Watership Down

I’ve written before about my particular connection to this novel, which is about rabbits in search of a new warren. I read it in sixth grade. I was attending a private school at the time, one so small that the fifth and sixth grades were together in one room, and even still there were only 11 of us.

This was the kind of school where girls wore skirts (though there was no set uniform, just many rules), and each morning we had to kneel to be sure our skirts touched the floor. We had to memorize long passages from the biblical book of Proverbs. We took a character-building class that featured a lot of Zig Ziglar. Physical education for the girls consisted of ballet. Lots and lots of ballet. And cheerleading. I won academic awards in Science and History as well as one for “Thoroughness,” whatever that was supposed to mean. That I did my homework completely? Seriously, no idea.

My classmates liked that I could draw (Garfield and a dog based on the same general idea as Garfield) and asked me to show them how.

And they wondered about this big book I was reading. So one day, as we were sitting outside, I told them the story of Watership Down. They were intrigued and began to call me Hazel-Rah. Then they began adopting rabbit names for themselves, too, until every recess was a game of running up and down the playground hill pretending to be rabbits. The boys were Efrafa and raided our warren and we chased them away, again and again.

The teachers and administration were disturbed. There was nothing really wrong with the game, or the book, but that it had created such furor, and that it was so out of the ordinary . . . bothered them.

The next year I was moved to the public school system. An unmitigated disaster. But later some of those students who’d been in sixth grade with me joined me again in high school. (The private school had suffered some schism in its congregation and been unable to sustain itself.) They remembered me as Hazel-Rah, and I remembered them by their rabbit names, and it felt like a small victory. I had outlasted the place that had condemned me for my broad imagination and my desire to spread it to the masses.

2016 has been a crap year on a number of fronts, but its harshness is most quantified by the long list of famous people who have passed away over these 12 months. Just today we lost Carrie Fisher, but we also lost Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. The Black Rabbit of Inlé has come to fetch him home. May he enjoy green fields and primroses everlasting.

#TBT: Treasure

I was digging around for something yesterday (didn’t find it, but there are more places yet to look) and unearthed some things I forgot even existed. Is it unusual for an author to forget having written something? These had completely slipped my mind:

Of course, they’re from when I was a teenager, and looking back I found them terribly overwritten. I hope I’ve gotten better since then.

I also came across this magazine from 2004, the first original short story I ever had published:

You can actually hear an audio version of this story here.

And then I discovered these from my manga and anime days:

This is only a sampling, not nearly all of what I had or still have . . . somewhere . . . My walls were plastered with these things. It’s probably why I could never get a date. But finding them reminded me of how much I love the story of Subaru and Seishirou—a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. I went back and re-read Tokyo Babylon and the pertinent parts of X and swooned a little once again.

All the excavating, however, means I’ve been lax in my actual writing work. Still, it was a bit inspiring to go back and re-read some of this stuff. As far as my old writing in concerned, it’s nice to see how far I’ve come. And reliving Subaru’s arc reminds me of what good writing and character development can be. It makes me want to do something just as amazing. Here’s hoping.

TBT: Stonehenge II

fullsizerender-1 <-- Click for a bigger image. Yeah, that's me. During my final year at UT Austin, I lived in an apartment with three other girls, and we got it in our heads to go out to Stonehenge II, which at the time was in Hunt, Texas. You can read about it on the Wiki here. This was during my Highlander phase—my nickname was Methos (and there are still people in the world who call me that). So of course I wore my Black Watch cloak and brought my katana. I think what really gets me, though, is seeing my natural hair color again after all these years. I was blonde as a child, but like many blondes it slowly grew a bit darker as I got older. Still, after enough time in the sun, it would be fairly light. When I was at UT, I was outside a lot because I walked everywhere. So my hair here is about as light as it ever was past adolescence. fullsizerender-2

What I remember most about that day is the drive. We stopped for apples, and I bought a shirt because it said “Adam’s Apples” and Adam was Methos’ cover name in Highlander and my friends and I used to joke about the apple he ate in one of the Horsemen episodes. (You either understand what I’m saying here or not. Sorry if you’re confused.) The road out to Hunt was hilly—it’s called the Hill Country for a reason, and it’s beautiful—and we sang songs from Shakespeare and Winedale most of the way. (Two of my roomies had also participated in the Winedale program at different times.) It was a pleasant day, but I have to cringe a little at my own dorkiness. Not that I’m not still dorky. I just wear it better now. I grew into my full dorkdom . . . Or something.

Also, I started dying my hair.

My katana, btw, now lives on our fireplace mantel.

My roommates: Anne, Stephanie, and Christine
My roommates: Anne, Stephanie, and Christine

‘Tis the Season (for Hallowe’en Movies)

I’m not a gore person. I don’t do movies that involve hacking and lots of blood. But I love a good psychological thriller or dark comedy. Here I’d like to mention a couple lesser-known films that I’ve enjoyed.

mrfrost1. Mister Frost

This gem from 1990 shows Jeff Goldblum just prior to his big Jurassic Park moment. I’ll admit, my best friend and I found it equal parts hilarious and disturbing. Goldblum has some amazing lines, like (to the best of my memory): “Oh, yes, the bodies. I was just finishing burying them as you were walking up.” It’s been years since I’ve seen this movie, but I’d love to watch it again. As I recall, there was something about cake—Goldblum, playing the titular Frost, baked cakes then took pictures of them and dumped them in the trash. But that’s only the start. Once they put him in the psychiatric ward, things gets increasingly sinister. “Soon. Soon you’ll be on my side of the mirror . . .”

2. The Last Supperlastsupper

Perfect for this election season. In this film, a gathering of frustrated liberals decide to turn their dinner parties into murdering sprees so they can rid themselves of rightwing pundits. As with Mister Frost I don’t remember many details, but I do recall the Shonen Knife cover of “Top of the World” being fabulous as it played over the end credits. And I remember liking the movie in general.

You have to take into account that when Mister Frost came out I was 14 and when The Last Supper came out I was 19. It might very well be that, should I go watch these again, I’d find them abysmal. At the very least I’m sure they’re dated. But that’s sort of the fun thing about these kinds of movies, too—special effects aside, being dated only adds to their charm rather than detracting from it.

Do you have any favorite Hallowe’en movies? Oldies but goodies? Have any of you had the joy of watching either of these two movies? If so, I want to hear about it in the comments!

24 Questions

There’s a study that shows asking another person a certain 36 questions will prompt greater intimacy between you and at a more rapid rate. “36?” I hear you asking. “But the headline says 24.” That’s because I’m only going to answer the first 24 of these questions. Though I might do the final set in an upcoming newsletter, so if you haven’t signed up, do it now.

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

I’m not sure there’s anyone I really want to bring into my house as a dinner guest. I’m very aware of the fact my house probably doesn’t make a fabulous impression because I’m not a keen housekeeper. Also, I don’t cook. So I’d probably only invite people I don’t actually like and subject them to my dirty house and bad cooking.

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

Yes, actually. Or maybe not famous so much as known? I think there’s a slight difference. I’d like my work to be noteworthy so that, in certain circles, my name was known. If that makes sense.

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

Depends on who I’m calling and why! I don’t talk on the phone much. I prefer text or email because then I can compose what I say. As a writer, that’s important to me. But people I’m close to—my parents and good friends—I have no reason to rehearse anything.

4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

A day in a foreign city like London or Paris. There would be some time spent in a museum and then a walk in the park. A nice meal or two in there somewhere. A bookstore probably.

5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

I do this all the time. I sing to myself, the cat, the kids. I don’t even notice any more, so I’m not sure when I was last doing it.

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

Well, wait a minute. Any 30-year-old? Or me when I was 30? Because I’d just had my first child then and my body was not in great shape at the time. And are you saying that if I choose body my mind would necessarily be addled? There’s an implication here but it’s not explicit. I’d need to know more before deciding.

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

No, thank God, and I don’t really want to know either.

8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

We like to quote movies. We both have parents who are still together. We have similar values and ways of rearing the children.

9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

My health.

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

More family vacations. We only ever seemed to visit relatives; I wish we’d gone other places sometimes.

11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

Should I type for four minutes? No? Look, you can read my bio on IMDb if you like. Maybe some day I’ll have a Wikipedia page. Wouldn’t that be cool?

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

To be able to write faster. It takes me a long time to write a book (or screenplay), and I wish it didn’t. I wish I had better focus and could sit down and crank stuff out—quality stuff, that is.

13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

Whether I ever become a well-known author or screenwriter. Or maybe, more specifically, whether I ever win any awards. That’s shallow, but there you have it. I don’t especially want to know what others think of me, and I don’t want to know how I or anyone I love dies. So something simple and concrete. That way I know whether I’m wasting my time or should just be satisfied with what I’ve already accomplished.

14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

Living abroad. I’ve wanted to do that my entire life, but the opportunity has never arisen. I’ve tried to “make” opportunities, too, but it’s never worked out.

15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

I should say something like “my kids,” right? But that’s a joint effort—that’s me and my husband and the teachers and the kids themselves. So what is MY greatest accomplishment? Getting a play staged and then turned into a short film—I consider that my most noteworthy accomplishment thus far.

16. What do you value most in a friendship?

Intellect + humor. I look for good conversation but also a lightness of being.

17. What is your most treasured memory?

Oh, God, I don’t even know. I have so many wonderful ones, I can’t pick just one to be “most treasured.” They carry equal weight. Most are from childhood, though. Fresh-mown grass. Catching fireflies. Stargazing with my dad. Long drives in the car, just for the fun of driving around.

18. What is your most terrible memory?

My entire junior year of high school.

19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

I’d write faster, or at least leave a comprehensive set of notes so someone could finish my work for me. Then I’d travel and make memories with my family.

20. What does friendship mean to you?

It’s a very specific bond. You can’t fake it. There’s a connection there that’s very strong and endures even the greatest strain. That’s why they say you only know who your true friends are when you’re in a crisis.

21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?

I’m not sure I understand the question. I’m an only child and am very close with my parents. Still, I’m very independent in a lot of ways, and I have a difficult time giving and receiving affection in a demonstrative way. I show my affection to friends and family in other ways—visits, calls, sending little gifts, just trying to be generally thoughtful. The one exception is my children. That love and affection, the hugs and kisses, comes very naturally to me.

22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.

Well, my husband isn’t here, but I’ll say this: he’s supportive, smart, funny, a good cook, and family-oriented.

23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?

I mentioned I’m an only child. We are very close. At the age when other kids were trying to distance themselves from their parents, I was still happy to hang out with mine. I don’t know about “happier than most other people’s.” I know I had a happy childhood, relatively sedate.

My family now, it’s large and chaotic. I like to think we’re warm, but I don’t know if we’re close because there’s so many of us. But we do a lot of things together. It’s difficult for me to judge, really, because I’m too close. I’m in it and part of it and not objective about it.

24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

Ooooh. That’s complicated. We’re fine, I think. I’m closer to my dad because he and I have similar temperaments, but Mom and I had our fun, too. We would go see the movies Dad wouldn’t see. Stuff like that.

My mom is the social one in our family and I wasn’t the type to be on the phone or out with my friends all the time. We’re just very different. But she’s always meant well.

Okay, those are the 24 questions. As I mentioned, I may or may not do the final 12 in my newsletter. A quick glance at the remaining questions shows there are a few similar to #22 in that they ask the responder to say something to a partner, or else have the partner answer in some way. So we’ll see which, if any, I can use in the newsletter, which I expect to put out next week. Sign up now on the sidebar!

Me In 3

So I guess the latest thing going around social media is to pick three fictional characters that you feel represent you. Well, here are mine:

macgyver-pilot-cbs methos_at_joes img_0394

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the left there is MacGyver. The original, not this remake thing. “Mac” was one of my nicknames in high school because I watched MacGyver and was good at physics. In the middle is Methos from the television series Highlander. That was my college nickname: Methos. Relatively quiet and mild-mannered but mean when cornered, I guess. Finally we have Sherlock Holmes. I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes stories, watching the Jeremy Brett series, and (as many of you who frequent the blog know), Young Sherlock Holmes is my all-time favorite movie. My best friend and I would play Sherlock Holmes often, and I do know how to read people. I just never know how to behave around them. Because empathy is difficult for me, I tend to go into an analytical mode instead. Makes me come off as cold sometimes. But I’m the person my friends seek out when they need an honest opinion or a new way of looking at something.

“People don’t come to me for sympathy, John. They come to me to solve problems. I don’t have to be nice about it so long as I get the job done.”

September 11th

This is actually my dad’s birthday. Until 15 years ago, there was nothing particular about having a birthday on 9-11. But now it feels awkward for my dad, a veteran, to “celebrate” on such a day.

Fifteen years ago, I was living in Boston. My personal 9-11 story is here; no reason to type it again. Five years ago, I happened to be in New York City on the 10th anniversary. That was surreal.

I don’t have much of anything to add. But it continues to feel important to acknowledge this day in some way. Despite all our ensuing precautions, I don’t think any of us feel much safer. In fact, I think I recently read that Americans feel more afraid now than ever. At the same time, however, I’ve noticed the memorials and such have dwindled. Not that we should wallow, because that wouldn’t be healthy either. I think it’s natural in some respects to move on. The farther we get away from a point in time . . . It’s strange to think at some point there will be more people in the world who weren’t alive, or at least can’t remember 9-11-01 than there will be who do. “Primary sources” we’re called in schoolbooks. Kids will be assigned to ask us questions about where we were and what we remember. Huh.

Well, happy birthday to my dad all the same.

#TBT: 1997

So astrologically we’re at the end of one 19-year cycle and the start of another. And I kind of felt like looking back at what I was doing 19 years ago, which would have been 1997. That was the summer I worked on the Hope Floats set. I was an extremely poor college student—like, barely scraping together my share of the rent. Trying to divide my time between the film set and my actual job, the one that paid. Trying to stay afloat. It was a tough time. And I do recall very clearly the night I came home from a late shoot and my then roommates were sitting in front of the television because Princess Diana had died. I was so tired and so overwhelmed with my own life at that point that it barely registered for me. I hardly watched the news; I never had time for it. Meanwhile, I was also starting my final year at UT Austin. No idea what I was actually going to do with my life at that point. Life had been school for so long that I couldn’t comprehend that there was anything more TO life than school. I had a vague notion that one got a job after graduating, but . . . ::shrug:: My values were shifting at that time as well; I was no longer completely buying into the church group that was attempting to force me in a very specific direction. In short, it felt like a lot of shifting was going on.

So now what? Well, I’m still struggling to make money with my writing. And I’m still juggling various aspects of my life, but I’m getting better at it (or so I like to believe). Though I haven’t watched the news since Peter Jennings died, I do manage to stay informed at least a little. And I’m long since out of uni but still feeling my way along my path. I know I want to be a writer—I am a writer. I continue to work on establishing myself. As for my values, they remain fluid when it comes to religion but fixed when I consider right and wrong; like pornography, I know it when I see it.

Things are still shifting, but in good ways. Life is no longer school, or at least not my school so much as my children’s. Life is family and writing. I try to keep them balanced in equal measure. Not each day, no, more like: This is a month in which more family things are happening. And here is a month in which I must bang out a book or script.

The last 19 years have been interesting, certainly. I wonder what the next 19 have in store.

No. Hot.

The first two words I learned to speak came in tandem. “No” and “hot.” This is because my parents used those words to keep me from doing things they didn’t want me to do. Like change the channel on the television. I would reach up to grab one of those alluring knobs (I liked the clicking sounds they made when I turned them, I remember that distinctly) and Dad would say, “No, Manda, it’s hot.”

Somehow I knew “hot” was not something I wanted to touch. I don’t remember that particular lesson though. What I do recall is that it wasn’t long before I figured out it was a lie. The knobs weren’t hot. These people, these so-called parents, were just trying to keep me from doing things I desperately wanted to do.

Cue a lifetime of having to learn things for myself. Never trusting when someone else warns me or tries to share their experience as a caution. What if they’re lying? What if their experience was an aberration? Do they really have my best interests at heart, or are they just trying to make things more convenient for themselves in some way?

Yeah, I have trust issues.

Once I figured out the television knobs weren’t hot, it became a game. I would creep toward the telly, looking now and then over my shoulder.

“No, Manda, that’s hot.”

I’d reach out slowly. Look back. “Hot?” I’d ask, grinning madly.

“That’s right. Hot.”

“Hot!” I’d cry as I gave the knob a sharp turn. Then I’d run away laughing hysterically.

As for “no,” well, that’s the word I probably heard most as a young child. Whether or not I took it seriously is another matter. Perhaps my parents unwittingly primed me for a lifetime of rejection. Such is the writer’s lot. It’s not fun to hear, but I’ve become long accustomed to it. And there are worse things. Things that really are hot, that leave a blister, a scar. Not always physical. But at least I know I tried instead of taking someone else’s word for it. That, to me, is living.

I remember sleeping with the window open.

This was in the trailer—a mobile home—we lived in from the time I could remember (which Mom says was age 3) until I was 11. It was one of those long, skinny numbers with the dining room in the front that had a big bay window looking out at our cul-de-sac, then the kitchen, the living room, and a hallway off which were my bedroom, a laundry closet, the one bathroom, and finally my parents’ room at the back.

My room had a loft bed. Dad had built it himself. First they’d papered the alcove it was in with a mural featuring a rainbow over a field of daffodils. Then Dad had built the bed in. At the foot were shelves for all my stuffed animals and board games and books. My dresser, long a low, was tucked beneath my bed, and on it were an old black-and-white television and an even older alarm clock of the kind where a tiny hammer stuttered between two bells. It was avocado green and a terrible way to wake up.

Mom had chosen the decor. She and Dad had painted the walls a pale yellow. The carpet and window blinds were navy blue. And the ruffly sheers around the window were what was called “Fiesta Red,” more accurately described as “rust.” I didn’t much care for this palette, and I’m not sure where Mom got the idea from anyway. A magazine? Some friends? I suspect she was trying to pick colors I could “grow into,” nothing too young or girly that I’d want to change in a few years. But I don’t know for sure; I’ve never asked her.

I would lie in my loft bed—painted the same yellow as the walls, and the ladder was the same blue as the carpet so that it looked as if it were rising from the depths and clinging to my bed frame—with the window open at night and just breathe in that fresh, clean air. I remember distinctly the buzzing of the street lamp, the rustle of the oak tree when the squirrels crashed through it. The hum of the crickets and cicadas.

There are worse ways to grow up.

I had a ceiling fan that I refused to use because it felt too close to where I was lying. This was a bone of contention between my parents and me; they couldn’t imagine not putting a perfectly good fan to use in the hot Texas summer. But I’d rather sweat it out than have those blades spinning a hand’s reach away. To this day, fans of any kind are not my favorite.

There was a time in my life when I would have been too proud to admit having lived in a trailer (mobile home, whatever) at any point in my childhood. But I find I miss something about it now, the simplicity of it maybe. The smell of fresh mown grass on a Saturday morning. Long summer evenings spent chasing fireflies with my neighborhood friends. We had a big willow tree that overhung the mailbox, and every season the butterflies came by the hundreds to that tree. We had the oak tree outside my bedroom window, and then a circle of seven more oaks that seemed like something sacred—the way they stood in a ring like that, with the land inside them slightly depressed like a bowl in the earth. Our big wedge of back yard (we were at the bottom most part of the “U” in the cul-de-sac), unfenced because it was a small town and a simpler time and we didn’t worry about protecting our property. Our deck, on which Dad and I would set up the telescope and stargaze and talk about books and music.

When we moved away, we moved into first a temporary house and then on to a much bigger house. And I loved the bigger house, too. It would be a place of many more memories, my haven during the storms of adolescence. But life would never be simple again. And I . . . After we moved, I quit sleeping with my window open.