The Backup Singer

I’ve always kind of wanted to be a backup singer. I like to sing, and I’m not terrible at it, but there’s something in me that prefers a supporting role. Like in school, when I chose to help choreograph the dance team rather than perform. (Though I have truly enjoyed the times I’ve been on stage in theatre productions.)

I took a test once that labeled my strengths as both “service” and “leadership.” At the time I thought those results were at odds with one another, but I know better now. A good leader is a support structure. It’s both demanding and tiring as a role, being a pillar for others to lean against. But rewarding, if you can take the pressure.

The Romantic (or, The Secret Lives of Writers)

I’m a romantic at the core, although a lot of people find that difficult to believe. That’s because outwardly I tend to be honest, practical, logical, and efficient, even to the point of being brusque or blunt. I always realize later that I should temper my blades, but it almost never occurs to me in the moment. I’m still learning on that score.

But writers—and I don’t mean to speak for all of them, but I think many would agree—have vivid internal lives that are often very different from their outward personalities. I hesitate to say one is “truer” than the other; all are parts of a whole, though that whole is weirdly segregated in its being.

It’s tough to catch me in a romantic moment because I have a “shields up” way of dealing with people and situations that make it tricky to get at my core (if you’ll forgive the geeky Star Trek lingo). It can be done, but only through the most deft sleight of hand.

I put a lot of my romanticism in my writing. That’s my outlet, really. That’s how most writers work, I think. It’s almost like slowly bleeding to death, though. Something is going out, but if nothing goes in . . . I need a transfusion.

Hoodies

I am a writer who inhabits places that can become chilly and/or wet at a moment’s notice. So while I’m not proud of it, I do wear hoodies.

I don’t like hoodies. It’s just that they’re so damn convenient for places that may be windy or misty, or for going from cold to warm and back. It’s this convenience that keeps hoodies in my wardrobe. I’m not proud of it. I prefer to wear nicer clothes, and on days when there is a likelihood that I will be seen by other living human beings outside of my immediate family, I do try to pick something more chic. A “summer sweater” or a neat little jacket or whatever. But as a writer, there are plenty of times when I could be dead for three days before anyone realized it because I have been closeted with a project. Under those circumstances, if and when they do find my body, I’ll probably be wearing a hoodie.

On the flip side of this, I do insist on wearing a little makeup every day. It’s part of my morning routine. I’m pretty convinced that if I don’t at least put on some eyeliner and lip gloss the world will implode. It’s not a risk I’m willing to take.

Strange Gravity

There is a strange gravity between bodies.

It is the force that causes two people standing near one another to sway towards and lean in.

It is the force that causes two people facing one another to embrace or kiss.

And like all heavenly bodies, some have more pull than others.

Some spin faster.

Some shine more brightly.

And some collapse inward, pulling everything around them down and into the darkness, the black hole.

There is a strange gravity between bodies. It is the force that causes them to collide, and to sometimes consume one another.

Event: An Evening with BAFTA Winning Costume Designer Ray Holman

From the Drama Association of Wales:

In a couple of weeks time, we will be holding an event that we thought you may be interested in. We have included all the details below:

DAW Presents An Evening with…
Ray Holman
BAFTA award winning costume designer is back in Cardiff for one night only.

BAFTA award winning costume designer Ray Holman whose recent work includes BBC’s Silk, Torchwood, Doctor Who, Law & Order, and Sherlock is coming to the Kuku Club in the Park Plaza Hotel, Cardiff on Friday 3rd February .

Ray will take the audience through how his career began, how he made the choice between acting and design, how he made the move from TV to Theatre and back again as well as winning a BAFTA, working on the socially driven drama adaptation The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper and most recently working on the renowned and cult favourite Doctor Who.

Past credits include Pobol Y Cwm, Band of Gold, Sea of Souls, Peak Practice, Rab C Nesbitt, Born and Bred, Law & Order, and Torchwood.

Join Ray Holman in association with the Drama Association of Wales at the Kuku Club, Park Plaza, Cardiff for an intimate evening with Ray, a question and answer session as well as showcasing sketches, productions shots and the real work.

Ray graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 1984. Since then, he has gone onto work at the BBC, Granada, Carlton, Yorkshire Television and ITV.

Tickets range from £10.00 – £15.00 and can booked via the Box Office on 029 2045 2200 or online*

*online sales carry a small transaction charge

If you would like any further information please do not hesitate to contact me Harriet@dramawales.org.uk

FAQs

I thought for the last day of the year I’d maybe address some of the questions people e-mail me via the contact link.

Q: What does the “M” stand for?

A: This is the question I most get asked. The truth is, the “M” stands for a lot of things, chief among them:

  1. Methos. A nickname I acquired in college. It refers to a character from the television series Highlander. I’m not entirely sure how I became christened with the name, but the quote, “Now we have Methos, and now we’ll have a plan” had something to do with it, I think. Methos is the oldest Immortal, if not the wisest, but I’m not the oldest of my friends, so . . . Has more to do with his/my cunning as I understand it.
  2. Morningstar. As in “Lucifer Morningstar,” which I think was taken from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics? Basically because I’m the one who gets called in when everything’s gone to hell. As a general rule, you don’t want to ever get to that point, and you don’t want to have to deal with me in Morningstar capacity.
  3. Manda. This is, in fact, my actual name. But very few people use it.

Q: Is Sherlock a Voodoo doll?

A: I’m not sure why I get asked this question so often. I suppose he does look a bit like a Voodoo doll, and the fact that I’m French Creole might lend itself to the idea that I’m doing something nefarious. But no.

For one thing, Sherlock isn’t an actual person, he’s a character. For another, I have no especial reason to want to torment either him (though, if you read his blog you must realize he would probably disagree) or the actor who portrays him. And finally, even if I did want to torment, well, the actor (since it’s impossible to torment the character outside of fiction), there would be much easier ways to go about it.

Q: When are you going to finish “The Hanged Man”?

A: I don’t know. That’s a crap answer. Sorry. Um . . . I have a lot of legitimate work piled on me at the moment, so that has to take priority. If and when I dig myself out, I do plan to finish it.

Q: Which shows/movies have you worked on?

A: I’m not terribly comfortable talking about these things (a) because of the touchy nature of some of the individuals involved, and (b) I’m not authorized to speak on behalf of any of the shows. The industry is kind of a funny place, and it doesn’t take much to upset things, so I stay out of it as much as I can and just try to do my job. That means in large part not talking out of turn. And writers at my level don’t get a turn.

Which is why on this site I focus only on my personal projects.

Q: Is M Pepper Langlinais your real name?

A: If you mean, “Is it your legal name?” then the answer is no. It’s one of a few professional names that I use. I live and travel and so forth under a different name. I sometimes write and work under other names. Though the M is right and true enough.

Q: Have you ever dated anyone famous?

A: I’ve gone out with famous people, a few of them more than once, but I wouldn’t have called any of them “relationships.”

Q: What astrological sign are you?

A: Really? Do people still ask this? I’m a Sagittarius (you can probably tell by my recent birthday posts), but my rising sign is Aquarius. Lunar Gemini, Venus in Scorpio . . . A lot of other stuff I can’t remember . . .

That covers the majority of the questions I receive, I think. If I didn’t answer something you want to know about, you can click the “Contact” button and send me a note.

Dreams

I dream vividly and often. But there are two distinct types of dreams that I have. Most are so much fluff, the strange mixture of memory and other subconscious elements swirled together as my body powers down. Sort of a broth, thin and not terribly filling, even if tasty. But now and again I have a dream that feels heavy, and dreams like that always mean something. Either they’re prophetic (like the one I had on 11 September 2001) or, I don’t know, connected in some way to something larger. Has something to do with my lineage, I think, but that’s another story.

Anyway, I’ve been having a lot of heavy dreams lately. But while I can usually work them out, these ones are a bit beyond me. In one, I was at some kind of school. Benedict Cumberbatch was there, and I stole his keys so I could get into a locked wing. I was trying to get to his office—I don’t know why he had one at a school—and I was even careful to lock the door again behind me to slow him down a bit when he realized what was happening. It was strange, though, because on the other side of the door everything was grey and empty except for a tram like the kind you find in some airports. I got on, and the tram stopped at this kind of atrium, also grey and empty. There was a skylight, and either the glass was very dirty or it was cloudy out because the light was weak. But there was one bit of color: a red sign with yellow letters that read “Popcorn.” I was even considering getting off the tram to get some of this popcorn, but I didn’t want to lose any time, either. I actually don’t know whether I did or not because I woke up after that.

Popcorn in a dream usually means some kind of truth is being presented to you, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what this one was about.

Another “heavy” dream I had was about the moon. I don’t remember much more than that. There were students of some kind, I think—high school or maybe college freshmen. Maybe it’s the school angle I should be looking at in these dreams, though in neither case did that element feel especially important. I just know I was with these students, was some kind of counselor maybe, and we were sitting on a hillside at night and looking at the moon. Shooting stars, too, and the sense that something big was about to happen. Maybe even dangerous. But at a distance, sort of like a faraway city being bombed. It’s bad news, yes, and may even affect you indirectly, but at least you weren’t there when it happened. Anyway, the moon seemed to be the important thing in this dream. A crescent moon. Maybe even some kind of lunar eclipse.

And then there was a dream about a city. Seemed to be some combination of Boston, New York and London. I was wandering around it, but there was something about the cars . . . They were parked in the middle of the roadways. Blue and white cars. (Colors are often important in dreams.) And they were all a little bit old and a little beat up-looking too. Chipped paint. With the headlights that lift out of the hoods and such. The cars were the important figure in this dream, along with the signs all around, sort of like Times Square. I didn’t or couldn’t read any of them, though. I was just aware of all the lights.

Finally, a dream about a house on a hill. A Queen Anne, I think. A bed-and-breakfast, but the house needed a bit of work. I only saw it from the outside, and from lower down on the hill, so I don’t know if the inside also needed some TLC, but the paint on the outside was faded, the porch sagging. Houses in dreams usually represent a person, but I don’t think this house was me; I don’t know who it was supposed to be. But the correlation of the chipped paint on the cars and that of the house is not lost on me. Though cars usually represent one’s life journey or something. There was another part of this dream about oysters and crackers and me playing checkers with a young girl. The checkers seemed important. It wasn’t a normal game, but a very convoluted one. Even the board didn’t look like a normal checkerboard, and the rules were more like chess.

As I’ve said, the meanings to these kinds of things are usually quite obvious to me, or else looking up a few keywords can often help me piece together what the cosmos is trying to say. But I can’t make heads or tails of any of these. I have some ideas about bits and pieces of them, but nothing cohesive about any of them. I’m sure they’re not meant to go together. I think whatever or whoever is trying to communicate something to me is trying a lot of different ways to say the same thing. Empty places, places and things that are showing signs of wear . . . Games in which the rules seem arbitrary or don’t make sense . . . And bright signs. And popcorn.

Well, I do like popcorn.

AElit

AElit is the result of a semester of Parageography as an undergrad. For those without etymological leanings, “parageography” is the study of imaginary places. But as part of the course we were also required to create our own worlds. AElit is mine.

It might be easiest to start with the religion, since AElitian culture is based around it. Tithendion is the chief god, “He who sets things in their places.” Tithendion carved Argyros, the ninatat, and the world. However, none of these things were animate, and so He carved out a piece of Himself and named it Durandios, “The Enduring.” Durandios breathed life into all of creation. And while Tithendion is the greatest god and the most feared, Durandios is the most beloved.

Of course, with life comes the potential for death, and so when Durandios was created, his twin sister Telamenos was the byproduct. But because Tithendion did not wish for any of his creations to die, he imprisoned Telamenos in the center of a labyrinth that was guarded by a very large serpent. Alas, as is the way of these things, Andrasthenes, the first man of the world, had pity on her and released her.

The holy book of AElit is known as the Teuchos. I’ve included a sample of it below, first in transliterated AElitian, then in English.

d’Durandios, Teuchtia d’Teuchos
1. Tia, tramen Tithendion, bran senitpette bela
2. bak no stamen palva bak no sta’ayn palva
3. bak no divosmen noe tiya barmbos d’kan’nadadinal adno tana senitana ninana
4. bak noe divosmen d’atant, tae ayris ninatat d’barmbos d’kan’nadadinal
5. wrain ninatat kanayva wro no kansenidivosmen
6. bak no divosmen taebarna d’barna’aena d’nint no framen bak divodgamen AElit
7. bak no divosmen palsenit: starnt bak schlart bak ristat bak tynos bak tynara bak palsenitva
8. wrain senit kanayva wro no kansenidivosmen
9. bak Tithendion litaenoe kanadramen bak sl’menseni Durandios
10. bak Durandios va wro nostava
11. bak Tithendion nocrenmen, “divos palserit va, nie ninatat bak nie paltiya”
12. Durandios senidivosmen bak Tithendion nocrenmen, “adrava d’palbarna bak senit nidivosmen d’barna d’nint”
13. Durandios deptmen Argyros bak pardapettemen d’barna sl’menseni Amarantos wro onova kansenitriktmen
14. bak agda no pardapettemen verdana, senistamen verd’va bak agda no miknost’triktmen aymensenitgran
15. bak Durandios kanadramen palstarnt bak senitadramenva, bak palsenit va, bak tynos Andrasthenes bak tynara Kalothrixede

From Durandios, First Book of the Teuchos
1. In the beginning there was Tithendion, who sets all things in their places
2. And He always was and he always will be
3. And He created for himself a city of silver where he sits on his throne
4. And He created servants, great winged angels of silver
5. But the angels did not have life for He had not created it
6. And He made a great world from the dust of the universe that He caught and shaped into AElit
7. And He created all things: animals and plants and birds and man and woman and all things living
8. But these things did not have life because He had not created it
9. And Tithendion a piece of himself took and called it Durandios
10. and Durandios lives for he is Life
11. And Tithendion told him, “Make all things living, my angels and my city.”
12. Durandios did this and Tithendion told him, “Give life to all the land and the things I’ve made from the dust of the universe.”
13. Durandios left Argyros and set foot in the land that was called Amarantos because death had not touched it
14. And when he set foot on the grass, it became green with life and when he touched the trees they had fruit
15. And Durandios took the animals and gave them life, and all things life, and the man Andrasthenes and the woman Kalothrixede

And here is a common prayer to Durandios:

Lalem d’Durandios

Aiae, Durandios! bran adrava bak netka palva noye edma bran kanadrava bak d’senit ninoyt farna, seni’adra, kardi. Adra Tithendion, bran senitpette bela, ninoyte kavet bak lalemt marna ninoyt ba’adra marn’noy. Adrava ninoyt bak ninoyte mahtit bak venakht mar ninoyt kanal bak ninoyt noyadra ninoyte lalemt bak laba’adrat.

Prayer to Durandios

O, Durandios! who brings life and battles endlessly your sister who takes life and the things we work for, grant us this, another day. Take before Tithendion, who sets all things in their places, our thanks and supplications that He might bless us through you. Give us life and also to our flocks and crops that we may not want and will in turn give you our prayers and offerings.

As a rule, you see, Durandios is considered far more sympathetic than Tithendion because Durandios walks among the people of the world and Tithendion never comes down from Argyros.

The ninatat, meanwhile, are angelic sorts of creatures. Arista is Durandios’ personal servant and the only ninatat with a female aspect. She is known to be severe but fair, a sort of figure of justice. The two other best-known ninatat are Seladion and Amaurodios. Seladion, who is associated with brilliance and the full moon, was cast out of Argyros for being vain and lacking respect for humanity. Durandios punished Seladion by sending him to live with the very creatures for whom he had such contempt. Amaurodios, meanwhile, is associated with twilight and, in later texts, the new moon. He has great compassion for the people of the world and was considered Durandios’ favorite. But Amaurodios loved Seladion, even though Seladion spurned him, and when Durandios cast Seladion out, Amaurodios begged to be sent with him. Though it broke Durandios’ heart, he granted Amaurodios’ wish.

There are a lot of tales and legends about Seladion and Amaurodios, their adventures in AElit and the world, too many to include here.

AElit itself is a small island, the eastern side of which is pastoral, though there is a forested northeastern peninsula which is traditionally the home of Moka’Durand, Durandios’ worldly home. Shrines line the edge of the forest and pilgrimages are frequent. The center of the island has a sort of grassy plain leading to a mountain range known as the Taemaenat D’robe. This range cuts the western third of the island more or less completely off from the rest, and that part of the island is known as D’robe (meaning, literally, “of rock”) because it is harsh terrain, very little of which is suitable for farming or livestock. The majority of D’robeans get by on fishing.

There is not much contact between AElit (which is what the eastern side of the island is called, as well as the island as a whole; this can be somewhat confusing) and D’robe. This is because D’robe was primarily settled by dissidents who began a civil war against the rule of the AElitian priests. They lost and were driven by the AElitian forces over the mountains where they resettled. Some of the differences in their lives and ways of thinking can be illustrated by the various proverbs common in each society:

AElitian Proverbs

belaver kantra mahtongat
“In green places there are no goats.”
This seems to be similar to the saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” That is, AElitians prize their goats quite highly, so to say that a place is green (pleasant) is also to say it is not necessarily better because there are no goats.

palva kandi parsk dinal
“It is always dark until the sun.”
This might parallel the saying, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

taeleinos marl batorl
“Distance makes it worth the walk.”
In other words, the journey is just as important a lesson as the actual getting there. Then again this might mean, “It’s worth having to go if it means getting away from you or this place.”

kanag belaleinos par kan’nadadinalaenat
“Do not hope to get there by starlight.”
This seems to mean that a person might be deluded about something, hoping for something not likely to happen. Used as a warning against impracticality.

tae’taenokt, kardivodilet
“To reach far is to touch more.”
Used to encourage achievement or excuse ambition.

D’robean Proverbs

noy kanfra begga barna d’roba
“You can’t catch fish on rocky soil.”
This seems to be akin to, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

palva kandi parsk dinal
“It is always dark until the sun.”
Evidence of the D’robean link to the AElitians.

kan taemaena ad, noy marl karleino
“If not this mountain, you’ll have to cross another.”
This may be a clear reference to the exile and exodus of the D’robean people from AElit proper, but it has come to mean that there will always be obstacles in life.

kantynos kartynos
“No man is more than a man.”
In other words, “He’s not so great.” (Commonly used when referring to Durandios or the High Priests of AElit.)

What D’robe does seem to have that AElit does not is literature. Or, more specifically, they have plays, fragments of which have been found and translated (note the original author did not include any kind of stage direction):

from The Tragedy of Tantos, First Prince of Tiyafarg

Fragment 1

[TANTOS?]
Oh, that the rain should fall on this
face that until late was so gifted by the sun!
Fate and sister Fortune: what, have you
conspired against me?
No, away sirs, would you keep hold
that winning hand! I am not a one
to pick the pockets of Dame Fortune.
I make my own deck and play
only from that!

GYPSA
Oh, if there be a Heaven as so the AElitians claim,
or indeed any hope of a compassionate god,
let him show himself now! Surely a one
so wholesome as this my prince is fated
for better things?

NID
Hold back your tears, I will myself
restore him.

TANTOS
No, sir! There is no hope of aid
from Heaven, and I will not of you!
Aback! Else I’ll have your soul on my spear!

NID
I will not touch blood with you, my lord.

TANTOS
Then I’ll touch yours and leave mine to its run!

Fragment 2

GYPSA
Oh, my brother! Who will weep for you
if I do not?

TANTOS
Oh most horrible day that sees
slaughter between such friends!
I will exact a price for this
in blood!

GYPSA
What, would you darken this day
of my brother’s death even more?

TANTOS
I will mask the very sun in blood!

Fragment 3

GYPSA
Oh, I would that my eyes had been
plucked from their place e’er I saw this day!

PORPHYS
All of Tiyafarg is in wonderment
of what happened at the fair today.

GYPSA
Then tell them Porphys that this
is no fair day but a black day indeed,
wherein their prince has died
at his own hand, unable to bear the grieved loss
of his most dear friend who did fall
to the prince’s own blade. And I myself
[breaks off]

from The Tragedy of Myteon, Second Prince of Tiyafarg

Fragment 1

MYTEON
My people are starving and you
would have me leave them?

TARTON
My lord, their upset may
prompt them to revolt against you.

MYTEON
My leaving would be
a revolt against myself. Of the two,
it is harder to live with one heart that hates itself
than one hundred directed from elsewhere.
If I were a devout, I might pray.

TARTON
If you were a devout, my lord, you
would not be here but on the other side
of the mountains where food is plenty.

MYTEON
Ah, but then I would not be a prince. And
better a prince to unrest than slave
to an uncompassionate god.

TARTON
Is their god so uncompassionate? See
how they
[breaks off]

from The Tragedy of Stelerokon, Third Prince of Tiyafarg

Fragment 1

GIBA
Why if birds did bloom, we could
pluck them for our supper.

JONNA
Do we not already?

GIBA
It would be easier to pluck a cluck
from the ground than the air.
Is it not so?

JONNA
I would say this foul play
doubtless heralds a dooming day.

GIBA
And I should say you say right,
for look, here comes the prince.
Soho, Prince Stelerokon! Are you here
to fetch a foul?

STELEROKON
Of a sort, sir, I am here to
catch a thief. I would not
put the two of you behind me.

JONNA
It might be just as well you didn’t, sir,
for I fear we would not both fit.

STELEROKON
Enough of you, joker! Be gone and put
your wits to better use. But you, come listen,
for I would have news of my brother’s doings.

GIBA
Aye, my lord. And so I trade
one fowl for another!
I will pluck him til he has
no feathers to hide behind!

STELEROKON
You do me a service, sir, that I will heartily repay.
Now go! And speak this to no one!

GIBA
Aye, my lord!

STELEROKON
Could it be that this day my brother Salarimus
plans to steal my birthright? But how?
Oh, I would
[breaks off]

Fragment 2

[STELEROKON?]
that you would take from me crown
and kin?

SALARIMUS
Oh, but your rash wrath has killed me, brother,
for I never intended you harm!

LADANIA
Oh, my son! But Stelerokon, what thing
has happened here that washes the court
red with blood?

STELEROKON
There are not enough tears in Tiyafarg
to cleanse my soul! For today
I have slain my brother without cause!

AElit, on the other hand, seems only to produce hymns, prayers, and other theological texts, though they do also have a rich mythology, based also on their extensive belief system.

Being a pastoral society, animals have key significance to the AElitians. The kornyx is a fine example. This is a large blackbird (sometimes found in flocks) said to bring on night, sleep, or oblivion in general. The kornyx is considered a sort of familiar to Telamenos and therefore looked upon with a measure of fear, or at the very least suspicion. In some stories the kornyx is itself Telamenos in disguise. It probably doesn’t help its reputation that the kornyx is a carrion scavenger.

Finally, there is Teladion. He is the son of Telamenos, and in some stories also the son of Durandios, having been tricked by his sister into producing him. Teladion haunts the higher realms, waiting to be born. He will have the power to destroy the world or save it, though no one can say what he might do.

A Brief History of Love

Writing Prompt: “Crush/First Love”

I don’t know for certain that I’ve ever been in love.

I’ve had crushes, I’ve been in lust, I’ve had fondness and affection for people, and maybe all these things are love in various forms, or maybe none of them are and I’ve never really been in love. I don’t know.

I remember in fifth grade a boy named Patrick Hurley who, I swore to my best friend Emily at the time, I had a raging crush on. But that wasn’t true. I didn’t care a fig for Patrick Hurley, I only felt I was expected to like someone and he seemed harmless enough as a target. Meanwhile, two boys named Andrew and Craig did their best to get Emily’s and my attention, including attempting to talk us into “kissing lessons.” I was fond of Andrew, despite that awful tail of hair he had (that was the fad at the time); he would sit in bus line with me and draw pictures of houses he would build for me someday.

So there’s the world of contradictions opening: professing love for one person while having actual affection for someone else. I wasn’t even aware of it at the time. Andrew was Andrew and somehow not a viable prospect for that very reason. It’s the plot line of any number of romantic comedies. I don’t know if we’d have had a Hollywood ending, though, because my family moved the following summer.

And at my new school for sixth grade, oh! In sixth grade it was all about Joel. Joel, whose family had only come to the U.S. after being missionaries in Nigeria. Joel, whose parents had named all their children with the letter J, Joel being the oldest of four. He was tan, with sandy hair and vivid blue eyes, tall and athletic, and best of all he lived in bike-riding distance. My friend Sarah and I would make not-so-subtle trips through his neighborhood. We were vultures, circling.

The best day of my sixth-grade life came when Miss Fuller named Joel and me co-captains for Field Day. I don’t remember anything else about that day except at the end of it Joel put an arm around me and kissed my cheek. Bliss!

But Field Day marked the end of the school year, and I was switching schools. Meanwhile, Joel’s family was moving again. No more rides past his house.

Seventh and eighth grades were taken up with Kevin Kessler. We had Honors English classes and were Office Aides together. I don’t know why I liked him—today I can’t even picture him clearly—but I did.

Now here’s the problem with being a focused and dedicated individual. I was so often consumed by whatever current crush was on my mind, I was blind to the possibility anyone else might like me. In fact, I was pretty certain no one could ever like me, which is why I often didn’t bother with anything more than jeans and t-shirts, and it was ages before I considered makeup. Meanwhile, my white-hot attention often sent the objects of my desire running for cover. Even when I wasn’t being obvious, I was. I was too intense, even at a distance. It made me unapproachable. Smart and aloof, I had only a handful of friends, people who’d braved getting to know me. But no one knew me so well that I was willing to discuss who I “liked.” Everyone knew, because I couldn’t seem to hide it, but no one discussed it.

My junior year of high school was my nadir. I cringe to think of it. I had the fiercest crush on Mark Pierce. He was a senior, and we were in public speaking together and both National Honor Society members. Without going into details, I’ll just say I made a fool of myself. Utterly and completely. But I felt powerless to scale it back. It made no difference to Mark; he only wanted to be done with high school so he could go off to college and start a “real life.” He had no interest in me or any other ties to our town. He was preparing to shake it all off and run.

And if anyone liked me during this time, I was oblivious to it. My blinders were on. I would guess now, based on broad evidence, one or two people might have liked me a little. One boy who lived around the corner offered to drive me to school (I often walked when I couldn’t have the car). Out of an acute attack of shyness, I declined. I fear now he took it as a rejection, and that makes me sad. Later he would write in my senior yearbook, “And now you even talk to me sometimes.” I must have seemed like a terrible snob, but really I was just living in my shell.

After Mark, I took a break on crushes. Mark had used up all my emotional energy. A boy named Charles auditioned for the role of boyfriend, and I cast him temporarily, but his need to call every day—sometimes several times a day, just to tell me a music video I liked was on or to tell me he also liked apple cinnamon Cheerios—became oppressive. I might still have kept him on, but I inadvertently broke up with him via postcard. I had remembered he liked Billy Joel, and so on the card I wrote a lyric:

You may be right, I may be crazy, but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.

In retrospect, not a terribly affirming message. I returned from my visit to my grandparents in Alaska to discover Charles wasn’t speaking to me. A mutual friend explained why. Realizing I was actually relieved by this, I didn’t bother to plead my case of lack of forethought. I just walked away.

I did have a tiny interest my senior year in a quiet, mild-mannered boy named Jon Howard. After my intense feelings for Mark, and Charles’ intense feelings for me, Jon felt like an oasis of calm. This time I did confide in a friend. She promptly began dating Jon behind my back.

Toward the end of my senior year, a family friend (he was a pastor-in-training) began asking me out. His name was Greg, and he had red hair and, of all things, a beard. I wasn’t all that interested, but Greg seemed like a safe way to gain dating experience. He was unfailingly gracious, always polite, and my parents loved him. But he was boring. It wasn’t long before he asked to walk in the park with me and, parked on the steps of the gazebo, he broke up with me. Gently. It didn’t hurt a bit, actually, because I simply didn’t care.

At that point I was where Mark Pierce had been the year before: ready to leave for college and start fresh. I didn’t date much my freshman year—in fact, I went on exactly one date, with Matthew from my French class. We went to play racquetball, which I’d never done. I twisted my ankle. He never asked me out again, and French was awkward for the rest of the semester.

My last big crush started my sophomore year. I had landed a job at a little family-owned copy shop, a place that did photocopies, printing, binding, and offered some typing and graphics services. We sold office supplies and Tic Tacs and had a soda machine that only cost a quarter per can. That alone probably brought in most of our foot traffic.

Danny was one of my co-workers. Blond, blue-eyed, smart and funny. Kind. I liked him as a person long before I started to fall for him.

We didn’t hang out much outside of work, though we did go to the movies a couple times and out to coffee houses once or twice. Something about Danny felt very safe, and I was able to be more myself around him. For the first time in my life, I was wondering what it would be like to share space with someone; I pictured Danny and I reading books beside a cozy fire. And yet for all that, there was very little about the situation that was romantic. I only knew I liked this person and wanted to be around him and spend time with him.

But Danny was a couple years ahead of me in school, and upon graduation he joined the Peace Corp. He was going to Mali. I agonized over this; how could he leave? Finally, I did one of those foolish movie-type things: I sent him a letter telling him how I felt.

To his credit, Danny took it all in stride. He wrote to me from Mali, even sent little trinkets. He had the courtesy not to mention my letter.

It wasn’t until I had moved to Boston for grad school and Danny had settled in New York for law school that he told me he was gay. By that time I’d met the man I was going to marry, and so the announcement had little impact on me in the romantic sense. I did feel a bit stupid for not having known, but then I’ve never had good “gaydar.” Which may be why I got asked out by more women than men in college. Maybe I give off a vibe I’m not aware of. But that’s something else again.

Somewhere in there, I began working on a film set. An actor got into the habit of pulling my hair and calling me “Pigtail.” (And yes, he knew my name, even used it sometimes.) It was such a juvenile thing–all the things he said and did were grade school ways of getting attention. I knew I should be flattered, but I mostly found it confusing. And all the while a location scout named Marcel had become my best friend on the set. My fondest memory is of he and I hanging out during an early-morning shoot, singing “The Way You Look Tonight” rather badly because we were so tired. Marcel gave me candles at the wrap party, to this day the best-smelling candles I’ve ever owned. They smelled like fresh-cut grass. I wish I knew where to find more, or where to find him, because I think I took him for granted as a friend, and I also think maybe he “liked” me just a little. If I knew where he was now, I’d ask him.

Eventually I graduated, spent a year trying to decide what else to do, then moved to Boston grad school. At that point I’d decided to start fresh again. I would focus on my work as a writer, on my career, and love would come in its own sweet time. Which, as it turned out, was day one of my first class. Not love exactly, but the kind of real, long-term relationship I’d never had before.

I spotted Scott sitting across the room when I walked in the door, and I thought, “That’s the boy I’m going to marry.” There was no question in my mind about it, and no echo of love or passion in my brain, either. The statement was a simple fact, something I was as sure of as the sunrise.

Scott dressed in the flannel grunge style popular at that time. He wore a flatcap, backwards like Samuel L. Jackson. He slouched in his chair and oozed nonchalance, insubordination. “Impress me,” his attitude said, “bet you can’t.”

I tried talking to him a few times. It seemed so inevitable, our being together, I figured I might as well get us started. But Scott was reluctant. Or, as it turned out, shy. I had almost given up, was starting to think my usually keen intuition had short circuited somehow, when Scott finally began to open up. We got assigned a project together (Scott’s doing). We met for coffee. Went to a couple movies. Scott cooked for me. Took me to a nice restaurant, then away for a weekend in Maine.

By the end of our first semester we were engaged.

We wrote our theses and planned a wedding for immediately after graduation. I gave up plans for an internship in LA because Scott wouldn’t have been able to go. And I gave up plans to move closer to family and friends because Scott felt we had more opportunities in New England.

Well, my instincts had been right in picking who I would marry. They never promised I’d get everything I wanted.

Scott has taken care of me, though. I can’t fault him there. He loves me, and as little as I know of love, I guess I do love him, too. It isn’t the kind of passion I felt for those teenage crushes, but one is expected to grow out of that kind of thing, and relationships are supposed to evolve into something more staid and mature. Grown-up love.

Or maybe I traded in or up or something. Passion is like a shiny sports car, fast but also not equipped for everyday use. Affection, and the kind of love that comes with it, is a sort of reliable family vehicle with a good warranty. It has four-wheel drive and seat warmers and can get you over rough terrain.

Every now and then a sports car will catch my eye, and I think it might be fun to go for a test drive. Then I remind myself that the thrill is fleeting, that in bad weather a sports car would be useless. I stick with my SUV. Roomy and comfortable, and it fits all the kids.