re thinking of putting a yurt anywhere where the days get over 80 or 85 degrees, you are going to want an air conditioner or you are NOT going to want to be in your yurt during the afternoons. We have a large window unit, backed up to one of the windows and resting on a 55 gallon steel drum, that does pretty well keeping us cool, until outside temps get over 95—and then it’s just not powerful enough to keep the yurt cooler than 80. Without the air conditioner, if we open all the windows, and there is a good breeze, it’s, well its still totally hot, but the breeze does blow straight through, and that can be nice. For a minute. Until the breeze stops. A friend of mine who got a yurt (that she adored in the winter) had to move out in the summer. She couldn’t draw enough electricity to run an air conditioner and her yurt was unbearably hot three months out of the year. And did I mention the dome casting a huge circle of heat, starting on one side of the yurt and working its way across, like a giant heat lamp, each day? Basically, without the breeze or the air conditioner what we have here is a big solar cooker. And we are the roast chicken.

However, yurts warm up well when it’s cold. We’re toasty during the winter with our heating set up (see waterstove link above). It would be interesting to see an infrared photo of the yurt—I wonder if there is heat just pouring out of the acrylic dome. Probably. One thing to consider is this is a BIG volume of space for the square footage. We have 16 foot peak in the center, and all of that space up there gets heated before the humans down on the floor feel it. Our propane heater is rated for 60,000 BTUs and it can heat the place to hot, if we’re willing to pay for the fuel (which we’re not). Anything less and you’d be cold, I think.

Bottom line: when the temperature outside changes, the temperature inside the yurt changes. It’s pretty easy to adjust it, but yurts do not hold a temperature the way some other building styles do. Our super-insulated bathhouse stays cool all summer, minus the hottest days of August, with no air conditioning at all. And we heat it comfortably with a small space heater for about $10-$20 a month in winter. In comparison, we pump a lot of energy, whether electrical (for cooling), propane or wood (for heating) into changing our inside temperature. Heating and cooling are not the yurt’s strong points.

ETA: Paul wanted me to put in that the walls and ceiling of the yurt meet the minimum R-values for insulation in our state. He couldn’t remember what those are, maybe R-10 for the walls and maybe R-19 for ceilings…? At any rate, the R-value of the foil-covered-bubblewrap insulation that is on our yurt is lowish, but within the range of building norms. However, the vinyl windows and the acrylic dome are big heat loss points.

Rain

No, our yurt does not leak. It is tight as a drum. BUT. Having never been in a structure with absolutely no overhang before, I really didn’t get how rain would run down the long expanse of roof and then come right in through the windows. And because the yurt skin is a pliable fabric, the rain curves down, around, and vroom! shoots straight in like someone pointing a hose through screen. I only had to test THAT out once. You HAVE to close the windows when it rains. OR you HAVE to have good awnings. Maybe good gutters would be enough in a light rain. I wish we had gutters! My biggest regret, besides not putting in radiant floor heating, is not getting the gutters.

In addition, the windows open and close, at least on our yurt, on the outside. So, in order to open and close them, you have to be outside, too. It’s not a big deal, but it’s a bit of a pain in the patooty to run out into the rain to unroll and zip.

Our solution to all of this is just to rarely open the windows. We have two doors on opposite sides of the yurt, and these are almost constantly open, unless the heat or air conditioner are on. Both have gutters and awnings. And since the space is small (our 30 foot yurt is about 700 square feet) this usually gives plenty of airflow for a nice spring day like today. We only open windows when we know we’re going to be home and there is no rain on the forecast. But that’s not very often. If you’re thinking of getting a yurt, get the gutters. And get screen doors so you can use the doors as your windows when you don’t want to mess with the whole rolling and zipping routine.

Storage

We have none! What I wouldn’t give for a pantry! Paul built an amazing, freestanding, closet/bookshelf (closets on the ‘bedroom’ side and bookshelves on the ‘living room’ side) that divides our yurt into two areas. In addition to that we have a wardrobe for coats (overflowing), and a hutch and some shelves in our kitchen. But, basically, we end up with stuff everywhere and no good place to put it. Of course, we are four people living in our yurt, so if a person was on his or her own, this may be less of a problem. But there is no junk room, no attic, no basement, no spare bedroom, no closets, no pantry, no mudroom, none of those spaces in a more traditional house where you stick your stuff. This is because yurts were designed by nomads. They didn’t have much because whatever they had, they were going to have to hump it somewhere else pretty soon. Depending on one’s propensity to acquire stuff, this lack of storage can be quite a problem. For us, basically, we’re screwed.

But that’s about it. There are some difficulties with privacy/sound at night, particularly when some of us want to sleep and others of us do not, but that is more of an issue of four people in one room, than a problem with yurts per se. We’ve solved some of that with things like wireless headsets for the tv, for example. And just being thoughtful.

But, like I said, we love our yurt. It’s a beautiful, light-filled, affordable, fast, comfortable space. For us, moving onto this land with very little money and a high time-pressure (I was pregnant, our lease was up, tick-tock-tick), it has been perfect.

Check out the ‘yurts’ tag for other posts on our yurt, such a series on how we prepared the site, built a platform and then, finally, put up our yurt in one day, or this one on what it’s like to live inside a sundial.

writing without pencil sharpening

I was talking with a few writers the other day about ‘pencil sharpening,’ that is, all the stuff writers do when they sit down to work, before they actually write. Of course, these days, why sharpen a boring pencil when you can surf the internet, peruse a favorite forum, read a blog, or check your email? Before I had kids, I had four morning hours blocked off every weekday for writing (I can’t even fathom this anymore). I was religious about keeping my ‘office hours.’ But, to be honest, the first hour was spent making a perfect latte on my insanely expensive and complicated espresso machine, carrying it up to my writing room (I actually had one of those back then!), and leisurely reading and writing email. In this way I eased into the actual writing like working my way into the pool, one tippy-toe at a time.

It’s called stalling.

Why do writers stall? I think partly, it’s just how the mind works. Writing is a certain gear, and I have to shift into it. My pre-kid routine was a way to gently warm up the car, shifting through the gears, until I got into Writing Mode. Zero to Sixty in, oh, an hour.

I also think writing is loaded with Anxieties to be negotiated. What if it sucks? What if nothing happens today? What if I never sell anything? What if I’m no good? What if I reveal too much about myself? Anxieties and oh yeah, the oddly conflicting Guilt Trips of “I’m not trying hard enough” vs. “I shouldn’t be doing this, I should be with my family, I’m so selfish.” Sheesh. It’s a wonder I ever write anything at all.

Nowadays, of course, I have kids. And no writing room. I get an hour, maaaybe, to actually sit down and write. I have absolutely no time for anxiety, guilt, or gently easing into gear. I have to hit the ground running.

And I do, most days. Gradually I have figured out some tricks that let me sit down and start racking up the wordcount the second my butt hits the chair. No email, no internet, no doodling, and no (sigh) ritualistic latte. I have HAD to do this, or give up writing. I’m serious! If I sit down and fiddle faddle for half an hour or more, there is no time left. Sharpening pencils is simply not an option.

Want to hear my three tricks? Lean closer, and I’ll tell you…

(1) Clear the decks, or Writing Time is not Thinking Time #1

Get your thoughts out of the way.

All day long we think, about our lives, about people, about random stuff, about our books, about the show we watched last night, about our jobs, everything. But we also go, go, go, and these thoughts run along under the surface, waiting their turn to break through to a more conscious brain space. They want the lime light! Just a little attention, it’s all they ask for, that’s not too much, is it?

If your days are like mine, they are crammed with jobs and people and doing and talk radio and meetings and serving others yada yada yada. Which can make sitting down, alone, to write, the first time each day I really get to think, too. And these thoughts CLAMOR for the attention they need. Not good. Instead of thinking about my novel, I’m thinking about all that other stuff, like a flood bursting the dam, or simply seeping in until there is eight inches of water in my kitchen and I realize my writing hour is over and I haven’t gotten any work done. Again.

So the first trick to hitting the writing ground running is to not let writing time be the first time in my day—or the only time—my thought stream gets attention.

The good news is that it takes an amazingly small amount of time to get these thoughts out of the way. And the key is to get them out of the way at some OTHER time of the day, NOT writing time. I find the best way to give these thoughts the attention they crave—thus meeting their needs so they will leave me alone later, when I want to write—is to write them down. Writing down some stream of consciousness for a few pages goes far in clearing the decks. It doesn’t seem to matter that writing time is so much later in the day. As long as the thought stream is getting it’s due, it won’t clog up my writing time with non-novel-related thought bleed-through.

I do this thought-clearing brain-dump at some point during the day, and I work on my fiction in the evenings. I do it long hand and doodling is allowed. Just whatever is in my head. I often find myself working on my novel, not adding words, but free writes, or noodling around a problem, because that happens to be what is on my mind when I start. But writing about my writing isn’t the goal. It’s whatever is in my head, worries, plans, dream memories, thoughts about the kids, complaints, hopes, whatever. Blah blah blah. Just get it down and move on. Ten or fifteen minutes is all it takes. Even five minutes will make a big difference in clearing my head. And luckily, this blathering can be interrupted a bunch of times and still serve its function, so it works to do it while the kids are around. I can fit it in here and there, its fine. I don’t really know why this works, but I do know that it really, really does.

Julia Cameron has the same idea in The Artist’s Way with her ‘Morning Pages.’ I like her description, though I’m much more casual about it. I can’t afford to add some formal thing to the chaos I call life. There are days when I don’t have even one discretionary moment to give to jotting down a few sentences, and on those days I try to do my ‘morning pages’ in my head. I just, on purpose, pay extra attention to what I’m thinking about, as if I were journaling. Sounds stupid, I know. But whatever works. And it does.

(2) Keep the Stew Simmering, or Writing time is not Thinking Time #2

Think about your story before you sit down to write.

Writing a story, especially a novel because it is so long, is like cooking a pot of perfect stew. When actually writing, it’s best when I’m hot for my story, hot, bubbling, boiling over! But it takes a while to get there if I’m starting with a cold, congealed stew. Instead, if I keep the stew simmering on the stove, even when I’m doing other things, it takes only a small flick of the flame and I’m boiling again.

What I mean is, think about your story, the next scene, the next problem to be solved, the characters, BEFORE writing time. Think about it while driving, washing dishes, in the elevator, in a spare minute here or there. Sometimes I write a little of this stuff down on a legal tablet, if I have a spare minute. Sometimes I make a few notes to myself in my voice recorder (this is usually in the car). Most often I just think while I’m doing the laundry or milking the goats. I do NOT think about my story (for the most part) when I’m hanging with the kids, because then they get spaced-out, distant, distracted Mama, and that isn’t who I want to be for them. But the thread of this kind of thinking can be picked up and put back down throughout the day, and it still does the job of keeping the novel-stew cooking. If I’m stirring and poking the material at various points during the day, I get excited about it, I figure things out. And by night time and Writing Time, I know exactly what I’m going to do. I’m even stoked to do it. When I’m really hot, I can’t wait to sit down and write. That’s the feeling I’m going for.

(3) Write every day. Yes, I’m serious.

Thinking about your novel before writing time is all about keeping the stew pot cooking. But the other part of of keeping the stew pot hot is to write every day, or very near. If I don’t write every day, the stew gets cold. If a few days go by, I can’t even remember what was interesting about the story I was working on. The colder the stew gets, the more substantial the energy I have to put in to get hot and excited about the material again. When I write every day, even if I only hit twenty minutes or a couple hundred words, I keep the stew pot cooking, making it much, much easier to slide right back into the work.

And there is another benefit to keeping the stew warm. The excitement, or just engagement, that is generated by working the material daily, pushes the Anxiety and Guilt out of the way. It keeps me in touch with how much I love writing, and leaves less brain space for all that other crap. If I have to indulge in some anxiety or guilt (or when one or the other takes me by the throat and won’t let go) then I do it in my thought stream writing. Blah blah blah, get it out, let it go. Move on and don’t let it clog my precious hour to myself. Because the bottom line is that I love writing. The Anxiety and Guilt trips are separate from that, or can be.

Will someone please remind me of this the next time I’m having a panic attack?

Okay, that’s it. Those are my three tricks. I plan for my writing window, I get my thoughts cleared out, I get my thinking done before hand, I keep the material hot, and the minute I open the file, I’m working.

No pencil sharpening required.