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Jan 13, 2012 - Psychology    4 Comments

So Very Proud

Initially, I wrote this post as a note on Facebook last June, but I’m moved to repost it here. It’s been a hard week for a friend and her autistic daughter, as they struggle with a school that won’t give her what’s needed or even what’s right. It’s so hard to be a parent to these children and feel like we have anything close to what they demand, day in and day out. Every once in a while, though, you get a dividend, and somehow, other parents’ dividends show up in our paychecks too. So here’s mine, for you all, today.

Connor (in the tie-dyed shirt) leading our church group in the Twin Cities Pride parade, June 2011

Connor, Griffin, and I walked in the Twin Cities Pride Parade on Sunday, under the banner of our wonderful, inclusive church family (White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church). I hadn’t realized that the Pride Festival was the same weekend as Origins Game Fair, so doing it as a single mom of two rambunctious boys had not been in my original plan, and to say I was apprehensive would be a serious understatement.

Already, the trials of single parenting had affected my commitment to volunteer for OutFront MN, when my wonderful friend and neighbor who’d planned to take the boys Friday night called a few hours before my scheduled shift to say her daughter had been sent home from day care with nits. The OutFront folks were very understanding, and I spent some compassion capital on making dinner for all of us to share on a picnic bench outside.

But I knew the parade and festival would be unlike anything any of us had ever done, and I prepared as best I could: lots of snacks, sunscreen, water bottles, first aid kit–you know how it is with boys.  We parked near the beginning of the parade (in retrospect, a big mistake, so noted for next year), and met our co-marchers. Our ranks were swelled by members of another UU church (with drums!), and we took our place behind a paramedic crew on their ambulance.

We left about 100 ft. between ourselves and the ambulance, in hopes of avoiding the exhaust fumes, but I told Connor and another 9-year-old, Diana, that they could use the space so long as they danced and rode Diana’s adorably-decorated scooter to put on a show.

This was the order Connor has been waiting for his entire life.

For the next two miles or so, Connor danced with streamers and beads. He breakdanced (well, sort of). He did fake kung-fu. He swooped like an airplane from one side of the street to the other and back again. He gave high fives and tousled little kids’ hair among the spectators. He was the one thing he has ever wanted to be–the absolute center of attention. And the crowd LOVED HIM.

Asperger’s kids have to work so hard, all the time, to make themselves and their feelings smaller, to contain themselves to conform to societal norms. I’m not proud to say that, most of the time we’re in public, I live in fear of mortification at the next boundary he violates. For him and for me, it’s a constant strain to color inside the lines, and opportunities to say, “Go, be entirely yourself, all the way, as big as you want,” are vanishingly rare. But this parade was just that opportunity, and it was a joy to unhook the leash and set him free.

Any other kid would’ve been too embarrassed to try new moves on such a stage, or to dive into a crowd of raucous strangers demanding high fives–awareness of those social boundaries would tell us to rein it in, to tone it down, to contain the joy to just smiling big and waving. Griffin was shy for most of the parade (or intent on scouring the ground for candy). But Connor was absolutely free.

I don’t know if either of my kids is gay; I don’t care in the slightest. But Pride celebrates being your fullest, truest self, without fear or judgment, and the parade gave Connor the chance to do just that, and by doing so, he gave so many other people such immense joy. I was watching the crowd’s reaction to him–they weren’t laughing at him, they were just delighted by him, exactly as he was. And my heart felt so huge in my chest, so full it choked me with tears at times. He was free of constraint, and I was free of fear. We were both so very, very proud.

Game On: Reverb Gamers 2012 #3, 4, & 5

Ironically, catching up with work at Atlas Games has put me behind on Atlas Games’ blog project, Reverb Gamers. But it’s a quiet afternoon at work, with no big restocking orders today and my bosses home with sick twins, I’m taking a moment to get up to date.

REVERB GAMERS 2012, #3: What kind of gamer are you? Rules Lawyer, Munchkin/Power Gamer, Lurker, Storyteller/Method Actor, or something else? (Search “types of gamer” for more ideas!) How does this affect the kinds of games you play? For example, maybe you prefer crunchy rules-heavy systems to more theatrical rules-light ones.

This question refers to basic archetypes offered by game designer extraordinaire Robin Laws. If you’re not familiar these terms, he says most players fall into one of five categories, as summarized in an excellent blog post:

  • The Power Gamer: Get more powers and use them often and efficiently.
  • The Butt-Kicker: Enjoys combat and pwning NPCs!
  • The Tactician: Like to beat complex situations through thought and planning.
  • The Specialist: The one who plays a <insert character type here>. Ninjas and Drizzt clones are popular.
  • The Method Actor: Likes total immersion in a character’s assumed persona, whatever the costs!
  • The Storyteller: Enjoys exploring a story unfold around a character’s actions and choices.
  • The Casual Gamer: Shows up to be with friends and share the social energies of the group.

(These are also the character types in the fantastically entertaining movie The Gamers: Dorkness Rising.)  Of those, I’m clearly The Storyteller: I love telling stories with my friends around characters. I explained this more fully a little earlier.

But I’m quite taken at the moment with a different set of classifications, offered by my dear friend Rob Donoghue:

  • The Connector: Plays for story; rules are of negligible importance.
  • The Evil Muppet: Creative, whimsical, engaged, and in it for a specific kind of interaction: he wants the GM to bring the pain.
  • The Swooshy Giant Brain: Super-smart, but mostly just wants to stab things for fun.
  • The Rookie: Enthusiastic, rules savvy, in it for fun, but with not as much experience to draw on.
  • The Wildcard: Somehow both the most inspiring and most maddening player at the table, with a creative, twisted mind and enough rules know-how to take the whole game offroad.

These categories don’t make some of the assumptions that Robin’s do, the most problematic of which being the incompatibility of technical and creative emphases. Rob’s archetypes are patterned after mutual friends, which makes it personally fun, but they’re also more easily combined to reach a personal description.

In this system, I’m about 70% Connector, but at least 30% Wildcard; these proportions vary depending on my mood. It’s still all about the story for me, but some of my choices have been known to derail entire chunks of planned adventure. What can I say? It’s a gift.

REVERB GAMERS 2012, #4: Are you a “closet gamer?” Have you ever hidden the fact that you’re a gamer from your co-workers, friends, family, or significant other? Why or why not? How did they react if they found out?

I was surprised at how negatively some respondents took this question, so let me clarify. It’s pointing to the fact that some people feel that they have to hide their gaming, not suggesting that anyone should feel that they have to. And sure, if you’re writing a public response to this prompt, you’re probably not closeted anymore, but many kids had to dissemble with parents and teachers about what, precisely, they were doing with friends, so it’s not as alien a notion as it seems.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate in a number of ways that have prevented it from ever being necessary to hide my love of gaming. While very devout Christians, my family is the liberal, Methodist, God-is-love kind of Christian, not the kind that’s threatened by imagining worlds where other powers are possible. To their minds, we were kids who were reading, doing math, telling stories, and not committing crimes–what’s not to love? My work never made an issue of it, either. College is all about exploration, and I was only a lowly TA or adjunct, so nobody cared enough to be upset about my hobbies. And now my hobby is my work, at least for the time being.

All this being said, I know at least two good friends who do not want a word of their participation in gaming breathed outside the confines of the houses where the games take place. Both of them feel strongly that being “outed” as a gamer would be a liability to their careers, and I’m inclined to agree with them. Yes, it’s unfair, yes it’s silly, and yes, attitudes are changing. But they haven’t changed all the way, and some fields are more conservative in their expectations and acceptances.

So it’s still very possible to know these people. You may even game with them. Just something to be aware of when you go naming names in the posts about your weekly game. They’re not just being silly, and it’s nobody’s decision but theirs to let those around them know what they do for fun.

Me playing Gloom with some kids at the Student Council Game Day last May

REVERB GAMERS 2012, #5: Have you ever introduced a child to gaming, or played a game with a young person? How is gaming with kids different than gaming with adults?

The short answer is yes. I used to pack my copy of Kill Doctor Lucky when I went to substitute teaching assignments, and at some schools, kids would come up to me in the hall and ask whether they could sign into my study halls to play whatever I’d brought that day (yes, they asked a sub. Take a moment to absorb that.)

Now I have my own kids, and they’re finally at the ages (9.5 and 5.75, as of this moment) where I can enjoy playing organized games with them. I’ve also been doing this more for other people’s kids over the last year: I helped the Student Council at my boys’ school organize a Game Day, and I taught games at last fall’s Youth Pride Festival in Anoka, MN.

I’m not a particularly patient teacher of game rules, though, and I’m married to Cam Banks, a vastly more experienced GM with the skills and creativity to roll with whatever wacky plans the kids come up with, so I’m usually only in charge of teaching board and card games. That being said, it’s been unexpectedly fun, just over the last few months, to try out new finds and old favorites on my sons. They’ve really arrived at what I consider the earliest optimal age for games. Yes, I know they can play at much earlier ages; you don’t need to convince me. I just have this aversion to one particular feature of gaming with kids (or anyone): the complete devolution into silliness.

I love joking and kidding and having fun at the game table as much as the next person, but both the mom and the Aspergian in me absolutely lose it when kids start making the pawn figures knock each other around the table, and going up chutes and down ladders, and stealing money from the bank, and drawing cards until you get the one you want. Yes, I need to relax, and yes, more play teaches them play etiquette faster. I’ll be the first to say that my reaction is more a matter of me being annoyed than them being annoying. But it’s a barrier to enjoying games, and it leads to the urge to knee-jerk refuse requests to play something.

These things aren’t as much of a problem with RPGs, but sitting down to roleplay with kids requires a level of attention,energy, and uninterrupted time that isn’t always available in the day-to-day chaos. I really enjoy roleplaying with kids sometimes; we had friends’ pre-teen son at our games for several years, and it was just fine.

Gaming with my own pre-teen son is an astonishing experience. He thinks in storyboards, and he’s had an amazing grasp of narrative since he was two (no lie), so his capacity for character-driven drama and decisionmaking is far beyond his years. He’s also got that kid-gift for lateral thinking, which makes him a real Wildcard (see earlier) sometimes.

His Asperger’s brings its own blessings and challenges to the gaming table. His volume control goes away when he’s excited, which is most of the time when he’s having fun. He’s happiest when he’s the center of attention, so he’s not good with extended cut-away scenes that don’t involve his character (Cam does an awesome job of managing game flow to minimize this). And he gets really frustrated when the rules or chance won’t let him do what he’s picturing in his head; he takes it very personally when he can’t bring those visions to fruition. But his attention to detail, steel-trap memory, and typical Aspie fixations mean that, once he’s decided to master a system or if we’re playing in a world he knows and loves, he brings a level of sophistication that is frankly astonishing.

There’s nothing like gaming with kids to blast apart all the stodgy, preconceived notions experienced gamers bring to the table. As with everything else, they’re seeing it for the first time, and their perspective shatters the jaded accretions we’ve picked up over time. It’s good to be reminded of the wonderment we all experienced the first time we discovered the power to build worlds.

Love Is a Mixtape: Reverb Broads 2011 #29

Reverb Broads 2011, December 29: What was the soundtrack of your year? Of your life? Which songs most strongly represent the various eras of your life? What songs were playing for the most crucial, formative moments of your life? Or, if the chronological approach doesn’t work for you, which songs best capture the different facets of your life? (Childhood, Love Life, Adulthood, Loss, Growth, Career, Happiness, Sadness, etc.) Please elaborate. (courtesy of Bethany/Katie)

These are just a few of my songs. I know, the list is unbelievably long as it is, but it feels so incomplete. Some of them, I don’t even like, but most of them I always have and always will. And, for better or for worse, they’re like little hyperlinks to my memory. I did the best I could with the actual links; there’s supposed to be a YouTube clip attached to each. If it doesn’t go where it’s supposed to, you can Google as well as (or better than) I can. And how could I do it in anything other than mixtape form?

Side A: Child and Teen Jess

“The Bare Necessities” from Disney’s The Jungle Book — my favorite movie, age 2

The Star Wars theme — my new favorite movie, age 2.5

“Stardust” by Willie Nelson — my first concert, age about 2

“Help!” by The Beatles — Mom is a Beatlemaniac, and she started us young

“The Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie — my new favorite movie, age 4; also excellent for showing off at the rollerskating rink

“Tomorrow” from Annie — my new favorite movie, age 7, and a good audition piece

“Mickey” by Toni Basil — those first heady days of MTV and the roller-rink

“Thriller” by Michael Jackson — the cassette I got with my first walkman

“Purple Rain” by Prince — my first R-rated movie (I still stop to watch it whenever it’s on VH1)

“The One I Love” by R.E.M. — my first taste of college radio in my stepbrother’s room

“All Cried Out” by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam — my first junior high dance drama

“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Gloria Loring from Dirty Dancing — my new favorite movie, age 13

“Watermark” by Enya — mission trip to Appalachia, and my first taste of New Age music

“Everyday Is Like Sunday” by Morrissey — my first kiss

“So Alive” by Love and Rockets — my first chaperone-less concert

“With Or Without You” by U2 — my first high school dance drama, and the beginning of a 10-month abusive relationship

“Three Little Maids from School Are We” from The Mikado — my first college-level theater experience, as a HS sophomore in the chorus

“Skid Row (Downtown)” from Little Shop of Horrors — music from the soundtrack I sang with my girlfriends as they took me in and protected me after the abuse

“Blue Monday” by New Order — falling in love at music camp

“Cuts You Up” by Peter Murphy — first (voluntary) you-know-what

“In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel — first big breakup

“You Are The Everything” by R.E.M. — falling in love at World Affairs Seminar

“Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd — senior year long-distance relationship

“Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes — senioritis and graduation

“Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers — school trip to France

 

Side 2 — College and Old Jess

“These Are Days” by 10,000 Maniacs — first semester of college

“One Night in Bangkok” from Chess — first off-campus apartment with a boyfriend

“Supervixen” by Garbage — AmberMUSH and the start of so many good things

“Possession” by Sarah McLachlan — end of an engagement; freedom

40-Part Motet by Thomas Tallis — singing in my fantastic college choir

“Linger” by The Cranberries — study abroad in France, and the beginning of a courtship

“Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden — dating by phone call and mix tape

“Je t’aimais, je t’aime, et je t’aimerai” by Francis Cabrel — life in France

“Ngaire” by The Mutton Birds — planning a wedding, half a world away

“The Macarena” by Los del Rio — coming home, and the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta

“The Lark in the Clear Air” (trad. Irish) — the song I sang at our wedding

“Darling Nikki” by Prince — working at the record store, the song we had to sprint the length of the floor to skip before he sang the word “masturbating”

“He Watching Over Israel” from Mendelssohn’s Elijah — staging the oratorio as an opera, with my fantastic college choir again

“Candle In The Wind” by Elton John — moving to Pennsylvania

“Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba — first semester of grad school

“The Trick Is To Keep Breathing” by Garbage — my fibromyalgia diagnosis, and the depression that followed

“Du Hast” by Rammstein — so very sick during my first pregnancy, but the baby loved this song, before and after birth

“The Night” by Morphine — the song playing while I was in labor with my first son

“Woke Up This Morning” by Alabama 3, from The Sopranos— that first long summer of motherhood

“Fix You” by Coldplay — my second son arrives

“American Idiot” by Green Day — mad, mad motherhood

“Business Time” by Flight of the Conchords — moving to Wisconsin, and gaming conventions

“What’s Left of the Flag” by Flogging Molly — life in Wisconsin among my Irish family

“I Will Follow You Into The Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie — teaching at Carroll and getting by

“We Used to Be Friends” by The Dandy Warhols, from Veronica Mars — moving to Minnesota, and depression I almost didn’t survive

“Bad Things” by Jace Everett, from True Blood — rediscovering joy

“Paparazzi” by Lady Gaga — the long, hard winter, and children old enough to start influencing their parents’ listening habits

“The Parting Glass” by The High Kings — a much better summer

“Firework” by Katy Perry — the Next Big Thing arrives for my Darling Husband

“I Still Believe” by Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls — back to school, and the best concert I can remember

 

Romantic as F**k: Reverb Broads 2011 #28

Our first walk as Mr. and Mrs. Banks, 5 October 1996

Reverb Broads 2011, December 28 (my birthday!): Do you consider yourself a romantic person? Do you prefer fancy dinners, roses, and chocolate, or are you more non-traditional? What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done for a loved one or had done for you? (courtesy of Kassie at http://bravelyobey.blogspot.com/)

Answering this question feels almost redundant; my whole life is an answer to this question. But I forget sometimes that not everyone knows my weird story, so here’s a quick recap: I made friends with a guy in New Zealand on the MUSH (real-time, text-based online roleplaying game) we both played on in the mid-’90s. We talked on the phone, sent silly packages, and slowly fell in love. We became “exclusive” at the beginning of my year in France, and on my birthday in 1995, he left his island for the first time in his life to fly to London and meet me in person. He had the engagement ring in his suitcase. He asked me in Aberdeen, Scotland on New Year’s Eve; I said yes, then made him talk through all the practical details before I would even open the ring box. We travelled together for three weeks, then he went home until I was back in the States that summer. He flew in to Florida, where I was staying with my parents before returning to Kansas for my last semester of undergrad, and we’ve been together ever since.

So, there are the answers to questions 1 and 3.

But even generally speaking, I’m a pretty unapologetic romantic. I love grand gestures, though I lean toward the non-traditional in what I appreciate. While I enjoy fancy dinners and flowers as much as the next girl, the efforts that speak to really knowing me well are the ones that really ring my bell. My husband bought me a Doctor Who charm bracelet on Etsy for Christmas this year, which was just perfect. And I wear Tresor perfume partly because I love it, and partly because he always says how much he loves the way it smells on me in particular.

I also adore surprises and pulling off ninja-level arrangements. When I went away to Welsh camp during the week of my husband’s birthday, I hid presents for him for each day, all around the house, and left him clues to open each day. I hid a barbeque grill behind the television stand; I put a video of our favorite MST3K episode in one of my kitchen cupboards. I had the poor man convinced I was sneaking home from Toronto every night to hide things that he was sure hadn’t been there the day before. Part of this is helped by his general obliviousness to detail (sorry, love, but you know it’s true: a side effect of being a storytelling genius is that you’re more aware of made-up things than the ones right in front of you), but part was sheer ninjatude on my part. One of my only regrets is that I don’t really have a surprise ninja for myself.

It’s so tricky finding romance in everyday life. A lot of the time, quite honestly, we use laughter and shared interests like methadone for the elusive heroin of romantic gestures. And I’ll be the first to say that, some days, I have exactly enough romance in my body to read about five pages of a smutty novel before I fall asleep–two-way romance takes way more energy than reading about somebody else’s romance. But when the astronomical odds of ever having found my perfect partner in the world give me vertigo to contemplate, it doesn’t take much to feel like there’s romance all around me. There’ll be time (and maybe money) for grand gestures when the kids grow up.

And they lived happily ever after...

Jan 1, 2012 - Fine Arts, Psychology    No Comments

My Stuff, My Space: Reverb Broads 2011 #26 & 27

Reverb Broads 2011, December 26: Write about the things you collect, include photos, tell why these items are cherished by you? (courtesy of Catie at http://catiecake.typepad.com/catiecake/) and December 27: What does your office/home/bedroom tell others about you? (courtesy of Kristen at http://kristendomblogs.com/)

I collect a lot more things than I consciously set out to collect, which is why my house says things about me I’d rather not said out loud. But there are a few things I do set out to collect. They tend to fall into one of four main categories: toys, craft supplies, pictures, and books.

I like all kinds of silly toys, but I’m a total geek, so my toys tend to reflect that. Naturally, I’ve got a lot of Star Wars, comics, and movie-inspired toys. I also really like toys of things that wouldn’t normally be toys; I have a stuffed Anubis (the Egyptian god of the dead), a purple Lucite Ganesh statue, and a wind-up walking nun. I prefer monsters and villains over heroes, for the most part, so I have toys of my favorites, like Maleficent (the evil fairy from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty–in fact, one of them is our tree topper at the moment) and Japanese movie monsters like Godzilla and Gamera. And of course, I’ve got quite a few Muppets.

I’m also quite the craft ninja, and I’ve got a big wardrobe full of supplies, plus several large plastic tubs full of fabric, yarn, cross-stitch projects, jewelry supplies, and anything that might be improved by the application of hot glue. Crafters know that creativity could break out when you least expect it, and you’ve got to be ready.

I can’t imagine leaving walls–or any decoratable surface, really–blank, so wherever I am tends to be a visual feast of photos, posters, art, and anything else I can get to stick to a vertical surface. I’m a huge fan of Art Nouveau icon Alphonse Mucha, and Art Nouveau blends well with my passion for Celtic designs. I also like art that contains visual jokes or is multi-referential. For instance, I’ve got a huge bus-stop poster from France that shows a painting of Saint Peter (painted in rich Italian Renaissance style, with even an ornate gilt frame on the edges of the poster) as he reaches for a round of Brie floating above him. The caption at the bottom reads, “Il n’y a rien au-dessus de President” (There’s Nothing Above President [Cheese]). The absurdity of the elaborate art and the sacrilegious slogan (quite remarkable to find in a nominally Catholic country) tickle my funny bone. And I’m a very sentimental person who likes to be surrounded by loved ones, so I have photos of family and friends everywhere.

Finally, I would like to have ALL THE BOOKS RIGHT NOW THANK YOU. My husband actually asked me whether I wanted a Kindle for my birthday this year, and he really didn’t know whether I would enjoy it. I had to answer honestly: no, I prefer books. I can’t inscribe or annotate a download; I can’t press a favorite PDF into a friend’s hand with passionate entreaties to share my new find. I’m terrible about getting rid of books, too; I’ve felt less attached to some of my cats than I am to some of my books. I’ve got some incredibly cool autographed volumes, and some lovely old books (though I don’t collect old books just because they’re old, despite what my family thinks), but all my books are like beloved children. Sure, it’s time to let some of them leave the nest; I’m tired of carting hundreds of pounds of things I’ll never read again from residence to residence. But I’m rarely happier than I am in a room filled with books, those I’ve read and loved, and those that sit like treasure chests waiting to be discovered.

My desk at work reflects all of these things, except the books, because when I’m at work I’m not supposed to be reading anything but emails and roleplaying games. I’ve got my adorable sons, Captain Jack Harkness, The Beatles (that’s the corner of a black-and-white poster at the top right) and Eric the vampire to keep me company, and The Endless watch over my work from atop my monitor. My boys’ artwork and a picture of Padme Amidala in the style of Mucha adorn my walls, and a host of other little friends crowd around my keyboard.

What does it say about me? It says I’m a geek, of course. It says I haven’t grown up. It says I love color and cute men. It says my bosses are very cool and patient with my quirkiness. It says I’m ready for the kids who are sometimes in the office. It says I’ve got a lot going on. What it doesn’t say–but it’s good to know–is that there are always snacks in my top left drawer. Lots of tasty snacks.

My desk at the Atlas Games offices

Dec 22, 2011 - Psychology    No Comments

Taste the Rainbow: Reverb Broads 2011 #20

Reverb Broads 2011, December 20: Life is a work of art, or so they say. What beauty do you regularly appreciate/revere in your life? (courtesy of Neha at http://whereyouarehere.blogspot.com/)

I experience beauty differently than most people. See, I’m a synesthete. What the hell is that, you say? Never heard of synethesia? The World English Dictionary defines the term as “the subjective sensation of a sense other than the one being stimulated. For example, a sound may evoke sensations of colour.”

I haven’t thought of myself as a synesthete until recently, when a discussion with another one ended with her saying, “Oh, no, you totally are.” And as I went into Research Mode, I discovered that synesthesia isn’t uncommon among neurodiverse people, especially those with Autism Spectrum Disorders, because their sensory perceptions are already slightly bent. 

As I explore the interactions among my senses more consciously than ever before, I’m discovering that my favorite things are my favorites because they register on more than one sense. For example, I love Pantone color 2757. It’s the deep rich blue of the sky just before full dark, or a Marc Chagall painting. But it’s also the color that fills my mind when the Bass IIs of a choir dip down below the staff, like in Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria. Those notes unfurl over me like a bolt of midnight velvet; I could just roll around in them, and an unbearably rich, creamy taste like foie gras fills my mouth.

And the air right now, that keen winter smell that portends snow (but doesn’t yet freeze your boogers, if you know what I mean), blows up banks of fluffy cumulus clouds in my mind, airier than the leaden walls of vapor that hug so close to the northern sky these days. It’s a bright, fluffy smell, just a fraction bluer than powdered sugar, with a clean minty smell. I want to eat that smell like marshmallows.

These associations dazzle me sometimes, and I know the distracted, mile-long stare that captures me when I fall into a whirl of sensations. I just wish you all could taste what I hear.

Lucky Girl, Part 2: Reverb Broads 2011 #19

Reverb Broads 2011, December 19: Self-Portrait: Post a picture of you that you like, write about yourself, post a video — what do you want your self-portrait to say about you? (courtesy of Kristen at http://kristendomblogs.com)

I’ve reserved my right to remain on the other side of cameras ever since high school, but every once in a while, someone sneaks a picture of me. Most of them are generally appalling. But some make me happy because they reveal something about myself that I hope is true.

Like that I’m a good mom who’ll make a fool of herself to make her kids happy.

Me jousting with Connor at the Minnesota Children's Museum

 Or that I really do have magic in my hands.

Me crocheting, apparently faster than shutter speed

I’d like to think pictures can prove that I’m not crazy when I say that my children are Not Normal.

This is what happens when Griffin and Connor get their hands on my sunglasses. I swear to the gods that this was their idea.

And sometimes, pictures help me believe that I really do have a happy soul, deep down.

A beautiful day for AIDS Walk Wisconsin, along the shores of Lake Michigan, 2008

But mostly, they just remind me how incredibly lucky I am.

 

Dec 18, 2011 - Psychology    1 Comment

The Opposite of Raindrops on Roses: Reverb Broads 2011 #17

Reverb Broads 2011, December 17: Instead of a list of your favorite things, write a list of your least favorite things, e.g. Worst book you ever finished, the color you hate, bad songs, bad romances, bad recipes. (courtesy of Amy at http://2bperfectlyfrank.blogspot.com)

I almost didn’t do this one because, between this list and the pet peeves, I don’t want to seem only whiny and/or insane. So this’ll be a combination of the light and dark. And they’re just the ones I can think of right now — I know I’m going to think of better answers the minute I post this, so it might be worth looking back here in a day or two for updates.

Least favorite movie: The Elephant Man. Saw it when I was about 8, and it scared the bejeezus out of me.

Least favorite food: Either blue cheese or bananas

Least favorite song: “I’ve Got A Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas (though I’m none too fond of “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” at the moment either)

Least favorite TV: Anything with Kardashians or Housewives of any kind

Least favorite surprise: Getting a mouthful of diet soda when it’s supposed to be regular, or plain carbonated water when it’s supposed to be Sprite

Least favorite chore: Scrubbing out the bathtub

Least favorite sound: Off-key singers or instruments

Least favorite book: The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield is a whiny, ingrateful, misanthropic little shit.

Least favorite pet: Ugly, yappy little dogs

Least favorite discussion: Anything that starts with the premise that Ayn Rand had it right

Least favorite sight: Myself in the mirror at the gym

Least favorite activity: Trying to get to sleep on a night when the temperature doesn’t get below 75

Least favorite sensation: Nausea

Least favorite form of humor: Rape jokes

Least favorite “fun” thing: Pretty much any video game that involves timing. I get anxiety attacks and muscle spasms with anything from Tetris to Mario Bros. to the LEGO games. About all I can handle are Spelltower and Hexic, but only when they’re not on timer mode.

Least favorite place: Wal-Mart

Least favorite people: Those who undermine the hard work of others, so the good folks have to take the damage and pick up the slack. I’m not fond of people who want all their rights and privileges, but are fine with restricting everyone else’s freedom, either.

Least favorite thing about myself: My temper, and my utterly inexplicable weight gain over the last year

Least favorite thing in my life right now: My youngest not being able to get through a week at school without multiple disciplinary problems (he’s not what you’d call “school-ready,” despite our best efforts)

Least favorite thing this holiday season: Not being able to find a Christmas tree, and knowing that our little one and all the ornaments are in a storage unit 6 hours away

 

The Pettiest of Peeves: Reverb Broads #16

Reverb Broads 2011, December 16: What are your biggest pet peeves? (courtesy of Emily at http://warmedtheworld.blogspot.com)

I can only come up with three pet peeves right now, and they’re all so trivial, I’m pretty embarrassed to put them out there. Feel free to mock them. But once you know about them, beware: they might start to annoy you, too!

My first pet peeve is repetitive noises. It’s a Big Red Button that is constantly pushed by my sons, because if there’s one thing kids love, it’s making the same noises or saying the same things over and over and over and over. Both of them engage in what I like to call “echolocation barking,” when they say “Mom!” or “Dad!” over and over until someone responds to them, even if they don’t really have anything else to say. They also seem incapable of singing more than one riff of a song, though they’re happy to sing that riff on endless loop. I refuse to buy The Toys That Make The Noise. And don’t get me started on video game music…

And it’s caused by a big snarly bundle of factors. I have perfect relative pitch, extremely sensitive hearing, and a tendency toward hypervigilance — in short, I really can’t stop listening. This contributes to my general insomnia; I can’t sleep without some sort of patternless white noise, like a fan. My husband once bought me one of those soundscape machines, but I had to return it after two nights, because all of the environmental sounds had a loop, and I would lie there waiting for the same pattern of notes to come back again. Pure torture.

My second pet peeve is simple: apostrophes. Sure, there are lots of other nitpicky little grammar things that make me nuts, but I could learn to live with all sorts of things if folks would just get their apostrophes under control. They’re not even hard, people! Here, I’ll let Bob the Flower handle this one:

And my last one isn’t even that bad, but it makes the holiday season maddening for me. In the song “Deck the Hall,” there is only ONE HALL, but MANY BOUGHS. “Deck the Halls” is not the correct original lyric, though it is ubiquitous these days. I got this pet peeve from a good friend with whom I sang in church and school choir for years, and now, like her, I go around at carol sings yelling, “ONE HALL, MANY BOUGHS!” and generally annoying everyone.

You don’t believe me, do you? Well, here, look!

This is original sheet music, from the Victorian era when the carol became popular

Dec 14, 2011 - Psychology    4 Comments

No, I will not answer in the form of a question: Reverb Broads 2011 #13

Reverb Broads 2011, December 13: What are three things you are better at than most people? (courtesy of Catie at http://catiecake.wordpress.com/)

I sure wish any of these three things were people skills. I wish these abilities could be leveraged to make the world a better place. But they’re really not. They don’t even make me particularly likable in many circles.

My first superpower is proofreading. I come by this skill genetically; my mom is the Supreme Goddess of All Secretaries. I’ve been proofreading for her since I was eleven years old. I’m also a grammar nazi, the kind of person Lynne Truss (Eats, Shoots, and Leaves) calls “a stickler.” And I’ve had a lot of fantastic English and journalism teachers who did unusual things, like make me memorize all the articles* in fifth grade.

I see spelling and punctuation errors like Haley Joel Osment sees dead people: They’re everywhere. Moreover, I usually see these mistakes within about three seconds, even on a full page of text.  Local TV ads, signs in grocery stores, and small-town papers (even large-town papers, more and more) make me flinch instinctively. There have been books (usually paperbacks are worse than hardcovers, for some reason) that I have been unable to finish without a marking pen in hand; my mom and I have both offered to various romance publishers to proofread for free, just to keep ourselves in trashy novels. And every time I let a publication go out that I haven’t given a pass, I inevitably find a dumb error, which really doesn’t help my general control freak-ness.

But if you ever need to hire an editor for something important, even just a résumé or wedding invitation? I’m your girl, and I work cheap.

My second superpower is quiz shows. I’ve written before about my weird feats of memory; in short, I’ve got a mind like a steel trap for trivia, and a sieve for useful things. And I’ve got a knack for abstract thinking — the more oblique the clue, the better. This combination allows me to be good enough at Jeopardy! that I was regularly kicked out of the lounge in my college dorm when it was on, but to graduate a few hundredths of a grade point shy of wearing honor cords. I can solve Wheel of Fortune puzzles without any letters. I’ve been told by more people than I can count on two hands that I would be their lifeline on Millionaire. I deserve Carl Kasell’s voice on my answering machine. I do, in fact, know Jack.

Finally, my third superpower is reading aloud. Frankly, I rock at this. I’ve got some mutant skills in this area: I can read text I’ve never seen before upside-down at full speed, which would make me the Most Popular Children’s Librarian In The World, if I wanted to be. And when I read aloud, I make it a full-on dramatic event. With me, you get different voices, accents, and a panoply of emotions. If it says, “She screamed,” I can make it sound throat-shredding without even getting that loud. If the character has a head cold, ids goig do sound lig id. Glaswegians sound like Glaswegians; goats sound like goats.

I don’t only do this for my kids and their classes at school. I’ve probably read a dozen books (including every word of Harry Potter) and a thousand articles aloud to my husband. Sometimes, as in the case with the Master Li and Number Ten Ox stories, reading them aloud in their entirety is just more coherent than reading out context-less passages every time I laugh aloud (which is almost every page). And sometimes, it’s because I want to fully convey my shock and outrage. He’s very patient with me, and I’d like to think it’s a value-added service.

In short, I’m a pedantic, overly dramatic know-it-all. But I’m the best one you know.

*a, all, an, any, both, each, every, few, many, more, most, no, several, some, that, the, these, this, those, which, and all number words like one, two.

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