The Sorrow of What Remains

Yesterday I went down an Internet rabbit hole. An old friend from way back when posted something on Facebook about her son receiving school awards. Seems harmless enough for starters, doesn’t it? Now, this friend still lives in the town I grew up in, but I didn’t recognize the name of the school. Of course, I knew they’d renamed many schools, and that the town had grown and there were also new schools. So out of curiosity, I went Googling.

I’d walked to elementary school as a child, and my chief question was: What did they rename my old school? When I was young and the town was small, the school names were very simple: Westside, Eastside, Central . . . But friends who were still in the area had told me they’d renamed the schools after people like our old superintendent. Fair enough. I wondered which name my old school had received.

First I looked at the school district website for my old town. None of the schools listed looked familiar based on the pictures, but I reasoned that those old buildings had probably been given facelifts. So, remembering that I used to walk, I instead went to a Google map of the town and traced my old route.

No school.

???

I double checked the area, clicking on various things on the map to see if maybe I’d misremembered something. But no, there was no school anywhere in the vicinity.

Then I made the mistake of going to Street View.

Sometimes I still have dreams set on the street where I grew up. We lived in a cul-de-sac, at the U bend of it, in fact, and behind our house ran a quiet, relatively underutilized road. There was nothing but fields on the other side of that road, and we just called it “the back road.” A skunk had been run over there once, and no one had bothered to clean it up, so there was a spot—my friends and I always looked for it—where you could see its skeleton pressed into the asphalt by the cars that had flattened it into the summer-softened blacktop.

Oh, but that road was no longer a quiet road. The fields were long gone. The land appeared flattened and without shade, the grass all brown around the houses that had sprung up. They hadn’t bothered to save any trees, apparently. It was heart crushing to see.

And my school? It appears to have become a Boys and Girls Club. I guess there could be worse fates.

It’s true that you can never go home again. Because it will never be home again. Even if I moved back, it wouldn’t be the town I grew up in. We’ve all moved on.

There’s something sad about memories. How they only exist in our heads because there is nothing concrete to hold on to. Photographs, maybe, but the truth is: those places are lost to us now and will never exist again.

No to Everything

. . . We’ve decided the above will be the title of my autobiography.

There is a bit of contention about which was my first word: “no” or “hot.” They worked in tandem, so I can understand the uncertainty. You see, in order to keep me from touching things as a child, my parents would say, “No. It’s hot.”

This makes sense when talking about, say, a stove. Less sense when talking about the television set. And being somewhat clever, I figured this out. My dad would be watching the telly, and I would make a move toward it. For whatever reason, turning the dial was very satisfying for me. Probably a tactile/sensory thing. I can actually still remember this—the feel of it and the sound of it burring as it clicked. We didn’t have remote controls in those days. Ours was a wood-paneled thing from Montgomery Ward as I recall. I don’t know the make or model but it looked something like:

The point being that I liked to go turn the dial on the television, and my parents didn’t want me to. So Dad would say, “No. Hot.”

And I would smile and say, “Hot?” But I would draw the word out like, “Hooooooot?”

“Yes, Manda, it’s hot.”

So then I’d reach out and turn the dial, then laugh and run away, yelling, “No! Hot!”

I haven’t stopped saying “no” since, though I don’t say “hot” as often. And televisions don’t have dials anymore.

So I think, if I were ever to write an autobiography or memoir, I’d call it No to Everything. Because I’ve been told I do say no to everything. (I’m not convinced that’s entirely true, but apparently I’m somewhat forbidding.) Also, it’s a less off-putting title than I Hate Everyone.

Changing Behaviors

I’ve written about this topic before, if not here than definitely once on spooklights that I can recall. But it seems worth a revisit.

Yesterday my husband and I were walking over to the school to pick up the kids, and we were talking about how so many of the parents—the ones driving—use what’s known as the “back loop” for pickup, even though every email from the school principal has a reminder that the back loop is NOT open for pickup because it’s for handicap services only. Now, I could hypothesize that a few of those parents who are going against the rules don’t get email? And their kids also don’t bring home the printed notices? But not all of them.

Does it seem to you that more and more people are breaking rules or behaving as though the rules don’t apply to them? (I recommend reading F You Very Much by Danny Wallace, btw.)

I’m going to scale this down a bit and use an example I typically fall back on when discussing this subject, one that I think most of us can identify with: batteries.

We all know we’re not supposed to throw batteries away. There are community events where you bring your batteries and electronics to be disposed of, and there are sites you can bring these things to, and in our town we can even put our batteries in plastic baggies and tape them to the tops of our bins so the garbage collectors take them to dispose of them. How much easier can it get than that?

Or think about recycling in general. For years it was nearly impossible to get people to do it, but then cities began giving people special bins that they could use just like their garbage bins, no need even to separate the types of recycling, and then what? More people recycled!

There are two prongs to changing people’s behaviors, and (spoiler alert) repeated emails telling people not to do something is not one of them.

1. Convenience.

By making recycling as convenient as throwing away your garbage, cities were able to increase the number of people recycling. By putting recycling bins out next to trash bins in public spaces, again, more recycling. By making it possible for us to just tape our batteries to the tops of our trash bins, our town made us a lot less likely to throw batteries out. Because in our busy lives, no one wants to make an extra trip to Wherever to hand off dead batteries.

If and when you want people to do something, you have to make that something relatively easy. The minute you begin asking for extra effort, you’re going to lose a large percentage of potential buy-in.

Since this is a writing blog, I’ll tell it from the point of view of trying to get reviews. Many readers aren’t used to writing reviews, and to do so requires time and effort they’d rather put into reading the next book in their stack. But authors who put a link in the backs of their ebooks tend to get more reviews than authors who don’t. Because just clicking on the link? That’s relatively easy. Write a few words while the reader is still high (or low) on what he or she just read? They’re way more likely to do so at that moment than to come back to it later. And that link makes it convenient.

Going back to the pickup situation at our local school: Why might parents feel the need to break the rules and use the back loop? My guess is it’s because the current system for drop-off and pickup isn’t efficient and doesn’t suit their needs. Well, and they’re impatient and don’t want to wait their turn. There’s a streak of entitlement there—the notion that their needs are greater than anyone else’s.

Which brings us to

2. Consequences.

Another reason these parents have no problem using the back loop when they’re not supposed to? No one stops them. There’s never a police officer waiting there, or even a school official. In short, they do it because they can get away with it. There are no consequences for breaking the rule.

We want to believe people are mostly good, but don’t we all sometimes speed when we’re pretty sure we won’t get caught? “What’s the harm?” we think. Until the day we’re pulled over or, worse, in an accident. I see it every day at the school, people doing well over the 25 mph limit—unless there’s a police car parked nearby.

Why do some people throw batteries in the trash when they know they shouldn’t? Because the benefits (not having to go to any extra effort) outweigh the disadvantages. These people know they won’t get caught, won’t be fined or jailed or anything. So why not do the easy thing rather than the right one? (We as a species are pretty terrible at thinking ahead to greater consequences down the road—Exhibit A: climate change.)

Until the cons outweigh the pros, people will continue to disregard the rules.

How many people do you see driving in the HOV lane when they’re the only ones in the car? Where I live, it’s quite a few. Recently, I read a statistic that only 1 in 40 would be pulled over for it. That’s less than 3%, so the odds are in the favor of those disobeying the law. Clearly a number of people feel it’s worth the risk of (at least here) a very high fine. However, if the numbers were to change—if, say, 60% of people were caught and fined—behaviors would likely change. (My guess is, at 50% these drivers would still play the odds. Hell, even at 60% they might. But if they were statistically more likely to get pulled over and fined than not, they’d probably think twice.)

Why do people in power do things they shouldn’t? Because no one will hold them accountable. There are no consequences. Look at the sexual harassment scandals making waves through Hollywood and beyond. Only now, as people are starting to hold abusers responsible, are behaviors beginning to change.

And change is not instantaneous. It’s slow. To get people to do things, or stop doing them, is like turning a massive cruise ship. It takes time, and some people are going to feel queasy about it.

To summarize: in order to get people to change their behaviors, you must (1) make it easy for them to change, and (2) provide strict and immediate consequences for not changing. We’re creatures of habit, after all. We can be taught, but not easily. We’re like tigers in a circus: crack the whip over us, sure, but also give us treats when we do well. Eventually we’ll be trained.

Fiddling

I’m wandering into the weeds today and exploring some characters who are not my own.

Years ago, I began writing a fanfic that has since been lost to time. Basically it was a Tokyo Babylon / X / Cardcaptor Sakura crossover. Touya had a creature inside him similar to Yue—the opposite of Yue, really, as this alter ego was the power of the New Moon, the byproduct of Clow having created Yue. When you think about it, it kind of makes sense. Unlike the sun, the moon is inconstant [visually; obviously it’s always there regardless of our ability to see it]. Touya’s alter ego was named Xiwan (or Xi-Wan? something like that). I don’t remember where I got this name, but I do remember readers sending me fan art of the character. I still have it . . . somewhere . . .

I don’t remember much about the fic except that Seishiroh hits Touya with his car. This was the inciting incident, I think? And it was done on purpose as I recall because Sei needed Xiwan, or needed to eliminate Xiwan for some reason. Might have had to do with the Dragons of Heaven.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing this here and now except that with the return of Cardcaptor Sakura I find myself thinking more and more about the dynamic between Yukito and Touya. I always want more of their story, really. Mulling it over, I think about how Yuki admits to Sakura that he has feelings for Touya but isn’t sure how Touya feels. How must Yuki have felt, then, when Kaho came back to Tomoeda? When I go back and re-read the scenes in which Yuki gently probes Touya about Kaho’s return, it feels different in light of knowing Yuki loves Touya but is uncertain if that love is reciprocated. Yuki wants Touya to be happy, of course, but part of him must be in knots over wondering whether Touya still has feelings for Kaho, what their relationship was like, etc. And Touya is not particularly forthcoming; he doesn’t do much to ease Yuki’s anxiety.

Not that Yuki ever shows it. He puts a smile on for everything and everyone. It’s easy to read or watch CCS and take Yukito at (no pun intended) face value. But I’m a character person, and I like depth. I like to think that Yuki, sitting home alone night after night, wrestles with these thoughts and feelings. Touya is friendly, yes, but in a somewhat unapproachable way. Even for his best friend.

When you toss Yue into this, Jesus . . . Here is a creature who is as aloof as Touya, but we also know he has deep feelings for his creator Clow Reed. Which means he’s capable of love. Kero gets to be himself all the time, whether in small form or large, but Yue must swap his personality out with this non-person . . . It’s so complicated it makes my head spin. Yue has a sense of duty to Sakura, though his heart appears to remain with Clow. He has very little agency in “life” (if that’s what you call it). He knows Yuki’s thoughts and feelings but doesn’t seem to share them; he’s merely required to carry the burden of them. If he’s lonely, he refuses to admit it. You get the sense he’d prefer to disappear entirely now that Clow is gone. But he feels chained by his loyalty to Clow to continue to care for his new master. All that lies before him is a long trudge without the one person who means the most to him. Think about that for a while.

Love triangles may be cliché but damn does this have the potential to be a fun one. In the fanfic I wrote, Touya is in the hospital and Yuki refuses to leave his bedside. At one point Sakura comes in and discovers Yue there instead. She is alarmed, of course—Yue shouldn’t be seen by anyone, and what if a nurse or doctor or even Mr. Kinomoto were to enter? Yue tells her that he could not bear Yuki’s broken heart and needed to put him out of his misery for a while.

When I look at my book Manifesting Destiny, I realize I probably subconsciously adopted some of the dynamics of the Touya/Yuki/Yue situation when I developed the Cee/Marcus/Diodoric triangle. After all, Diodoric is Marcus’ alter ego. Of course, there is a fourth player in my story: Cee’s alter ego Livian. Not that he’s romantically interested in anyone, but Cee still has to navigate life with him as part of her.

Again, I don’t have a particular reason for bringing this up at the moment. Just something I was thinking about. When, really, I should be worrying about my WIP! So off I go to do some “real” work . . .

An Unreasonable Heart

You guys, I really want a Corgi. Like, really. I’ve reached out to local Corgi rescue and adoption groups, but so far there has been nothing. It’s breaking my heart a little.

I grew up with dogs. In fact, I can’t remember a time as a kid when we didn’t have at least one dog and usually a few cats, too. (I have two cats now. You can see pics and video of them on my Facebook page.) But I haven’t had a dog in my life since leaving for college. And while there are many up sides to not having to care for a dog . . . It’s a head versus heart kind of thing for me. My head says I have plenty enough without one more thing, one more dependent. But my heart says, “CORGI!”

Ugh.

The decision will likely be made for me. I don’t want to pay a breeder, and actual Corgis don’t seem to be in need of rescue or adoption. I see many dogs listed as “Corgi mix” on sites, but . . . Even though I know I shouldn’t fixate, and that these other dogs also need loving homes, as Prince Lir says in The Last Unicorn, “I love whom I love.” Or as Blaise Pascal put it: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”

For now I have a Pinterest board filled with Corgi pictures. That’s probably only making things worse though. I should distract myself with, you know, writing and other work. Does the heart ever give up? Maybe mine will exhaust itself like a nagging child and eventually fall asleep.

Off-Topic

(c) CLAMP/Dark Horse – a picture I took from my English translation of “Cardcaptor Sakura”

As long-time readers of my site know, I am fond of Cardcaptor Sakura, and in particular of Touya and Yukito, who are probably my favorite fictional couple. After almost twenty years, CCS is back in a new series called “Clear Card.” The above shot of Yue (Yukito’s alter ego) and Touya aired this past weekend. It was a lovely scene, but I did have one problem with it. Touya tells Yue that Yuki told him Yue’s name. But in the manga (and, I thought, also in the original animated series—though I could be misremembering), Yue tells Touya his name when they first meet. So someone failed to check the continuity.

That aside, it’s a lovely, tense scene. Though I’m not sure why Touya is being so cagey about his new powers. Is he worried Yue will want them, too?

17 Years

<— I haven’t seen my natural hair color in years!

Seventeen years ago today, in the garden of a little Victorian “mansion” (let’s face it, it was a house), we were married. It was Mother’s Day then, too. We hadn’t known when we picked the date that it would be Mother’s Day, but oh well. At least my best friend Tara was also our florist and got us the flowers at cost.

It was a small ceremony, not even 100 guests. We wanted to be able to talk to everyone at the reception. So many of our friends and family contributed in various ways—my dad’s best friend is a professional photographer, and he came and took all our photos as a gift to us; Scott’s cousin works in the film industry and was our videographer (using the camera we’d been given as a wedding gift). He did this amazing thing where he went around and spoke to people to ask them how they knew me and/or Scott and to give little memories about us.

We were married by a Reform rabbi who incorporated both religious backgrounds into the ceremony. (When people ask, “Oh, are you Jewish?” I answer, “Only by marriage.”) It was sweet and personal and unique and very us.

So here’s to 17 years of holding it together. And also a happy Mother’s Day, which we will spend at a haunted house. Should be fun?

Favorite Books & Authors

Image courtesy of pexels.com

Fairly often I get asked about books I’d recommend or who my favorite authors are. That’s always tricky since my recommendations would largely depend on what the person asking likes to read. I myself read fairly widely, though I certainly don’t read everything. I couldn’t name a good erotica book, for instance, and I’d be limited in science fiction or epic fantasy. The only horror I read, really, is Stephen King and Dean Koontz, so I’d be little help there either.

As for favorite books, well, I have a few. And there are a handful of authors I read pretty consistently, though that handful changes over time as well.

Here are some books I generally name when asked, broadly, for recommendations:

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero
In the Woods by Tana French
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot) by Ben Aaronovitch
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George
Captive Queen by Alison Weir
King and Goddess by Judith Tarr
City of Masks by Daniel Hecht
The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin
Exit Sherlock Holmes by Robert Lee Hall
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
What Do You Hear from Walden Pond? by Jack Douglas

You’ll notice a few things, perhaps. For one, those books are all fiction, though many are historical fiction. A number of them are also mystery and/or fantasy. Only two are Sherlock Holmes stories (and neither by Doyle). None are Shakespeare or Shakespeare adjacent. There’s no Jane Austen on this list. That’s because I don’t think Sherlock Holmes or Shakespeare or Austen are the kind of thing I can recommend to just anybody. They aren’t most people’s cup of tea. If I happen to believe the person asking might like any of those, I’d certainly mention it. But when asked flatly, “Can you recommend a book?” these are what come to mind as most likely to please.

Some of the books listed above are also the first in series. I figure if the person reads and likes the book, it’s on them to follow up with the rest.

Then there are authors. As I mentioned, I go through cycles. I devoured all the Hercule Poirot novels when I was fifteen. I also read a lot of Dean Koontz and Stephen King around that time, and I started in on Anne Rice’s vampire novels too. I worked my way through Judith Tarr. Sara Hylton. Victoria Holt. Someone introduced me to Neil Gaiman’s work when I was 18. I went through a Kathy Reichs phase. I read all the John Le Carré Smiley books. Lately I enjoy Aaronovitch, Morton, and French as mentioned above.

“Which Stephen King books do you recommend?” is another one I get a lot. In my mind, there are two kinds of SK books: those from before his accident, and those from after. For earlier works, I usually suggest ‘Salem’s Lot, The Dead Zone, and The Dark Half. In the latter group, Duma Key is my favorite, though I also really enjoyed Bag of Bones.

Those asking for Koontz recommendations, well, I quit reading his books some while ago—around the time he dropped the “R.”—so I can’t speak to newer stuff. I really liked Watchers, and Twilight Eyes still haunts me. Lightning holds a special place in my heart, too, because it was the first “grown-up” book my dad ever handed to me. It was probably not right for someone as young as I was at the time, but I loved it. I kind of want to re-read it, but at the same time I’m afraid it won’t be as good as my memory of it.

“What about nonfiction?” I read less of that than I do fiction, but I enjoyed F You Very Much by Danny Wallace. I tend to like books that examine psychology and/or society. Just about anything by Jeanne Twenge, for example. For film industry books, Which Lie Did I Tell? by William Goldman is the first that comes to mind. I also have quite the personal library of books about Nicholas II and the last Romanovs. The Last Empress by Greg King is really good. I know I’ve also read a number of good biographies, but I suppose none have left much of an impression since nothing springs to mind when people ask me about biographies worth reading. “Who are you interested in?” is my usual reply.

Sometimes the question is about my favorite books from when I was a kid. Zilpha Keatley Snyder was my favorite author when I was younger, and The Changeling was my favorite book by her, though I also really loved The Velvet Room. And of course I read a lot of Judy Blume. I also tended toward animal books: Where the Red Fern Grows, Lassie Come Home, The Trouble with Tuck, Socks . . . I liked this one book called The Seventh Princess, I liked the Vesper Holly series by Lloyd Alexander, and I recall enjoying The Dollhouse Murders. There was also this one book called Cadbury’s Coffin that intrigued me. I liked The House of Dies Drear and The Secret of Gumbo Grove. And I read the Not Quite Human books, too.

For more recent titles—for books my kids enjoy, really, and that I sometimes enjoy reading to them—the usual suspects emerge: Riordan, Rowling, and the like.

This is, you see, a very long answer to the question. But there can be no short answer. I like—or, really, love—a lot of books. My house is piled with them, and then there are more still in boxes in the garage. Books I can’t bear yet to part with.

Well, then, what about you? What is your answer when someone asks you for a recommendation?