National Novel Writing Month is Ending…What Now? #NaNoWriMo Unsolicited Advice.

30 Nov

Hello kittens

Today is November 30th which means tomorrow is December 1st.

To some of you that means something more than the start of the quick slide into the holidays. I means you have only a few hours left to finish a 50,000 word novel.

I have never participated in National Novel Writing Month for a couple reasons. One, I’m a slow writer. Two, deadlines stress me out. Three, word count isn’t usually a motivator and four, I write every day all year long so I’m sort of doing NaNoWriMo all the time. Regardless I think one of the best things about NaNoWriMo is that it gets your butt in the chair every day putting down words and that is the only way novels get written.

To quote Neil Gaiman

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As we are in the waning hours I have some thoughts:

First off CONGRATS! Writing 50K words in 30 days is no laughable feat. If you didn’t finish, also CONGRATS! Trying to write 50K words in 30 days is no laughable feat.

Because more than finishing you STARTED something. And truth be told that is the hardest part of writing. The starting. But you did. You started a story that only you can tell. This is huge.

So now what?

Now the work continues. First things first you need to rest your creative brain. Get some sleep. Go for walks. Read and read and read and read some more. Put your book away.

Let it hibernate and percolate. Let yourself forget some of the finer points. Let the characters voices fade. Let the stress of writing a novel in one month go.

Then when you’re all rested and recharged take it out and read it. Then read it again. Then read it again. Then read it one more time just to be sure. Then edit. Then read. Then edit. Then read. Keep doing this for as long as you can. Then put it away again.

Then do the whole process over again. Read and edit. Read and edit. Trust your gut to know when it’s ready. Publishing is a sloooowwww business. It rewards patience. Let someone you trust read it. Make sure they’ll be fair and honest. Listen to them.

If what they say sounds right, make some changes. You’ll know it’s right because your gut and heart and brain will tell you it’s right even if it means killing parts you love. Don’t be afraid to go there. If you don’t think what they’re saying is right move on. This is your book. Rip it apart. Then stitch it back together.

Then read it. And read it again. And read it again. Then edit. Keep doing this over and over again until you’re done. You’ll know when you’re done. You’ll know because you’ll be exhausted and wrung out but also pleasantly satisfied because you created something from nothing.

Then read it again. Then write a query letter. Then rewrite that query letter. Show it to other people who have read it. Does that query sound like your book. Is it precise and careful. Is the voice YOURS? Rewrite it again and again.

Research agents. Really research them. Learn what they publish. Spend time on to learn more. Your agent is going to be your champion. You have to find the perfect one. Send out your query. Wait. Wait. Some more.

While you’re waiting, start another book.

Because the only thing you have control over is how hard you work. Work hard. Make art. Do again. Do it in July. Do it in August. Do it all the time. Keep reading. Keep writing. Everything else will is out of your control.

Work hard.

Make. Good. Art.

Make good art.Make it on the bad days Make it on the good days too.-Neil Gaiman

Congratulations, kittens.

You’ve just finished 50K words and you’ve only just begun to write a novel.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

 

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Book News!

16 Nov

Lordy it has been a long time since I’ve blogged.

So we have much catching up to do!

First and foremost, I’m so excited to share that my new poetry book FITTING THE OCEAN IN YOUR MOUTH is now available from Blue Hour. It should be up on their site soon and I have a box full of copies that arrived. If you’re interested in getting one my email is on the about page.

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I’m really excited because working with Blue Hour has been something I wanted to do for a long time and because I think the poems in here are some of my strongest.

Here’s a few excerpts if you’re interested:

and I wonderon such a moonless, starless night,on a stark unholy, un-kissed night,what song is itthat will save our lives-Because tomorrow I will go to the doctorand he will listen to my heartand I will think about dying.Because that is what we think about when someone listens to our heart.Think about the hI cannot think of love as a constant.It must, for me, wax and wane,the way a wave comes to the shore but is still always part of the deep.I have to think of it this way – as somethingI want to know what time I can be awakewhen no one else is, what second of what hour can I find myselfthe only thing fully aware in this world,eyes openin day or darkfeeling the groaning

In other writing related news, I recently published an essay with Drunk In A Midnight Choir. It’s called “Off the Rag: The Story of How I Got Cancer, Lost My Period and Found My Way Back to Womanhood”

Here’s an excerpt:

Rousseau spent a lot of time musing about the body versus the mind. What was the mind? Where did it live? Was it your soul? Was it your brain? He did as men are apt to do and prescribed the mind to be the realm of man. The mind was clean and logical and precise. It calculated and mused and did the sort of things like philosophize about the body vs mind dualism. The body on the other hand was messy, wet, sticky, and damaged. Capable of dying. The body, according to Rousseau, was womanly. He could not keep these two things together.  For Rousseau they were distinct and separate. There was the perfection of the mind trapped in the imperfection of the messy doomed body. The body’s mortality would destroy the mind’s potential immortality.

I wonder sometimes if I ever thought about these things before the cleaving. Before the doctor with the soft voice, before all the needles and blades that would cut me open, scoop me out and sew me back up. Did I spend much time thinking about where the mind lived? Did I consider my body and mind to be one thing that made up what I called woman? This person called Ally? Did I ever even think about it before the hatchet of diagnosis came down and separated the two? Before I became, like Rousseau, a mind trapped in a dying body.

And I also had the pleasure of being the Writer of the Month over at Drunk Monkeys.

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It’s their Trump themed issues so prepare for me having all the feels and the angers.

Speaking of Trump, to all my creatives out there, remember John Grochalski is still going strong with WinedrunkSidewalk: Shipwrecked in Trumpland

If you’ve got images, photos, paintings, rants, essays, poems, whatever you’ve cobbled together send it his way. Putting art into the world during these horrible times is RESISTANCE.

Hit him up at winedrunksidewalk at gmail dot com.

Yesterday was, horrifyingly, Trump’s 300th day in office. On a brighter note it was also the 20th anniversary of my first date with Mr. Grochalski which is crazy. Look at us! BABIES!

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I remember a month or so later when I was home for Christmas I told my mother he was “the one.” She raised a skeptical eyebrow, understandably, I was 20, but I knew the way you know about a good melon.

 

And finally my agent started subbing my novel Palimpsest 44 days ago and my face has basically been like this the whole time.

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Hold me.

Peace, love and Starburts

Ally

 

Seattle: The Emerald City

26 Sep

“I used to hate playing Seattle shows.” – Chris Cornell

This was the first thing I saw as the captain told us we were beginning our descent to SeaTac International Airport.

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It had been a harrowing flight. Long. Hot (especially in that lymphodema sleeve). And full of turbulence. I hate turbulence on any flight but each bump on this plane called back the man in line behind me at the Delta counter in JFK, just hours before, that collapsed and had a massive seizure. There’s really no way for me to properly talk about the effect this had on me or the reactions of people nearby or the experience for this man so I’m just going to leave it at that.

When we finally landed in Seattle and existed the airport, there was Mt. Rainer, and the moon, just cutting up the sky together. During our duration, it never looked nearly as clear or as majestic. I grew up in Hudson Valley. I thought we had mountains. We did not have mountains. Not like this.

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It was late and as New Yorkers felt even later by the time we were able to grab some noodles and collapse into bed.

We had breakfast the next morning at the Five Points Cafe5points

Originally opened in 1929 it is the oldest bar in Belltown and the longest running family owned eatery in Seattle. It also serves a plate of hash browns bigger than my head. It was fantastic. (Except on the second visit at the end of the trip when my waiter who is clearly a MONSTER served me English Breakfast when I clearly asked for Earl Grey because as we all know, English Breakfast tastes like it was run through my grandmothers socks. I will never forgive nor forget this monster.)

One of the most touristy but still genuinely awesome places in Seattle is Pike’s Market.

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If you’re wondering why this sounds familiar it’s because this is where they throw the fish around. You’ve seen the videos. Yes, I watched them throw the fish. I don’t have any photos because there were a million and people and it was hard to catch (Ha!) but also because ew, fish.

Ew.

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They also sell these huge bouquets of flowers crazy cheap. I’m talking $10 cheap. If I lived there I would Mrs. Dalloway that shit every single day. I mean look at these:

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Pike Market was sneakily much bigger than I expected. There are LEVELS within LEVELS. They have a magic shop in this place. I’m not kidding. I haven’t seen trick gum for sale anywhere in decades.

Behind Pike Market is the gum wall. But Ally, you ask, what’s a gum wall?

THIS IS A GUM WALL:

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and to Gum Wall’s defense it should actually be called a Gum Alleyway because it just keeps on going

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Then, being that we were in Seattle we did exactly what you think we’d do. We went to find the apartment building from Singles and Kurt Cobain’s house.

Don’t judge me!

The building from Singles is located in a super adorable area called Capital Hill. While adorable this is a misnomer. It should be called “Capital Mountain” or “Capital You Need A Tow Rope To Get Up This Bitch” or maybe “Capital You’re Dead Now”

Because this was seriously steep shit. I’m talking 18% grade steep. Some of them just turn INTO STEPS. Like, screw your car, it’s mountain climbing time!

For instance let’s look at this image I found online. This is Denny Way which we talked. Do you see the parts where it levels off and then it’s all mountain again? It’s like a giants staircase!

dennyway

I walked UP that. And it was really hot too. Figures I wind up in Seattle when they’re in the 90’s.

Anyway, we found the Singles apartment. Being a 90’s girl this movie was on a constant rotation with Reality Bites. I could probably act it out.

The apartments are located at 1820 E. Thomas Street and yes (minus the fountain which they added) it looks exactly the same.

singles

“I was just no where NEAR your neighborhood”

Then we headed back down to Lake Washington to find where Cobain lived…and well, died. It felt strange. I’m not going to lie. I’ve found lots of artists homes and graves and what not over my traveling years but I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place that was so tragic and so important in my own life.

The walk out there is gorgeous. The lake is gorgeous. To get to Kurt’s road you go down little winding wooden steps.

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You wouldn’t even know you were only a few miles from where Pearl Jam used to rehearse back in Belltown

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And I couldn’t help but wonder as we crested the hill that was Viretta Park that is right along the property if maybe that was part of the problem. All I know is that the Denny-Blaine neighborhood looked alot different than Belltown or Capital Hill.

In Viretta Park is a makeshift memorial – a bench that has been graffittied. When we were there someone had left flowers.

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From there you can see just the top of the house. It was sad and solemn and I felt a bit like maybe I shouldn’t have come.

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To offset that feeling, we headed up to Fremont (via bus cause you can’t walk and also because at this point I COULDN’T walk. Damn hills. I’m so old).

Fremont is a very cool neighborhood full of record stores and cool restaurants but more so it’s got this:

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This is the Fremont Troll and in case you couldn’t tell, he lives under the bridge. He’s big.

Like climb on him big

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(Dear god, we have sunburns in September in Seattle because of global warming.)

Down the road is a giant statue of Lenin with a red hand. Interpret that as you will

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But as I was saying we came over to Fremont for something else too. Something Kurt.

This is Reciprocal Recording Studios. reciprocal

This little tiny shack has quite a history. A band called Ted Ed Fred wanted to record here because Soundgarden recorded Screaming Life. Ted Ed Fred would soon change their name to Nirvana. In this little space they recorded their first demo on January 23, 1988. They had no drummer at the time, just Cobain and Novoselic so they borrowed the drummer from the Melvins. Jack Endino recorded and mixed ten songs. Two would go on to be on Bleach. Endino kept a copy which he brought to SubPop which landed Nirvana their first record deal.

I stood in front of the door thinking how excited they must have been when it was all starting out. I tried to make that memory burn brighter than that bench or that dusty park or that peaked roof of that mansion.

Just down the road from Fremont is the Gas Works Park

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It’s really cool with an incredible view:

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And we stopped into Linda’s a couple of times and had some pints of cider. This was the last place Kurt was seen alive.

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And yes of COURSE we did the Space Needle. Which I should get a few snaps for because this girl is afraid of heights. You should have seen me walking across the George Washington Bridge one time. I nearly made my peace with having to live in Jersey forever.

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It’s so tall

But I was cool about it.

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My hands down favorite thing we did in Seattle was easily the Museum of Pop Culture

This place was incredible. First off every exhibit was cool. Every. Single. One.

There was a fantasy one that had…..

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Dorothy’s dress

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Yeah that’s the witch’s hat

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Oh just Princess Buttercup and Westley and Indigo’s gear No biggie.

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What’s that you say? Oh yes that IS all the weapons from Lord of the Rings.

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Susan Pevensie’s bow and arrow. I’m screaming!

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The White Witch’s ice crown

And then there was the Bowie by Mick Rock exhibit

Mick was Bowies photographer from 1972-1973 and he captured some of the most iconic images from the Ziggy Stardust years. He told his manager that Mick seems him as he sees himself.

Mick also took these:

Hang on cause we’re JUST getting started with this museum.

Then they had the Jim Henson Experience. I had recently been to the Museum of Moving Image and seen their now permanent Henson exhibit which I loved but I was delighted to learn that many of my favorites were currently at MoPOP.

They even let you make a little video of you working as a puppeteer. I forgot to make my dude turn to the other camera so that’s why there are blank spaces! All the same, if this librarianship thing doesn’t work out I think I might have some options.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/235594692″>seattle 068</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user50279965″>ally malinenko</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Okay I just re-watched that and it was pretty terrible. I take it back. I have no future in puppeteer.

And some from his movies too!

And Jareth’s outfit and Sarah’s dress from the ballroom scene in Labyrinth

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Then, because we’re still not done with MoPOP they had a Star Trek exhibit!

and a science fiction one, which according to the website had Doctor Who props. So I go in figuring they’ll be small stuff, like maybe K9 but no. There was this:

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CYBERMAN!

And this:

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Yes they had an actual Dalek and I just about lost my mind.

They also had Mork’s outfit, a jawa, the ghostbuster’s pack and hoverboards from Back to the Future!

We also went down to the International District which is home to the Uwajimaya Market which served the best Udon chicken soup of my life. I burned every layer off my tongue and it was worth it. The whole area is really pretty.

There was also a lot of information about Japanese Seattle residents and the internment camps in 1942. 127,00 people were imprisoned, more than half of whom were American born citizens.IMG_2608[1]

And just like that the week was up and we were heading home, home, home.

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Thanks for a lovely time, Seattle. I’m sure I’ll be back.

Peace, Love and Starbursts,

Ally

You Helped Heal My Heart: Thoughts on This Is Sarah

14 Sep

2014 was a truly terrible year.

While I was beginning cancer treatment and my whole universe was tipped on it’s side, there was one small thing to hang on to.

One thing.

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I published a YA novel called This Is Sarah with Bookfish Books, a small press. Sarah was written pretty quickly in a fit of some of the best writing mornings I ever had while I was taking a break from Palimpsest – the science fiction book that tried to kill me.

Sarah was a palate cleanser for a lot of reasons: It was a small universe I understood. It was emotional. It was honest. And I packed a lot of my personal grief into a suitcase and handed it to Colin, my main character. I watched him walk away with it and I felt changed.

The first question people ask me when they read This Is Sarah is if it’s true.

The answer is No. Not really. I don’t know anyone who was kidnapped. I am not Colin or Claire.

But at the same time, I AM Colin and Claire. Because stories are a lie and truth all rolled up into one.

This is Sarah is a mediation on loss and grief. It’s as honest as I have ever been. And for now until the end of the month you can get it for less than a dollar on Amazon.

Here’s the scene where Colin thinks back on the last night he was with Sarah, and the realization she was gone.

The last time I saw her, she stood in her driveway, looking up at me as I leaned out my bedroom window.

“Hey!” I yelled down to her.

“Hey, yourself,” Sarah said with a smile.

“Have fun,” I told her.

“Okay.” She opened her car door. “Get that studying done.”

“It sucks,” I said. “Will you call me later?”

“Of course.” She waved. “Later Gator.”

“Bye.”

Later Gator. She always said stupid, cheesy shit like that. I miss hearing that shit so much.

After that, she got into the car and drove away. I never saw her again. That simple little exchange was the last conversation I would ever have with Sarah Evans.

It’s unbelievable. What a nothing conversation—filled with just the regular sort of stuff  people say to each other all the time, automatic stuff. And it was the last time I saw her smile, the last time I heard her voice.

I didn’t even tell her I loved her. How could I not say I loved her? We said it all the time. We said it in the hall between classes when the bell rang; we said it at the end of every phone call and text. Yet, at that final fucking moment, all I said was bye.

I hate myself for that. My God, if I only knew then…

This is the thing ― her voicemail became a tether, my anchor to this world. The second I heard her voice it felt like time froze for just a moment and then rolled back on itself, like a sunset, and Sarah was just fine. She wanted to hear what I had to say. She waited for me somewhere behind the next door. When I found that door and I opened it, this whole, awful nightmare would end.

But that wasn’t the important part. Colin’s sad little story didn’t matter. What mattered―what mattered to the police―happened next.

“Hi, this is Sarah. You know what to do!”

“Hey, baby, it’s me.” I called her maybe an hour after she left. I got a text about another party, one I actually wanted to go to after the track meet. “Jamie said the party is a definite on Saturday, but if you aren’t going, then screw it. Anyway, call me later.”

I went back to my biology work. As I told the police, no, I never left the house. No, my parents weren’t home that night because it was my uncle and aunt’s wedding anniversary. No, I don’t have anyone else to verify my whereabouts.

That night, my phone rang at nine-thirty. It was Jenna.

“So, I’m totally blaming you, Col,” she said when I picked up.

“Blaming me for what?”

“For screwing up my evening. You know I’m not going to go to this party alone. I’m not that much of a loser. Tell your girlfriend she could have at least let me know she planned on ditching me. And remember, she was my friend before she became your girlfriend. You can’t hog her all time.” Jenna laughed.

“I’m not with Sarah. She left her house at like seven or something.”

There was a beat, and in it, I could hear Jenna’s confusion. Did my heart start ramming in my chest yet? No. Not yet. I was still just curious. Where was Sarah? It was still just a harmless question. Not the scream it would become.

“What are you talking about?” Jenna said.

“Exactly what I said. Did you call her?”

“Yeah, like ten times. No one answered.”

“What do you mean no one answered? Where is Sarah?”

There it was. The fear drying my mouth. Bam. Bam. Bam. My heart hit my ribs so hard I thought it might come right out of me. The panic locked my fingers, and I nearly dropped the phone.

“I called her, Colin. No one answered.”

“Where is Sarah, Jenna?”

Those words. Where was Sarah? That question. God, that night was the first time I started asking that question.

I hung up with Jenna and called Sarah. It just rang. I hung up and dialed again. It rang and rang and rang until I thought I was going to tear every last hair from my head.

I hung up. I called again. As it rang, I looked out the window, down to the Evans’ empty driveway and then up to Sarah’s dark room.

Sarah, pick up your phone. Pick up your phone. Pick up your phone. Why aren’t you picking up your phone?

I hung up. I did that fifteen more times. I never got her voicemail.

99 cents from now until the end of the month.

And if it wasn’t clear, thank you thank you thank you for reading.

You helped heal my heart.

 

Peace, Love and Starbursts,

Ally

UPDATED: Band of Brothers: The Found Family Trope And Why It Makes Me Cry

23 Aug

EDITED: UPDATE WITH CORRECTIONS

We few…we happy few. We band of brothers. For he that sheds his blood today with mine shall be my brother. – William Shakespeare, Henry V

Let’s talk about storytelling

Many times tropes are pretty bad. By trope I mean a recognizable storytelling concept that readers (or viewers) will connect to. There are tons of them; with characters you can have  the plucky girl, or the badass bookworm or the genius bruiser. With plot/structure you can have the Call to Adventure or the Redemption Quest or a mashup of both where the MarySue goes toe to toe with the Magnificent Bastard.

They even made a periodic table out of them. (If you click that link you might never resurface. That pool is vast and deep and fascinating. Consider yourself warned.) Point is there are certain structures that have become normalized and a given when telling stories.

Some people will tell you tropes are terrible and to avoid them at all costs. But here’s the catch: tropes are popular because they are often true. Stole a boyfriend? Date the boss? Accidentally pregnant so we’re getting married? These things happen.

And on top of that tropes also provide a framework, like an anchor of familiarity for readers. There are definitely tropes you should avoid, ones that vilify marginalized people. And while many characters tropes are dangerous at worst and annoying and eye rolling at best, there are story tropes that are necessary and provide structure – the reveal, the three act, the maguffin, ensembles, etc. And one of the ensembles that I love and have always loved is the Found Family.

Found Family trope (also called the Family of Choice) is by definition a group of unrelated persons who commit to one another as a family.

I put a found family in my book Palimpsest. (oh yeah remember that book Palimpsest that was killing me. Some things happened. Eek!) My main character, stripped of her own family and searching for them, finds herself falling in with a bunch of teenage street chess hustlers who teach her a lot about privilege, love, and showing up. They teach her what it means to be a family. In my current WIP I’m crafting another found family – this one all girls because I also think that the more books we have showing girls as friends not competition, as loyal and kind not catty and bitchy, the better off we’ll all be.

So let’s talk about some of my favorite found families.

These guys were my first:

 

All the other TV shows I watched as a kid focused on the nuclear family until these guys. This was revolutionary for my viewing. I respect that there were shows prior to that had found families but with my age and experience this was the first one.

UPDATED: After discussing this with the hubs last night I realized that Friends wasn’t my first Found Family (and I’m not even sure if I would count them as a Found Family technically but…) THIS was my first found family. Of course, it was Jim.

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Jim Henson’s wonderful Labyrinth was my first encounter with a found family. And it has all the specifics. Hoggle has to be bribed into helping Sarah but then finds that he cares for her. Sarah sees past Ludo’s ferocity and acknowledges that he’s just another creature in need of a friend. Sir Didymus’ classic camaraderie.

Damn, Jim. You did it.

Another popular found family:

harry

This is a good mash up because you have the typical orphan (Harry) matched up with Ron who does have a very loving family and then Hermonie who is the magical “outcast” in her family. Harry Potter in general is full of found families – The Order of the Phoenix is basically that.

Speaking of books I am in love with Kaz’s Crows in Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo:

Six-of-Crows-cast

In an interview with Leigh she had this to say:

It sounds a little bit like the TV series Firefly where the heroes are smugglers trying to survive in a corrupt world that’s dished them a rotten deal.

I love a rag tag band of misfits story. In a way, if you’ve read The Grisha Trilogy, you know that that story becomes a rag tag band of misfits story. But I love Ocean’s 11 and Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Dirty DozenThe Untouchables is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s definitely a story I like. I like the feeling of found families, people who maybe don’t have much in common, but come together and become stronger together than they are apart.

And speaking of Firefly:

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The crew of Serenity are probably one of the most “typical” family structures in the Found Family. Mal, the captain and Inara function as the “parents” to this rag tag team of misfits as they fly around space giving everyone the warm fuzzies. Another aspect of Firefly which is often the case in Found Families is that they contain actual blood relatives – in this case River and Simon who are the newest additions to this family. What this does is allow for the audience to contrast the harshness of River and Simon’s true family with the camaraderie of their found one.

In one of my favorite episodes, “Safe” Mal and the crew rescue Simon and River and Simon questions Mal about why he saved him and Mal offhandedly replies that he’s a part of the crew. Simon, confused presses on :

Simon: “But you don’t even like me. Why’d you do it?”

Mal (irritated in the way only Mal can get): “You’re on my crew. Why are we even still talking about this??”

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My favorite current found family are these beautiful beauties:

sense8

 

Sense8 in a lot of ways sort of typifies what I love about Found Families. Their loyalty and love and their empathetic connection means that no matter where they are on the planet they can always be together. The Found Family means that someone is going to, like Mal, always come back for you. It means you’re never alone. You’ve got your crew. But Sense8 ups the ante by psychically connecting 8 strangers from around the globe. And it’s not just that they can see what is happening in each other’s lives, they can literally be there, through their senses. And while this makes amazing action scenes, like when Sun (who is in wrongfully imprisoned) can appear in Kenya to kick some ass on behalf of Capheus, it also allows small moments like when Kala, feeling trapped and alone, finds herself with Sun in her prison, also feeling trapped and alone. Or when Nomi tells her coming out story to Lido who is struggling.

Sense8 is about what it is to be human – in all it’s complex mushy messiness. These characters will fight for each other, yes, but they will also grieve with each other. It’s a show that reminds you that underneath the superficial, we are all we’ve got so we damn better show up for each other. If that’s not the most perfect Found Family, I don’t know what is.

These eight people are strangers and these 8 people are also family just as we are all strangers on this earth and all family.

Sometimes… a trope is a really beautiful thing.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

A Free Lesson on How to Talk about Disease.

24 Jul

Hello.
I have some thoughts.

Recently we learned that Senator John McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a very serious form of brain cancer. This was probably the first time a lot of people in this country heard about the seriousness of glioblastoma.

The first time I heard about it was 2014. I was in radiation for breast cancer and each morning, while waiting for my turn to be zapped, there was a report about a woman named Brittany Maynard who, at 29, wanted to die.

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She was also diagnosed with glioblastoma and after traveling (ice climbing in Ecuador, kayaking in Patagonia and climbing to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro) she relocated to Oregon to take advantage of their Death with Dignity Law and then ended her own life on Nov. 1.

Brittany was the subject of much conversation in the radiation waiting room at Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn. Not only because she was so young and because she worked hard to fight back against this stigma that to die of a disease is to “give up.”

Which brings me back to Senator McCain. When the news broke, lots of people shared their thoughts including President Obama.

“One of the bravest fighters.”

“Give it hell, John.”

I know why President Obama said these things. It’s the same things I would have said prior to my diagnosis. But now I know better.

There were a number of really terrific pieces about the dangers of equating the language of war with the language of disease. It creates a dynamic that implies that were someone to succumb to their disease then they didn’t try hard enough. They didn’t fight hard enough. As if to imply that they just gave up.

There is no giving up with cancer in the same way there is no “trying harder.” Cancer isn’t like that. When people told me that I would be fine because I was a fighter or I was brave I was never sure what to say. I wasn’t brave. I was terrified. I wasn’t a fighter. I was doing the things the doctor told me to do to increase the likelihood of being NED (no evidence of disease) at my next scan. Because there is no cure, doctors do not use that term. You cannot be cured of cancer. You can only have no evidence of disease.

So when the news broke I went to twitter like everyone else and voiced my opinion.

And another user responded:

And I said to myself HEY LOOK A TEACHABLE MOMENT and got to work. I thought I would share my responses here so that other people can have the opportunity to learn how to talk to someone who is ill. And before I get started, I want to stress that I completely understand how hard it is to be faced with the mortality of someone you love, someone you work with or someone you’re friends with. I get it. It’s hard. But telling them they “got this” doesn’t make it easier. Got what? What is there to get? Cancer is me. It’s a bunch of rogue cells causing trouble and my immune system is ignoring it.

So here’s my free advice on what to say and what not to say to someone who is ill

Remember too, that it is okay to be unsure. It is okay to be scared. It is okay to think about it not working out for the best.

It is okay to think about them dying. Because trust me, they are thinking about it.

We are all going to die. Dying is what makes us all so beautiful. Knowing it can’t last is what makes it so special. As my friend Lori once said “We are humble and radiant and temporary.”

Temporary. All of us.

I hope this helps.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some.

19 Jun

WARNING: SPOILERS. For real if you haven’t watched the whole series and don’t want things ruined just move along.

As the final episode of Season 1 of the Handmaid’s Tale ended, as the ironic use of Tom Petty’s American Girl, started up my husband turned to me and said, so how do you feel?

How did I feel? I had laughed and sobbed my way through this series. I immediately wanted to start it over again now that it was finished. At the same time I never want to stomach watching what happens to those women again.

In the end I only had one term: Vindicated.

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I felt vindicated. I felt heard. I felt recognized. I felt believed. I know I’m always blathering on about the importance of representation. The importance of words. I felt in a very real way that this story talked a lot about what it is to be a woman. Now. Not in the future. But right now in America.

These women are treated as objects. They are denied agency over their own bodies. There are men in congress RIGHT NOW working directly towards those goals.

One of the things that I loved so much was how much the show was filled with microaggressions – the kind that women face every single day. The way the Handmaids are treated like children or pets, both to be scolded and beaten. The way they lose their names and are instead renamed by the men who systematically rape them as other women look on. The way women betray each other, are pitted against each other in the patriarchy so that we’re constantly fighting for whatever little scrap we can find even at the expense of sisterhood. The tone policing. The gaslighting  In a flashback scene the baristas calls June and Moira sluts and they laugh it off. What woman hasn’t laughed it off. Because to fight against every microaggression is to die by a thousand cuts. You have to keep moving.

What the show and the book does so well is bring these every day microaggressions out into the open, to show them what it would look like if that treatment were not just canonized but made to rule.

Margaret Atwood didn’t imagine these things. She used history. She used what all women know.

“I made a rule for myself: I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time, or for which the technology did not already exist. I did not wish to be accused of dark, twisted inventions, or of misrepresenting the human potential for deplorable behaviour. The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes, the forced childbearing and the appropriation of the results, the children stolen by regimes and placed for upbringing with high-ranking officials, the forbidding of literacy, the denial of property rights: all had precedents, and many were to be found not in other cultures and religions, but within western society.”

-Margaret Atwood

The slut shaming. The victim blaming. When one Handmaid is made to recount a gang rape she survived, Aunt Lydia asks whose fault it was. The Handmaids then all start chanting “her fault.”

There are so many instances, Cosby, Brock Turner, all these high profile cases built up on the notion that these women did something to deserve what happened. And we believe this. We claim we don’t but we do. We ask what they were wearing. We ask if they had been drinking. We ask if they were alone. It’s the reason we police our daughters, shame them for what they wear. We do not teach our boys not to rape. We teach our daughters not to get raped. We teach them that boys and men cannot be stopped. That they will take whatever they want, including your body, so you must be vigilant. If you are not, you’re the only one to blame.

A hand comes out and strikes the offending Handmaid. That hand belonged to Margaret Atwood.

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The Salvaging, a scene depicting the Handmaids attacking a convicted rapist, was one of the most powerful moments in the series for me. It was beautifully shot and perfectly executed. I think that no one watching that could possible miss the irony of Aunt Lydia presenting a rapist to the girls a look of indignation on her face. It is not rape that she finds problematic as she is profiting off a system that encourages state-sanctioned rape. The issue is not that he raped a Handmaid.

The issue is that he touched the Commander’s property.

And the Handmaidens attack with a ferocity not seen before. All the rage and fury that they have finally has an outlet. After having to spend so much time accepting abuse they get to inflict it. And in doing so they become tools of the system they are trying to fight. They are like animals. They are not like humans. They lose their humanity.

All of these things – the way women are manipulated, abused, stripped of their humanity, stripped of their bodily rights, constantly on the receiving end of toxic masculinity’s obsession with power – were so perfectly executed in this series, in both large and small ways.

You see the Handmaid’s Tale isn’t a show about what could be.

It isn’t even a show about now.

It’s a show about ALWAYS.

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“They should have never given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army.”

 

So how did I feel finishing the Handmaiden’s Tale?

Vindicated.

Horribly, painfully, sadly, vindicated.

 

Chins Up, Claws Out,

Ally

 

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