Skating By

•01/22/2014 • Leave a Comment

I’ve never been particularly athletic.

Actually, I don’t know if that’s a fair statement. From age three to eighteen, I barely ever sat still. From soccer to cheerleading to basketball to softball to dance to musical theatre, I was always doing something that involved moving around and sweating. So let me start over.

I’ve never been particularly coordinated. That is to say, yes, I did all those things, but I was never particularly good at anything that didn’t involve music. OKAY FINE I WAS BAD AT SPORTS. In soccer I preferred to play with the white chalky grass than run TOWARD the crazy group of flying cleats. I was actually pretty good at cheerleading until we got to the age where anything more complicated than a cartwheel was necessary (back handsprings looked like a surefire way to break your neck to me). The only thing in basketball I was good at was setting picks (aka standing totally still and letting another girl run right into me). And in softball, while I only struck out twice in my four year career, it wasn’t because I was getting hits (I’m really good at walking…aka not swinging).

So I honestly am not sure what possessed my mother to sign me up for ice skating lessons one winter. I was about eight years old, which is before a few of aforementioned failings, and I had only fallen down the stairs like once at that point, so maybe I was still under the impression that my brain was good at telling my body what to do. It’s entirely possible I begged my mother to take the lessons. Maybe a friend of mine was doing it. I don’t know. I just can’t imagine it was her idea, because she hates the cold an unreasonable amount for someone who was born and raised in New England. Whatever the case, there I was, eight years old, strapping blades to my feet, and almost immediately regretting agreeing to this nonsense.

I was bad at ice skating. I fell approximately every four seconds. I had zero balance. Possibly negative balance. I wouldn’t be surprised if I actually caused some sort of gravitational rift, that’s how uncoordinated I was. The instructor kept saying, “Glide!” like it was a totally natural thing to understand how to do, like “sit up straight”. And do you know how scary it is to fall on a neverending sheet of ice amidst other eight-year-old first-time skaters? All of a sudden all of your FACE is level with other wild and unpredictable bladed feet.

I probably gave up the idea that I was going to learn how to skate by the end of the first lesson. From that point on, it was just about surviving. While the other kids had moved on to skating backwards and turning around, I was still staring straight down, legs wide, arms out, trying to will myself forward without having to move my feet, lest they slip out from under me. I’ll admit, those glorious seconds between when the instructor gave me a little shove of a headstart and when I fell flat on my ass were usually pretty fun. It felt a little like flying. It’s probably why I didn’t quit. I think I thought I could learn by osmosis – maybe one day I would show up and just be better at it. (It’s also possible that, at that point in my life, I had no idea “quitting” was an option I had in anything.)

Anyway, needless to say, I didn’t go on to join the US Olympic figure skating team. But every week, I’d go, I’d try not to die, I’d successfully not die, and I’d be rewarded by hot chocolate with marshmallows by my mother, bless her heart, who somehow stuck it out in the freezing, smelly indoor rink.

By the last day, I had gotten so good at not dying, that I managed to survive the entire lesson without even falling on my butt one single time. I didn’t skate backwards or in circles like the other kids, but I definitely moved forward at least a little, and not falling was gold-medal worthy in my book. I was so excited. SO EXCITED. Then the instructor announced that we were going to get to see a performance by professional figure skaters! In real life! Right now! Before our very eyes! We were so excited! She guided us like little frozen ducklings over to one side of the rink and told us to sit down on the ice.

Uh…what? Excuse me? I just spent the past hour trying to not do exactly that and SUCCEEDED FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER. Because you know what, not only does falling down hurt and also make your life, however short, flash before your eyes, but getting up is really hard! Ice is slippery! And you’re only 75% sure that you’re not about to lose a finger every time! And now you want me to sit down?? ON PURPOSE?

It felt like a cruel joke. I’m not even sure I enjoyed the performance, I was so incensed. (Just kidding I probably loved it because sparkles and twirling.) It forever tainted my experience with ice skating and if I’m going to be made to sit on the ice anyway WHAT WAS THE POINT and whatever it’s not like ice skating is a life skill you ever NEED. When you’re in college and your friends all go ice skating and promise they’ll teach you but then skate away as soon as you get to the rink, it will be fine because a park employee will take pity on you and try to help you out and laugh what he probably thinks is mock panic but is actually your fear and frustration being manifested into mania and make you feel better about the whole situation.

So even though I didn’t quit mid-season, I definitely did not return to ice skating lessons. And I still think it sounds like an insane thing to do (BLADES on your FEET on the SLIPPERIEST SURFACE AVAILABLE) and I’m not sure how more people aren’t decapitated yearly by it, but to each their own.

I’m sorry if you thought there was going to be some kind of lesson or epiphany involved in this story. There isn’t. And it probably went on way longer than it needed to. But I never have been very good at knowing when to quit things.

And now I’m back, from outer space.

•01/21/2014 • 1 Comment

Bless me, WordPress, for I have sinned. It’s been four months since my last blog post. (And also I just used a religious sacrament in jest, so I’m sinning all over the place.) Also, I only posted 10 times last year. 10! I’ve posted 385 times total and only 10 of them were last year. My poor, neglected WordPress.

In my defense, I’ve been writing elsewhere. Even if you don’t count Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, between copywriting and fanfiction and the Harry Potter Medicinal Re-Read and (most importantly) AfterEllen, hardly a day goes by when I’m not writing SOMETHING.

That being said, I still don’t think it’s enough. I want to be a writer. I recently started calling myself a writer out loud, to see how it feels, but I still don’t feel like I’ve 100% earned it yet. I feel like I almost have, and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in the past year in ways I never thought I could be proud of myself. But I still don’t feel like I’m putting forth as much effort as I could be.

When I was in 8th grade, age 13, they made us predict where we thought we would be in five, ten, and twenty years from then. I know I have that assignment somewhere, likely lost in the dusty confines of my parents’ cellar. But I remember that I thought I would be living in New York by the five year mark (done! yes!), have moved to California by the ten year mark (I changed my mind, New York has its hooks in me, I’m here for good, IT’S ALLOWED) and also would have written two “mystery novels” by then. By 23! I was an ambitious little sucker. I’m well past 23 and I’ve written…one mystery novella? Okay, a novella-length fanfiction story that maybe could be considered a mystery. Whatever, I also thought that, by 33, I’d have a husband and two kids, and I’m a 27-year-old single lesbian, so I think we can all just admit that my preteen self was about as prophetic as Professor Trelawney.

I actually had glasses and ridiculous hair at that point, too.

Anyway, my point is, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Even when my verbal answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” shifted from “actress” to “veterinarian who is allergic to every animal ever” and back to “actress” again, I always also wanted to write. Ever since I was in second grade. I’ve told this story before, but as I mentioned, I only wrote in this blog ten times over the past year, so I think I’m allowed to retell it. The author of a children’s book (oh, how I wish I remembered which one) came to speak at my elementary school, and stayed afterward to sign autographs. I desperately wanted her to sign my book, but also was paralyzingly shy at age eight. So, my second grade teacher, who was firm but fair, and always someone I felt warmly toward while still harboring a healthy amount of fear of her, took me by the shoulders and ushered me to the table where the author sat. I don’t remember if the author said anything to me that I answered with a dumb stare or if my teacher was the only one who spoke, but it is only her words I remember. She said, “This is Valerie, she’s going to write children’s books too, someday.”

Well that just about blew my damn mind. First of all, I have no recollection of ever having this conversation with my teacher. I don’t even think I knew yet that I liked to write. All I knew is that I liked to read, like. A lot. Probably more than anything else at that point in my life, and maybe that’s all she knew, too. And the way she said it, she sounded so SURE. It wasn’t a dream or a goal or a possibility. She knew that someday I would write a book.

And dammit, I will. If for no other reason than that she believed I would.

Fortunately for her (and me) I have had other people, as I grew, tell me that they enjoyed my writing. And, as it turned out, I really enjoyed writing. So I kept doing it. And here I am.

I call myself a writer, because I write. I think I’ll believe I’m a writer when I write something truly meaningful. Something more than my ten closest friends read and tell me they like. Something that changes at least one person’s life the way so many of my favorite books have changed mine.

I recently read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which is a magically wonderful book that I highly recommend to anyone with an imagination as active as mine, or with such a sense of wonder, and in it, I found a quote that truly moved me, especially as someone who wants to be a writer.

“When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words…There are many kinds of magic, after all.”

I want that. I want to tell that tale that will move and drive another person. But I have a long way to go. I know it every time I publish a piece of fanfiction, every time I submit a recap. I know I could be better.

I haven’t figured out exactly how to improve my writing, not yet. But I imagine a good first step is to simple write more. So write more I shall. I will write here as often as I can. I want to eventually work my way up to posting here every day, but I don’t want to overwhelm myself (as I am prone to do) so I’m just going to say “as often as I can” for now, with the hope that it will become a daily routine. I don’t know yet how exactly that will improve my writing, especially if I’m never given constructive criticism, but I figure it can’t hurt.

I just finished reading Katie Heaney’s book, Never Have I Ever, and it was full of personal accounts of adorably awkward encounters, endearing stories, life lessons, and other treasures. It reminded me that I have random and ridiculous stories to share, and instead of forcing them on two or three particular friends who tend to get the brunt of the insanity that pours out of my mind as thoughts come to it, I could put it here, for anyone to read as they will. That way, no one is pressured to respond to my stories, my thoughts, my musings. You can either read them and comment, read them and move on, or not read them at all. And I will be none the wiser. Unless you comment. Then I’ll know if you read it or not. But you know what I mean.

Another thing I will try to do this time around, is try to write my posts the night before, and schedule them to go up the day after I write them. That way I’m not panicking at 11:58 that I’m not finished writing my post for the day. I just have to write something – anything – before I go to sleep on any given night. In a way that doesn’t make people want to gauge their eyeballs out. Easy peasy, right?

Obviously I have some work to do, but it’s an introductory post, one to mark the beginning of my foray back into the land of blogging, so I’m going to cut myself a little slack. I hope I don’t give up this venture ten posts in, because I do think that forcing the “writing” part (parts?) of my brain to stay active regularly will allow me to write better/more in other ventures.

So maybe you’ll join me on this voyage, and maybe you won’t. At the very least, I hope I haven’t made you gauge your eyeballs out just yet.

A Dream is a Wish

•09/27/2013 • 4 Comments

A year ago today, a dream of mine came true.

September 27th, 2012, my very first post went up on AfterEllen.com.

It was something I had wanted to do for a very, very long time. AfterEllen helped me so much when I was first coming out – in fact, it’s probably the only reason I felt comfortable enough admitting to myself that I was a lesbian. Here was a whole website, a whole community of people who were just like me. Well, not just like me, but that was the beauty of it too. We all fit into the LGBTQ spectrum, but we were all different.

That was part of the problem for me as far as coming to terms with my sexuality. I was raised in a sort of bubble and went to Catholic school my entire life, so my only real knowledge of lesbians were the extreme stereotypes I was indirectly taught by peers, adults, and the media. I remember at one point telling myself I couldn’t be a lesbian because I liked having long hair. Just to try to demonstrate how utterly lost I was. AfterEllen showed me that being a lesbian was already part of who I was, accepting it wouldn’t have to change anything about me.

What I didn’t realize that coming out would change me, but in the most amazing ways possible. I was suddenly entirely comfortable in my own skin. I felt more confident, like having this secret had been a cloud over my personality. I still felt like me, but a more vibrant me. Me in HD. (Ha! Sorry. That’s lame. But it makes my point.)

Anyway, when I was in grad school, I re-discovered my love for writing. In college I had to write so many papers that I had little to no time (or desire) to write for myself, with the exception of a journal that was not really writing as much as it was word vomit. I used to love to write – I was part of a creative writing club in high school, I wrote a “book” in elementary school just for fun, my second grade teacher told me I would be a great author someday. College tried to squash that, making writing more of a chore than anything. I knew I was good at knocking out a 10 page paper the night before it was due and still getting a decent grade, but that felt more like survival than anything. The writing class I took in grad school changed all that. Somewhere between realizing how much I enjoyed the exercises, reading other peoples’ work, and getting positive feedback that made me practically burst with pride, my love for writing was reawakened. A few close friends convinced me to create this blog, and I started up imagination station once again.

I wrote anything and everything I could think of. I wrote in as many genres as I could, as often as I wanted, and it was freeing. I felt like I was learning about myself and about writing, and it was all just for me. Not for a grade, not as an assignment. Just because I wanted to.

Around this same time, I also rediscovered my love for reading for pleasure. Similar with writing, I had so much reading assigned in college and grad school, I rarely picked up a book just because I wanted to. Mind you, as an early childhood education major in undergrad, and getting a masters in literacy education in grad school, I did enjoy a lot of the assigned reading in the last few years of my higher education, but it was still quite the juxtaposition from the little girl who used to leave the library with books stacked as high as she could physically managed or the teenager who read all the books on the optional summer reading list because she wanted to.

Suddenly I was reading everything. I started with books I had obtained during my semester working at Barnes & Noble (best retail job ever) and went from there. I would read on the train, at Starbucks, in the park, on my fire escape. I would even sometimes write about what I read. It was a revitalization of my favorite things, and I was dusting off and polishing my favorite part of me – my imagination.

I loved stretching and growing my imagination and delving into the worlds of other people’s imaginations. One of my favorite people’s imaginations to dive into was Heather Anne Hogan’s. Her Pretty Little Liars recaps (and everything she wrote that I could get my hands on) were absolutely magical. I was in awe of her talent, her humor, her everything. I started tweeting with the fellow #BooRadleyVanCullen-ers and it was quickly becoming my favorite day of the week. Whenever one of my tweets was chosen for Heather’s tweet roundup the next day, or if she would tweet at me and tell me I made her laugh, my heart would soar and I would feel like I was on top of the world – the person who makes me laugh more than anyone on the internet thought *I* was funny. One night, twitter was being weird, and I joked that Heather wouldn’t be able to find me, so she followed me. I was over the moon. And little did I know it was only the beginning.

One day, Heather sent me a DM saying that she had found my blog through my twitter profile and that she liked my writing and that I should keep doing it. She called me a talented writer and she said I had a strong, unique voice. Which was the highest compliment coming from someone with such a strong, unique voice herself. Basically, my own idol was telling me that I was good at doing what I loved doing and I didn’t think things could get better than that.

I told my friend Christine about this exchange, because I simply could not keep it to myself. Shortly after I had started my blog, I had started doing my own Glee recaps. This was before Heather had started doing them; the person who recapped it before her was a great writer, but her (understandable) disdain for the show was obvious in her recaps and it hurt my heart too much to read, so I started writing my own. I had so much fun doing it that I told Christine that it would be a dream come true to write recaps for AfterEllen someday. When I told Christine about Heather’s comments, she said that this was a great opportunity to ask Heather about writing for AfterEllen – how to apply, what kind of experience I would need…basically, what steps I should take if I wanted to someday write for this website I loved so much.

I drafted and deleted about a hundred emails over the course of eight months. Every time I’d have an email for Heather ready to go, I would become overwhelmed with self-doubt, panic and delete it.

Finally, one day in August 2012, Heather posted something on her Tumblr about how she used to dream about writing for her favorite website, and now she’s interviewing celebrities for that very same website. She ended the post with, “What I mean is: If you want to go to the moon, go to the moon.” I said out loud to my computer, “I want to go to the moon.”

It still took me two full days to work up the nerve, but I finally sent that email I had wanted to send for so long. It was long and rambly and incredibly cheesy (very much like this post), and I felt like I was going to pass out as soon as I clicked ‘send’. Unsurprisingly, Heather was gracious and kind and the most helpful a person could be. I sent her some writing samples, we talked about ways I might be able to fit into the AfterEllen lineup, she “introduced” me to Karman, who was beyond supportive, and next thing I knew, the puzzle pieces all snapped together and I was asked to recap Once Upon A Time. As a starter-post, Karman suggested I put together a little recap of what had happened in the first season, and thus my first post was born.

Here we are, a year later. I’ve written 64 posts so far. Mostly recaps, though each show I wrote about gave me the chance to explore something different. Once Upon A Time tested my gay girl goggles with more subtext in each episode than most shows have in a whole season (my goggles work fine, thank you very much). Orphan Black tested my ability to recap action scenes and to write coherently about plotlines while swooning over Tatiana Maslany. Mistresses taught me that I was allowed to be snarky if a storyline was absurd. Rookie Blue showed me what happens when an actress is passionate about her character and her show’s writers are understanding. I dipped in a few other ponds along the way – I made some ridiculous Father’s Day Card post that I’m not even linking to because it was so silly. I’ve written random pieces about random news stories here and there. I’ve covered a recap or two of shows that aren’t usually mine. I even got to interview two actresses I admire: I got to send Tatiana Maslany questions and got the most thoughtful and insightful answers back, and I got to talk on the phone with Charlotte Sullivan, someone I have loved in Rookie Blue for the past four years, and who I’ve feared in the best way possible since seeing Harriet the Spy at age ten. I’ve even gotten the opportunity to tweet with actresses like Jes Macallan and Aliyah O’Brien about their shows and sometimes even my recaps. Everything single about the whole experience has been beyond surreal.

For example, every week, the AfterEllen writers participate in something called the Huddle. A question is sent out to all the writers, and we all respond with our answers. Participation is totally optional, but more often than not, the majority of the writers contribute. And every week, as I read the emails and cackle wildly to myself, I feel so fortunate to be in the company of such smart, witty, talented women.

The AfterEllen community extends beyond the writers, though. #BooRadleyVanCullen still stands as one of my all-time favorite things to do on the whole of the internet. The AE-specific hashtag pool is constantly growing. Tweeting along with people about the shows we love feels like watching television in an arena packed with all your friends. I always used to smile and laugh when I saw people (including myself) using Heather’s made-up terms about Pretty Little Liars – Out of Town, adrenalized hyperreality, BEAUTIFUL TOYOTA, and so much more. When it started happening to me with Mistresses – Handsome Jacob, Zombie Paul, Bad Decision Brunch Club – it absolutely blew my mind in the best way possible. People were reading and commenting on and using my words and I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling in the past 365 days.

I honestly don’t think I’ve experienced a better feeling in the world that is better than having someone tell me that something I wrote made them laugh.

So every single day I thank my lucky stars – and the moon, too – that I get to be part of this wonderful community. There are plenty of other people who I SHOULD thank every day, but that might get obnoxious, so instead I’ll thank them here now:

I thank my family for supporting me because they know I’m doing what I love even though sometimes they mistakenly tell people I write for Ellen Degeneres, I thank my friends who read my recaps even if they don’t watch the show I’m recapping, I thank Christine for giving me the push I needed to go through with it, I thank Heather and Karman for giving me this opportunity and for their constant support and encouragement, I thank the other AfterEllen writers who inspire me to be better every day, I thank each and every AfterEllen reader and tweeter for making me laugh and smile and for only making fun of me a little bit when I start tweeting in all caps about anything from commercials to fandom.

I thank each and every one of you, from the bottom of my very full heart. I call myself a relentless optimist all the time – but can you blame me? I’m living proof that dreams really do come true. Just remember Heather’s advice: “If you want to go to the moon, go to the moon.”

Guest Blog Post: April 16th

•04/17/2013 • 1 Comment

My friend Christine works in Boston, but was thankfully working from home outside the city on the day of the Boston Marathon, so she wasn’t witness to the actual bombings. She did, however, go into Harvard Square the next morning and wrote about her experience in the city the day after tragedy struck. Christine used to have a blog of her own, but with post-graduate classes and a full-time job, she no longer keeps it up, but I didn’t want this unique perspective to live only in the confines of our gmail inboxes. So, with her permission, I’m posting it here as a guest blog post.

(Note: In the email she sent me, she opened with the fact that she was “very aware that this is from the privileged perspective of someone who did not witness it and was not injured by it.” She knows that, “for those people, there is no pretending.”)

Here’s what she wrote about the city that raised us, exactly as it was sent to me. Continue reading ‘Guest Blog Post: April 16th’

I Dreamed A Dream

•02/27/2013 • 2 Comments

Last night I was having a dream about my friend and I trying to get to the airport. We were driving and getting lost and then I realized I had forgotten my bag and it was kind of chaotic and really stressful, but pretty standard as far as my usual dreams go.

But then something really strange happened.

When we got to the dream airport, it was pretty crowded, as airports are. It also looked more like a 20’s lounge than an airport, but my dream-structures rarely actually resemble what they’re supposed to – I just know what they’re supposed to be. None of that was weird. What was weird was that I didn’t know any of the people in my dream. And not in the same way I wouldn’t know anyone in an airport, but in a way that made me feel like they didn’t belong there. I felt like a character from a movie that had been picked up and dropped into another film. I suddenly realized that it wasn’t an airport disguised as another location, but it was another location entirely. The friend I had been dream-traveling with was gone and I was smack in the middle of a scene I didn’t belong in. I tried to ask someone what was happening, but no one was paying attention to me. They were either ignoring me entirely or shrugging off my question like I shouldn’t be asking it.

Then, my dream-self became hyper-aware of what was happening. Dream Me said out loud, “This isn’t my dream.” Hit with the awareness, my dream self tried to figure out how to get out of this dream that wasn’t mine, out of the dream-state at all. I started to wake up – in the way that feels like you’re being ripped from unconsciousness slowly, where there’s that moment where you’re still half-aware that you’re dreaming, while also being half-awake – and when I realized I was fully awake, I sat up with a start. My heart was racing and I was breathing quickly and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had been intruding on someone else’s dream.

Which is an equal parts awesome and terrifying thought. What if we can really visit other peoples’ dreams? What if, every once in a while, the strangers we meet in dreams are real people we don’t know in real life who we just happened to bump into in the dreamsphere? Obviously this isn’t always the case, otherwise the friend I dreamed about last night would have come up to me today to tell me she had a dream that her and I were trying to get to an airport last night. But it was just something I thought was an interesting concept.

Now, I know that it was just a dream in which I dreamed I was dream-invading someone else’s dream, but it was a freaking weird, inception-y feeling. And I’ve had weird dreams in the past, as proven by this Dream Sequence I wrote once: http://bit.ly/13kuOyX

I’m no stranger to the strange. This was just something I had never felt before and so I thought I’d share.

Hopefully this post doesn’t get me sent to Radley Sanitarium.