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

Where’s My Brick?

Comparison, they say, is the thief of joy. Still, one can’t help being compared, even when actively avoiding it.

I was thinking about Emerson College, where I got my M.A. They send out a lot of emails and post a lot of Facebook stuff, so maybe I wasn’t so much thinking about Emerson as having it forcibly brought to mind. Emerson has a long list of impressive alumni, so I guess it’s no wonder they don’t much care about anything I’ve done since leaving. But it hurts a little to be overlooked like that. And I figure I’m overlooked by them because I’m simply not worth the attention when compared to the rest.

So then I asked myself why I don’t feel slighted by UT. They’ve never recognized me or my work either. But they’re so much bigger, you know, and then I also don’t get constant emails from them about how great all their alumni are. So I don’t feel like I’m being left out of anything.

If and when I make “real” money as a writer, I’ll have one of those little plaques put on a bench or the back of a chair in an auditorium somewhere. Or maybe I’ll buy one of those bricks and have my name carved in it so people can literally walk all over me, but I can feel good about it.

Yes, I’m being snarky. And I’m [half] joking. This post isn’t meant to signal contempt for either Emerson or UT; it’s a study of my own motivations and psyche. WHY do I crave recognition? Part of it is the system I grew up with—the drive for gold stars and good grades. When you get out into the real world, there aren’t stars and grades any more, and if you don’t work in a hierarchy there aren’t promotions and job titles either. So you seek validation elsewhere. Something, anything to prove you’re on the right track, that someone is noticing, that it isn’t all for naught. Book sales are nice and all, but what I really want is to be mentioned in a newsletter.

30-Day Writing Challenge: Day 29

29. The night of your 21st birthday (if not yet 21, the last birthday you had)

I don’t remember what I did for my 21st birthday. Probably studied for finals. I would have been a junior at UT Austin, and my birthday always fell during finals, right before the holiday break. It’s equally possible my friends and I all went out somewhere . . . Maybe that was the year we went to the restaurant with the girl on the swing [Old San Francisco Steakhouse]? I honestly can’t remember. Twenty-one wasn’t a big deal for me. I’m not a big drinker or partier, so suddenly being able to drink legally held no particular excitement. Also, two of my friends were still too young to drink, so . . . ::shrug::

30-Day Writing Challenge: Day 4

4. Ten interesting facts about yourself

I don’t know if they’re “interesting” or not—that’s sort of subjective—but here are ten facts about me:

  1. I won’t eat meat off a bone. That’s something that runs in my family, actually.
  2. I won’t eat poultry unless it’s so covered in something else (sauce, seasoning) I can’t actually taste the meat. That also runs in my family.
  3. I’m allergic to berries and oranges.
  4. Maybe a non-food item? Um . . . I grew up speaking both French Creole and English.
  5. My favorite movie ever is Young Sherlock Holmes, which I used to watch every day (not even exaggerating) after school while doing my homework. Marcus in Changers is modeled a bit after Nicholas Rowe from that movie.
  6. I’ve both performed and taught Shakespeare, and an essay I wrote on Hamlet exempted me from any required English courses as an undergrad. (But I took a bunch of English Lit anyway because I like it.)
  7. The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller started loosely as an idea for a Sherlock Holmes story but ended up going in a very different direction. As made obvious by the final product.
  8. My “M” necklace from Style Newport shows up in The K-Pro (except Andra wears a “C” for “Cassandra”).
  9. I love to dress up. Either in costumes or in fancy clothes.
  10. I chose the University of Texas at Austin because I’d visited the campus when I was eight years old and fell in love with the Harry Ransom Center. In particular, I loved that they had a plaster cast of the Nike of Samothrace, which is my favorite of the Ancient Greek sculptures. When I visited the Louvre, I didn’t give a fig about Mona Lisa, I just had to see Nike.

I don’t know if #7 actually counts as being “about me” but I figure it is by proxy since it’s about my book, my idea.

Katabatick Ekphrasis

In tandem with the Throwback Thursday parageography posts, I’ve decided to also include a number of the assignments from the course. These are, I’ve found, particularly good creative writing assignments. The first was (as this post is titled) the “Katabatick Ekphrasis,” which means “underground description.” As Doc Parker put in a footnote on said assignment:

“Description-that-has-to-do-with-a-descent…” “Describing in detail an underground locale of surpassing strangeness, or eeriness, or unquotidianity that you have, well, experienced somewhere, somehow.”

The assignment was to be 1000 words.

Per the assignment handout:

Basic Specifications:

1. This the Course’s first and only RealWorld item. In conception—and, it is hope, in execution—it’s not basically a creative assignment: Don’t Make Something Up.

2. A quick duedate. But this is also diagnostic, and Your P & G needs info quickly.

3. You are to describe a place Underground—not, by any means, a usual place, or everyday place where normal life normally goes on in a normal fashion. No, not that. Treat an exceptional spot, one encountered only rarely in the usual business of living.

4. On the other hand, it should be A Place You Are Familiar With, Somehow. Somewhere that you have not read about, or not merely read about, but seen. The old English-teacher ukase—”Write about things you know, dear”—applies here.

5. Describe it in considerable Detail. Your first 750 words are to be spent in telling, with searching precision, What The Place Looks Like. [Diagrams and other visual aids are acceptable and even encouraged, but will not affect the Word Count.]

6. After the description comes what we shall call The Fourth Page—the last 250 words—where you may spread yourself and tell how and why this place is unusual—arcane, horrifying, comforting, challenging, eerie, or whatever, but unusual. Here association and attitude count for a great deal.

7. Some suggestions for places you might know and use: Basement; Mineshaft; Subway; Cave; Sewer; Heating Tunnel; Bankvault; Rootcellar; Hell—but only if you’ve been there.

Adumbrations:

“Please, Sir, why and how are we doing this?” A logical question. Okay; first the Whys:

1. Successful ParaGeography is not merely a pileup, a listing, an agglomeration of improbable sites. It depends for meaningful achievement on the thorough conception and realization of those sites, on MicroCreation as well as Macro-Creation. The Critical Effusion will treat of a Macro; this is to be your first Micro.

2. Not wholly Your Very Own, of course. It’s to be an RW place. Later on, especially in the minicreation, you will find yourself building a small site. But the technique of description—and especially description without narrative—is something that has to be developed and refined. Hence this assignment, which seems a rather large description of what may be a rather small place.

Which leads us, logically enough, to the Hows:

1. As specified, 750 words on description; then 250 on assessment. You may find the first part somewhat of a strain, especially if the Underground Locale is [a] very small or [b] very large. Well, [a] is probably the more intriguing option: it means you’ll have to dig down (so to speak), there. But [b] has its thorny bits, too: how to get it all in? Of course, Your Guide is elastic about upper limits—but he has his little foibles, and he has to read all of these, and you wouldn’t want to infuriate him right off the bat, now, would you? So, there’ll be picking and choosing and aiming for the significant details, &c., &c.

2. Witness a query from a member of the class of—?when? 1988?: “I once was lost in some caves, and I used to play in a sewer pipe. Which should I pick for this assignment?” My initial reaction was the Caves; the Pipe seemed quite challenging. As it turned out, this student, and one other, chose the sewer pipe…with lovely [if that’s the word] results.

3. TFP—the last quarter of the CatEc, The Fourth Page as might be [=250 words], where you set forth the outré nature of your spot—should be The Fun Part. Fear of the Dark? Lovecraftian Things in an unspeakable interior? Trolls that slaver Underneath? The buried antiquity of earlier ages? Dig down, deep, and see what you come up with. And enjoy doing it. That’s an order…

4. “But Sir!“—a polite member of the class, in whose mouth butter would not melt, might cry—”How, oh, How am I to describe this place without moving someone (myself, perhaps) through it? Certainly one of the most efficient ways to describe a locale it to tell what an observer sees in the order in which she/he sees it, no?” “Er, yes,” I would reply. “But wouldn’t that be, uh, narrative, Sir?” To which I can only say, “Damn your eyes, you’re right, but Don’t Make It a STORY, hear?” Curse the Younger Generation away.

5. Oh. He would like the paper typed, or wordprocessed, or…anyway, NOT handwritten, if this can possibly be avoided. He grows old; his eyesight dims; he is withal a pitiful figure who deserves your every indulgence in his sad and sore travail. [Sob.]

These instructions are followed by numerous examples that I will not reproduce here; they are too long to retype. I will, however, note that my description of my grandparents’ basement in their house in Alaska earned me an “A.” Along with these lovely remarks:

“I rather expected plainness before, then the exuberance. But the similes, the occasional pawky phrases, lift the first part out of that. You might stress the snowsuits just a tad more. Or are you flattering me by assuming I’d pick up on their non-existence in Texas? Very skillful. Keep it up.”

It was the start of a beautiful mentorship.

*Note that P & G was Doc’s way of referring to himself as “Proctor & Guide” as we traversed parageographical lands, both established and still forming.

Now, I direct my fellow writers to go forth and do their own Katabatick Ekphrasis exercise! Useful on days when you feel otherwise stuck or unmotivated.

TBT: Parageography Outline #3

So I’ve been doing a Throwback Thursday series in which I replicate all Dr. Parker’s parageography course outlines. Here is the third, which is quite long and is about the parageography of The Odyssey:

ODYSSEY: Hero On the Loose, or Myth and Landscape in the Odyssey

[and some Greek I cannot reproduce, nor read]

I. Over the Shoulder at the Creation: A Note on Hesiod’s Theogony
     A. Creating the Landscape = Peopling the Landscape
          1. From LARGE to small
     B. Fundamental Opposition: Earth:Sky::Female:Male
          1. The Residents
          2. The Invaders
     C. A Look at a Battle or Two
          1. Mountains and Titans
          2. Mountains and Giants
II. Further Notes on the Indiana Syndrome…
     A. You use what you got, or, Kirke in La Porte IN
     B. No, she isn’t there any more, but…
III. . . . Bringing Us to the Apologia of the Odyssey
     A. Not right around town
     B. A Note on the Periphery
     C. Island-Hopping, or, “The Archipelago Effect”
IV. Foci of Odysseus’ Voyage: “True” Maps
     A. Hecataeus I [Appendix One]: The Admission of Funk
     B. Hecataeus II [Appendix Two]: The Insistence of Certainty
     C. Joyce’s Homer: Victor Bérard, Les Phéniciens et l’Odyssée: The Grand Solution
V. Foci of Odysseus’ Voyage: Various Schematics of “Moral Space”
     A. Profit-and-Loss Flowchart: The Odyssey as a Board Game: [Appendix Three]
     B. Appetitive Voyaging
          1. East, West, Home’s Best: The Odyssey as Grid [Appendix Four]
               a. Of course, one fudges a bit
          2. The Squat Towers of Ithaka: The Odyssey as Graph [Appendix Five]
               a. Questions of Weighting: 50/50 is About Right
               b. What about Thrinakie? or Skylla/Kharybdis?
     C. Beings and Nothingness: Approaching the Strange
     D. Some other Organizing Elements
          1. Eating[Eaten]-Changes
               a. Lotophagoi: -ing lotos, to Craving/Lassitude
               b. Kyklopes: -en by Giant, to Food
               c. Laistrygones: -en by Giants, to Food
               d. Kirke: -ing food, to Pigs
               e. Land of Dead: -ing by Ghosts of blood, to substance
               f. Skylla: -en by Monster, to Food
               g. Thrinakie: -ing of Cattle, to Curse
          2. Caves
               a. Kyklopes: Cave of Polyphemos
               b. Skylla: Monster in Cave
               c. Kalypso: Goddess in Cave
               d. Ithaka: Cave of Nymphs by Shore
          3. Palaces
               a. Aiolos: Palace w/ brazen wall on floating island
               b. Kirke: House of wrought stone
               c. Phaiakia: Palace of Alkinoos
               d. Ithaka: Palace of Odysseus
          4. Pleasaunces
               a. [Lotophagoi: Pleasaunce? at least it has lotos]
               b. Kirke: Well-tended garden
               c. [Kharybdis: there’s an olive-tree in midsea]
               d. Kalypso: Pleasaunce wilder than Kirke’s, but birds, trees
               e. Phaiakia: One of the most famous gardens in antiquity
               f. Ithaka: Pleasaunce: Laertes’ orchard
          5. Women
               a. Laistrygones: Antiphates’ daughter
               b. Aiaia: Kirke
               c. Land of Dead: Antikleia, plus the Catalogue
               d. mid-sea: the Sirens
               e. mid-sea: Skylla [feminine; not the sea-bird]
               f. Thrinakie: the three daughters of the Sun
               g. Ogygia: Kalypso
               h. Skheria: Nausikaa
               i. Ithaka: Penelope
          6. Nothing-Places
               a. Lotophagoi [hardly anything]
               b. Kyklopes [defined negatively: a non-place, a nowhere]
               c. Aiaia [is this fair to Kirke?]
               d. Kharybdis [the perfect oubliette]
               e. Ogygia [that’s what Kalypso’s name indicates]
VI. Places to Stay: Approaches to Paradise
     A. Minimal Paradise: The Land of the Lotophagoi [p.147]
          1. One big fact, and nothing else
     B. Wee Paradise: Ogygia, Kalypso’s Island [p.83]
          1. Heremes goes into the garden [p.83]
          2. Minimal Goddess, or, What’s in a Name?
          3. The Drawback
     C. Slightly Larger and Grander Paradise: Aiaia, Kirke’s Island
          1. Through the Woods and into the PEACEABLE KINGDOM [p.171]
          2. Goddess, Witch, and Sole Proprietress: Kirke
          3. The Drawback
     D. The Five-Star Paradise, or Men Like Gods: Skherie & the Phaiakians
          1. Odysseus goes through the Palace and into the Garden [p.113–115]
          2. Inhabitants of this Delightful Spot: Alkinoos, Nausikaa, et al.
          3. The Drawbacks
               a. Inside/Outside
               b. Limited Limitlessness
     E. Impossible Paradises, but still, they’re the logical conclusions
          1. Olympos [p.100]
               a. Something about the Weather
               b. The Drawback
          2. Elysion [p.89]
               a. Something about the Weather
               b. The Drawback [curious, no?]
     F. Some Paradises Gone Wrong
          1. Pastoral Retreat: Thrinakie, the Island of the Sun’s Daughters [p.213]
          2. And, of course, the Land of the Cyclopes, that Pastoral Retreat, but…
     G. Place/Proprietor: The Implied Relation
VII. Places to Avoid: Approaches to Hell
     A. Monsters along the Way I: The Sirens [pp. 210, 214]
     B. Monsters along the Way II: Skylla & KKharybdis [pp.211, 217]
     C. Monsters along the Way III: Cannibals I: The Laistrygones of Lamos [p. 168]
     D. Monster of Monsters: Cannibals II: The Land of the Kyklopes [esp.pp.148–150]
          1. Negative Spaces
          2. Not Our Sort
          3. The Frustrated Developer
          4. Inward, Ever Inward…to the Cave, and Then…
          5. Giant = Mountain…Back to the Gigantomachy
VIII. Crossover Places: When Do Men And Gods Associate?
     A. The Floating Island of Aiolia, home of the Wind King [p.165]
          1. Unusual Architecture
     B. The Cave of the Nymphs on Ithaka [pp. 232–233]
          1. Unusual Structure
          2. Function in the Voyage, or, Getting Out Of It
IX. Interrelation of Place and Myth
     A. Place as a Projection of Person’s Origin
          1. e.g., Polyphemos the Kyklops
     B. Person as Development of Place’s Characteristics
          1. e.g., Kalypso the Concealer
X. The ODYSSEY as Archetypical QUEST
     A. The Archetypical Places
          1. Enclosed Space: The Cave
          2. Enclosed Space: The Palace
          3. Semi-enclosed Space: The Garden
          4. Semi-enclosed Space: The Grove
          5. Semi-enclosed Space: The Bay
          6. Open Space: The Sea
          7. Other Space: Hell
     B. The Archetypical Situations
          1. Subcivilization
          2. Supercivilization
          3. Hostile Nature
          4. Seductive Nature
          5. Apocalypse: The Unveiling
     C. Characteristics of the Voyage
          1. Ec-centricity
          2. Telos: the overriding goal
          3. Danger
          4. Battle
          5. Decimation
          6. Prolongation
          7. Prophecy and Information
          8. Divine Intervention
          9. Storm
          10. R & R
          11. THE MARVELOUS
          12. Confusion Resolved
XI. Last Remarks on the ODYSSEY, for a bit…
     A. Homer as Realizer, if not Adumbrator
     B. A Note from Lord Raglan on the Anatomy of Quests
     C. What’s a heisenberg? or, Look, Jane, Look!
     D. A note on originality

From this time on—which is to say, from the beginning as we know it—Western Quest-literature is a series of footnotes and glosses on, and developments and expansions of, the Odyssey.

___________________

Okay, so here is where I must add some pictures so that the Appendices mentioned in the outline above can be referenced. (You should be able to click on them to enlarge.)

photo 1
photo 2
photo 3
photo 4
photo 5

I’d say, as a writer, it’s part X. of the outline that impacts my thoughts most. I mean, I’ve read The Odyssey many times over (and btw, I believe we were using Fitzgerald if you’re wondering about the page references, but it’s been long enough and I’ve read enough different translations that I can’t be sure), and then also Campbell and Vogler, but when I looked at this outline as I typed it up . . . X. made me think about my own world of AElit and the ways in which I’ve applied all these archetypes to it. We’re all just drawing from the Odysseal well.

TBT: Parageography Series, Contents + Outline #1

I was digging around—I’m forever digging around in all my stuff, and I never find what I’m looking for, but I almost always find other interesting things I’ve forgotten I’ve ever owned. Anyhow, I was digging around and this time I found my old Parageography packet.

I studied Parageography (that is, the geography of imaginary places, though it was largely a creative writing and world-building class) under Douglass S. Parker at the University of Texas. He’s generally regarded as the coiner of the phrase, and he was a particular mentor to me. He’s sorely missed. I can think of no better legacy than sharing some of his work.

The class consisted of reading Classics (it was a Classics course, CC322 and/or 327 in the catalogue) but also of creating our own worlds and studying Doc Parker’s own High Thefaerie. Much of the packet involves a number of images which I may try to photograph and present in various posts. But for this first post, I’ll give the Contents:

1. Introductory
2. Odyssey
3. Apollonius
4. Vergil
5. Iambulus/Antonius Diogenes
6. St. Brendan
7. Herodotus
8. Monsters
9. Gardens
10. Gardens in Fusion
11. Spenser/Bowre
12. Atlantis
13. Utopia
14. Theleme
15. Hell I: Odyssey
16. Hell II: AEneid
17. Hell III: Inferno
18. Mabinogion
19. Malory/Arthur
20. Spenser/Faerye
21. Lucian
22. Rabelais
23. OZ
24. Narnia
25. Middle-Earth

Rather comprehensive and yet there is still so much more out there . . . But with limited number of weeks, there was only so much we could cover.

As a bonus today I’ll add the outline for the first class:

I. Words for Beginning
    A. From Samuel Goldwyn: “Bon Voyage!” (Though the “Bon Voyage” is printed backward)
    B. From Everybody: “What?!”
    C. From the Guide: “Let me I should tell you about my childhood in very, very darkest Indiana in the 1930’s: Sure, and it was a great time and place for a boy to grow up, filled with witches, and caves, and cheap fiction………”

II. Schematizing the World
    A. The real world
    B. The not-so-real world

III. Some Comments Generated by the Itinerary
    A. What the course is: The Embrace of Fantasy
    B. What the course isn’t: Significant Omissions
       1. A Moan for the Mainstream: No Dublin
       2. A Sob for Science Fiction: No Dune
       3. A Wail for Works of Forbidding Length: No Charlemagne’s Europe
       4. A Threnody for Things That Might Have Got In: No Earthsea

IV. A Word of Cheer
    A. However….

V. Terminological Mush
    A. The scene–actor ratio
    B. Allegorical landscape/paysage moralisé
    C. Moral Space
    D. The heisenberg
    E. The archipelago
    F. The generated landscape

VI. Loose Thoughts on Mapping: Where is the focus?
    A. Shape
       1. The world-box of Cosmas Idicopleustes
    B. Centrism
       1. Zmaragdocentrism: The OZ Map
       2. Theocentrism: The OT Maps
       3. Ethnocentrism: Imperial China
       4. Gnotocentrism: The Yurok Indians
    C. Center vs. Periphery
       1. Comfy around Home
       2. Strange at the Edge

It’s a lot to be getting on with, I realize. But it’s a fair start for anyone hoping to tromp his or her way through Doc Parker’s course. With just this much information, one might recreate and push one’s way through the curriculum, even without the benefit of Dr. Parker’s presence. It’s not near as much fun without him, unfortunately. Most things aren’t.

Next week I’ll post the second outline, which is titled “Guidelines for Parageographical Analysis”

This Is Me (Part XIX: Stalkers)

For whatever reason, I seem to draw primarily two types of men.

1. Protectors who want to take care of me
2. Weirdos who want to stalk me

I guess I should be flattered that I inspire devotion of one kind or another. I’m pretty independent by nature, but I’ll admit I really do need someone to look after me. I’ve lived alone, and I don’t mind being alone (in fact, I kind of like it), but I’m useless at day-to-day living. Things like managing bills and making sure there is food in the house . . . For someone so smart, I sure can be stupid.

It’s good, then, that there have been guys willing to take me in like some kind of stray. I’m forever grateful to those who’ve cared for me in that way. But then there are the other types . . .

There were two in elementary school: Andrew and Ryan. Each thoroughly dedicated to me for no reason whatsoever except that I was nice enough to answer them when they spoke to me. I’ve since learned to mostly not talk to people, but it took a few decades. I want to be nice because I do want people to like me. I just don’t want them to like me so much they follow me around all the time. Because that’s weird.

It didn’t get scary until high school. A kid named James was infatuated with me and used to linger around corners and watch me. Then he started turning up outside my house. Since he didn’t live anywhere near me—in fact, he lived on the other side of town—it was more than a little creepy. Added to that was the fact James was a goth type and into vampires, so he always gave me the feeling he was waiting for an opportunity to bite me.

There was also a kid named Scott, but I have to give him a pass because he was seriously mental. He’d find whatever class I was in and burst in and start giving random weather reports on the board and or start a game of Wheel of Fortune . . . without a wheel. He’d write, I dunno, I guess it was fan fiction (All In the Family and Transformers are the ones I most recall) and bring it to me so I could “copyright” it for him (I did this by putting a little “c” inside a circle at the bottoms of the pages). Scott was seriously messed up, and I felt sorry for him. Though when he learned I worked at the public library, he would go there looking for me and I’d have to hide and have Mike shoo him away.

The boyfriends didn’t help. I seemed to land the obsessive/possessive types that called constantly and wanted to know what I was doing every minute of every day.

I went away to uni and had another strange one—Michael—start following me around. He’d hang around outside my [all girls] dorm, linger after classes we had together (we had the same major) in the hopes of catching me. He started taking all his meals in our dorm cafeteria (which was open to all with a meal card) so I felt like I could never eat there unless I had a crowd of friends around me as a buffer.

“He likes you,” my friends would say about James, about Michael, and later about Cecil and Steve. Yes, okay. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with information like that—information that is, btw, patently obvious even to someone as oblivious as I am. Why does he like me? And what am I supposed to do about it exactly?

I must be losing my touch, my allure, though because aside from the occasional Internet stalker I’ve managed to avoid any unwanted hangers on over the past few years. Of course, I stay in a lot these days. Probably just as well.

My Favorite Year

My son is in second grade and today he asked me what my favorite year [in school] had been. It was an interesting question; I’d never really thought about it. When I did try to answer, I found it easier to pick out the bad years than the good.

Seventh and eighth grades (ages 12 to 14) I recall as being difficult. Not in terms of curriculum; I always found school itself remarkably easy. But those were emotionally problematic years. We had moved and I had trouble settling into my new surroundings. School was school was school but the other students were different from what I was used to, and they mostly all knew each other, and it didn’t help that those were awkward years involving things like braces on my teeth.

Somewhere between eighth grade and moving on to high school, though, I found my place. Maybe because our high school consisted of two middle school populations, and so at that point everyone was dealing with new faces. I did all right until my junior year. To this day, that counts as the worst, most painful year of my life: September 1992 through the summer of 1993. The lingering effects were felt as my senior year began, but by the time we got through to graduation I had cleared away the worst of it and was looking forward to going away to university.

(And I have my high school reunion coming up in June . . .)

“But did you like college?” my son asked, and I told him I did. “I was good at it,” I said, which is true. University life afforded a freedom and independence that I craved, and I enjoyed starting fresh and learning to be myself without the constructs of my classmates or even my immediate family defining me. There was no one to say who I should be or how I should act, no one around in the sea of faces who had preconceived notions about me. As an only child I already knew how to be comfortable alone with myself, but at university I learned how to be comfortable being myself around others. I made some of my best friends during my undergraduate years. (Not so much as a grad student, but that’s a very different dynamic and my schools were very different as well, the first being a massive university with a beautiful, sprawling campus, the second a college bound by a dense and compact city. It was good, perhaps, to have both kinds of experiences.)

My son wants to skip some grades and go to college early, is trying to decide between Stanford and Cal Tech. (For the record, he’s eight years old.) He’s certainly smart enough, but he’ll need to focus a bit more. Or get a fencing scholarship. Which means he really needs to practice fencing more. It’s that careful balance that parents must maintain: encouraging their children while still managing their expectations. Which is why when my son asked me which were my best school years, the diplomatic answer was, “Some are always better than others. In school and in life. You just enjoy when you can and get through the less fun stuff as quickly as possible. Because there will always be another good year coming.”

Weddings

I was trying to remember all the weddings I’ve ever been to. Some random online article (I can’t be bothered to find it and link to it now) had listed all the types of weddings people go to, like ones where you are really good friends with the groom and don’t really like the bride, or where you dated one of them once, or maybe you’re a childhood friend and now have nothing in common with the person . . . And then there are theme weddings and hippie weddings and all that kind of thing.

Of course, my first weddings were family. I was really young (three? five?) when someone on my mother’s side got married. So young I can’t even remember who it was. Her brother? Her cousin? I know we flew to Alaska to attend. And I think my grandmother had made me a dress for the occasion (she used to sew lots of clothes for me).

And then when I was, I dunno, eight or nine maybe, my cousin on my father’s side got married. And I do remember having this white blouse and floral skirt to wear to that one.

mandabodice2And then for a long time no one got married, or if they did I didn’t attend. It wasn’t until I was an undergrad that things began to pick up. My high school friend Andrea got married at a Renaissance Faire. There’s your theme wedding for you. And then several of my college friends tied the knot immediately after graduation. Brooke and Rudy had been dating for something like seven years, and Garrett and Brenna had only just met but had one of those love-at-first-sight kind of things going, and my roommate Anne married Brian (who’d actually once asked me out before going for Anne, but it wasn’t at all awkward).

I was actually a bride’s maid for Brooke, though I think it was only to make up the numbers since we weren’t actually all that close. But she was another of my roommates (there were four of us, and they were all very active in the church, so I think all the weddings had something to do with that). In fact, my other roommate Christine also got married, but I didn’t end up attending that wedding. I think I’d already moved away by then.

It’s funny because I’d always wanted to be a bride’s maid, though I’d never had any dreams of being a bride. It was the idea of being someone’s friend in that way that appealed to me. My plan, however, had been to never get married. I was going to be too focused on my work for that. At my wedding reception, my best friend/maid of honor would remind me in her toast: “You once told me you were going to sail around the world and never talk to anybody.” Yes, that’s sounds like me.

Brenna and Garrett actually had the nicest wedding, and by that I don’t mean fancy. I actually mean the exact opposite. Maybe they fall under the “hippie” category, but they didn’t have much money but also didn’t want to wait (you know, because of all that church stuff), so they kept it extremely simple. They held their wedding out at some kind of national park, or maybe it was a ranch, but wherever it was, it was lovely. And every household brought a dish for the buffet meal. So they only ended up needing a cake, and I think they sprang for a chocolate fountain too. No flowers as I recall; I think Brenna wore a garland of dried ones in her hair, though. And the pavilion was strung with lots of little lights, probably from someone’s Christmas supply. But the feeling at that wedding, the community, was amazing. I’ve never been to any big, fancy wedding and come away with such a wonderful sense of contentment.

The last of the weddings I attended during this busy period was my cousin Christopher’s. It was a Catholic wedding, very long, and I’d only met the bride once, and she’d been rude to me then. Since Christopher had always been one of my favorite cousins, this may fall into that whole “not approving of the bride” category. Anyway, there’s something to be said for a wedding where you know and/or are related to most of the guests. Built-in company means it’s generally less awkward on the whole, though on the flip side one has a hard time getting away and catching a few moments to oneself.

The only other wedding I’ve attended since then, aside from my own, would be that of my best friend. Actually, she’s had two . . . I was a bride’s maid at the first, which took place just a couple weeks after my own wedding. The second was some years later and was definitely a hippie wedding, as it took place at the Cathedral of Junk. I suppose I should not be sorry I was not asked to stand with my friend the second time around; I lived far away, and it was a very casual affair.

And that’s it for weddings. I count nine, an even ten if you include my own. Sometimes I think there should be more, but then again I wouldn’t want to be invited to just any old ceremony, the kind where there are 300 or more guests, where you’re only an acquaintance or distantly related. Weddings should be for and with and about those closest to you. They should mean something, not be an excuse for an oversized party. If you want to throw a party, do. But make your wedding something more by making it something less, if you know what I mean.

Well, but that’s just me. And maybe that’s why I don’t get invited to more weddings. Though, come to think of it, I really do have a small circle of friends, about half unmarried. So maybe there just aren’t that many weddings to be had.