Grimm Reaper (A short fable)

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Once there was a peasant whose ruler demanded delivery of riches she could not produce. She thought all was hopeless, when a strange little troll suddenly appeared. He claimed he could spin pure gold out of worthless straw, had done it time and again and would do so for her, but only if she gave him anything he asked for in return. Desperate and terrified, the peasant accepted his deal. The little troll danced and sang with glee; he always made the best deals, and this one was YUGE.

A year later, the troll returned to claim his due – the peasant’s very soul (in the form of her child). She did not want to pay such a price, so she tried to bribe him with anything else she could give. But no. “A deal is a deal,” said the troll. She begged him to renegotiate, and finally the troll pursed his lips; “Fine. There’s only one thing I love more than crushing souls – and that’s my name. My name is amazing. It’s the best name. And hearing people say it is the best thing in the world. So if you can guess my name, and say it out loud when I come back, you can keep your stupid kid.”

The poor woman determined to scour the country for every name in existence. She sent emissaries out in all directions to help her, but as luck would have it, the task wasn’t so hard. One of them happened to stumble upon the troll’s reclusive home and, because the troll was the narcissist that he was, saw that he had written his name across literally everything he owned. The emissary returned to the woman, told her his findings, and when the troll returned she was ready.

“Go ahead, try to guess my name. You’ll never do it. It’s very, very impossible.”

“It’s Trumpelstiltskin.”

“HOW DID YOU DO THAT?! Cheater! Witch! Liar! No fair!” The little troll turned orange with rage, pulled out his hair, and stomped his foot so hard he buried himself in the earth. Sadly, his hands were too small to dig himself out, and everyone lived happily ever after (except the troll). The end.

I’m just saying: fairy tales have a lot for us to learn. And names have power; use them wisely.

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Instagramlet (Get Thee to Unpluggery)

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To Tweet, or not to Tweet – that is the question;

Whether ‘tis nobler off the line to suffer

The stings and harrows of outrageous comments,

Or to type reams against a sea of trollers

And by opposing end them. To like, re-tweet –

No more; and by Delete to say we end

The headache and the thousand cyber shocks

The web is host to. ‘Tis a disconnection

Desperately to be wished. To post, to Tweet –

To Tweet, perchance to SCREAM. Ay, there’s the rub.

For in that Tweet of wrath, what screams may come

When we have rattled off our mental bile,

Must give us pause. There’s the Reply

That makes calamity of logged-in life.

For who would bear the links and shames online,

Th’obsessives wrong, the proud men’s humble-brag,

The pangs of tagged old loves, the trolls irate,

The insolence of hotheads, and the spurns

Of posts that merit few if any Likes…

When he himself might peace and quiet make

With a broke modem? Who would Facebook bear –

To gloss and Status-hype a weary life –

But for the dread of what is off the net:

The un-updated country, from whose road

No traveler checks in or ‘Grams their meal,

And makes us rather live those lives we have

Than share with followers we know not of?

Thus, consciousness makes cowards of us all,

And thus the natural glue of real connection

Is cybered o’er with hash-tagged bytes of thought,

And intercourses of points rich and cogent

Eggplant and poop emojis turn awry

And lose their satisfaction.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Grown Woman

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Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a dream. There was inspiration and motivation and daring and excitement. She was going to conquer the world and with a voice in her ear and endless story in her heart she knew that she could.

*                          *                           *

The land of creation is populated by liars. Its waters look deep but when stepped in are shallow, and the language is not how it sounds.

–How is it yes means maybe and maybe means don’t hold your breath? She never could understand or remember. She never learned to speak WhatsInItForMe.

But there are sparkly people, too, and she loves them! There are brilliant ideas and shiny talents; there is work and play and work and collaboration. O the collaboration! Yes, she says, and yes again. Let’s do something, or another thing, or lunch. A new project, new spark, new yes and yes I will Yes.

*                          *                           *

How can a world so small and crowded feel so empty sometimes? She has uncovered the challenge of living in the world while working in her head.

–It’s far better than the reverse, she reminds herself.

She watches friends change and fade and move on to better things, to better people. One by one some give up. She dreads the day she is faced with the same decision, wondering how one could possibly stop.

–Better odds for the rest of us. She secretly loves the acquired wisdom such ugly understanding betrays.

*                          *                           *

–This work is fantastic! Can you make it less ‘smart’?

–I love everything about this. Can you make it about a man?

–A brilliant new voice! Can you take out everything that makes it different?

Some create while others calculate, she learns. She wishes the calculators had as much faith in humanity as she does.

Stupidity and fear increase with power. With each note she leans to find the useful in the self-indulgent slop. She realizes she has a choice. Not every suggestion has to matter. Even if it’s right, she decides if it’s right for her. She learns to listen to herself.

*                          *                           *

Success is a carrot dangling, tantalizing up ahead. There is work, and money, but never the meal. She drags the weight of experience one step closer and grasps; victory keeps pace. One more step, one more reach, one more miss. With each try the weight gets heavier. Her legs get stronger. The distance gets smaller. But there is still distance.

She played Lucy once in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. It sucks to be on the other side of the football.

*                          *                           *

–Why can’t my work speak for itself? Why do I have to learn to market to people?

–If only it worked that way. This is a business too, she explains. People have to see the dollar signs.

Mentoring reminds her how much she knows after all the years, how much she has to offer. It is good to give back, help, feel useful. She hopes they won’t look close and see she’s a fraud.

–What is the best strategy for breaking in?

–When you find out you can tell the rest of us.

She explains time and again there is no best way. Everyone has a different story. Everyone has the same answer: whatever works. Time and again she watches their faces fall to frustration. She remembers the feeling. It doesn’t get better, she wants to tell them. Unless it does and she just doesn’t know it yet.

–It really is true that if anything else can make you happy, you should do it.

–They tell the same thing to clergy, her student replies.

–Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart.

Isolation, devotion, a calling. The joke works because it’s true. She wonders if she accidentally took a vow of celibacy at some point.

*                          *                           *

Night is dark, but feels darker. The city moves constantly, yet nothing changes. She wants desperately to give up. What if the years ahead look just like the ones stretched behind?

Stopping would be easy, logistically – she could teach, go back to school. Stopping spiritually is impossible. The voice is there. She has something to say and the ability to say it. Her drive to be heard will never fade; stopping just means desire with no hope.

But she lacks means. Substance and skill are useless without means. It feels like the means will never come.

Death would stop desire. She briefly considers it; the moment is one moment too scary. Her practical side objects: too much willpower, love, guilt. She wishes there were better reasons to get up.

–OOF. Okay, I’ll feed you! Now please get your fuzzy butt off my bladder.

She is reminded why she adopted the cats in the first place. Who rescued whom, really?

*                          *                           *

Nov. 9: Another birthday without the gift of work from anyone supposedly invested in my career. Another day is frustrating enough. If I make it to 40 in the same situation, it may kill me. Although I’m pretty sure I said that about 39. And 38. Time for champagne!

Nov. 26: Today I get to be with family. As rough as the last 13 years have been, at least I haven’t had to deal with parental disappointment or a lack of love. I give thanks for family.

Dec.1: It’s tempting to hate the agent who refuses to sign female comedy writers, but he’s not wrong. The odds are for-never in our favor re: work. But my motivation is starting to return. Spirits are up.

Dec. 27: Winter is coming? I’m pretty sure it’s here. A Game of Thrones marathon can ease me through the end of the year, but I need preparation to survive. New projects; new strategies; new sparks. Time to work.

Jan. 1: Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated story of my future. Stand me now and ever in good stead.

Los Angeles 2016

[My thanks to James Joyce for writing something I struggled with the first time, started to understand the second time, and have loved every single time since.]

Right Said Red

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In celebration of this past week in MC1R recessive genes – during which Ireland chose marriage equality via popular vote and Scotland reaffirmed creationism does not belong in science classrooms – I present my ode to the redheads of this world. It was written years ago for a drunk character in an autobiographical screenplay, but remains just as strong and true to this day. (And for the record, redheaded women are equally great.)

A Taste For Ginger

Fire-engine, orange, straw, or deep rust

No proverbial stepchild; In Red-Heads I Trust.

You may be just 2-ish percent of the people,

But sans you our lives would be – dare I say? Feeble.

Vivaldi, Van Gogh, William Blake, Joyce, and Byron

Plus one William Shakespeare – all hair like a siren.

Mark Twain, D.H. Lawrence, and George Bernard Shaw:

All pale and be-freckled when seen in the raw.

In music, there’s Garfunkel, Morrison, Nelson,

Axyl Rose, Johnny Rotten (they can’t all be handsome).

The wisdom of Churchill, the guts of John Glenn,

Oh where would we be without red-headed men?

With no Chris Columbus the earth would be flat,

Nor ever would move – Galileo found that.

Both Richard the Lion and Eric the Red

Had fiery carpets to match their bright heads.

And then there’s the classics, like Archie and Opie,

Beaker and Clifford, and boys christened Weasley.

With actors and athletes we’d be here all night,

From Redford to Tracy to snow-god Shaun White.

The POINT is: brunettes, blondes, albinos – don’t linger.

I for one will hold out for the sweet taste of ginger.

Don’t Let the Hodor Hit You on the Way Out

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There is a Hodor-sized hole in my heart right now. I knew the medieval BFG was going to be absent from Game of Thrones this season, but now that we’re almost halfway through the emptiness is palpable. No lumbering innocence. No verbal nuance. No exquisite torture from simultaneously craving more “hodor” and dreading his last.

[For those unaware, the character Hodor is a large but gentle servant of the Stark family who speaks only one word: “hodor”. Imagine Lenny from Of Mice and Men hooked up with Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, had a three-parent IVF baby with The Hulk, wrapped it in wolf pelts and tossed it backwards a few centuries. He’s perfect.]

My own Hodor is also missing this season. He, too, was a large, joyous man with an unfortunate penchant for accidental damage and a real name other than Hodor. [Geek of Thrones: fictional Hodor’s given name is Walder.]

One Hodor can do plenty of damage, intended or not; two Hodors can really mess a girl up.

Human Hodor and I bonded over our mutual love for his namesake. When I described the character to a GoT newbie as “simple-minded” and he amended, “simple-worded, not really minded,” it was the first time I realized I completely loved how human Hodor’s brain worked.

Hodor became our talisman. One evening after a Thrones viewing he bid me farewell with a kiss and a “Hodor.” It was ho-dorable. Soon, it was our standard greeting. First thing in the morning: Hodor. After receiving a thoughtful gift: Hodor! In exchange for a lovely plate of eggs: Mmm….hodor.

Before long we had hodored our way into being completely hodor about each other. Then, after a deep and emotional talk one night, he left the room and hit me with a simple text: Hodor. “Hodor too,” I replied, and that was that. Like Westley and Buttercup, we had no need for “I love you.” As Hodor wish.

Scientifically, fictional Hodor is an extreme example of a person stricken with expressive aphasia – when the Broca region of the brain suffers trauma, leaving speech limited but comprehension intact. Giant Hodor was probably a giant baby, so perhaps his mother dropped him a time or two. My own Hodor did not have the excuse of a head injury; his affliction was more traditional: fear.

From early on, he was honest about his commitment skittishness. The word “relationship” frightened him, even though the trappings of one did not. In practice, he seemed pretty gung ho about the actions of a relationship, so I didn’t mind that he was more comfortable saying “Hodor” than “I love you”. The meaning was clear to both of us, so I didn’t worry. I probably should have worried.

In the end, my Hodor turned out to have more going on in his head than he was aware of (though in his case it wasn’t a warging Bran Stark). When we broke up, he refused to admit that his fear might be greater than he thought, insisting instead that he must just not love me. Oh, the Hodor!

Maybe it’s true – maybe he didn’t – but like his namesake, Hodor also doesn’t know what happened when he ceded control of his brain for a moment. He doesn’t know that on the last night we spent together (three days before he bolted), he actually told me “I love you.”

He doesn’t know this because it was one of the last things he said before falling asleep – right between “”I love my bed” and “I also miss the coffee” (he had been out of the country for a while). I’m not sure which made me happier – that he said “I love you” instead of “Hodor” or that he placed me ahead of coffee. Holy Hodor, Batman!

I have no idea what to do with this information now. It wasn’t worth making a big deal of at the time, and I did not know our next conversation would be a breakup. At that point, it seemed a little awkward to mention it.

But as Hodor knows, little words can pack a big punch. I have recovered from many romantic devolutions caused by many problems – not being right, not being ready, not being even remotely interested; I’ve never had to get over someone who loved me back but didn’t consciously know it.

Hodors leave big shoes to fill. What’s a girl to do? Oh right, stare at Peter Dinklage for a while. Mmm…hodor.

Fifty Shades of Green Eggs and Sham

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Happy V-Day! Ladies, let’s celebrate this year by wanting more than to have sexual “liberation” forced on us by an older/wiser/richer “savior Prince”. Dr. (Seuss)’s orders.

I am Sham.

Sham I am.

 

That Sham-I-am.

That Sham-I-am!

I do not like that Sham-I-am.

 

Do you like BDSM?

 

I do not like yours, Sham-I-am.

I do not like BDSM.

 

Would you like it in a book?

 

I would not like it in your book.

I would not give it any look.

I do not want BDSM

I do not want it, Sham-I-am

 

Would you like it in the dark?

If it’s just a harmless lark?

 

I do not want it in the dark,

It is not just a harmless lark.

I do not like your F-ed up book,

I will not give it one more look.

I do not like fake S&M,

I do not like it, Sham-I-am.

 

Is it better done with force?

If he beats you like a horse?

 

Not done with force.

Not as a horse.

Not in the dark.

Not as a lark.

I cannot like your violent book,

It should not get a second look.

You do not get BDSM,

You want a master, Sham-I-am.

 

Would you? Could you? If he hit?

Let him! Let him! Just a bit.

 

I would not, will not, go for it!

 

You may like it.

You will see.

Would you like to be set free?

 

I cannot let you set me free,

As I already pleasure me.

I do not need it done by force,

I do not need to be a horse.

I do not need the total dark,

I do not need a messed-up lark.

I do not need your sad bad book,

I do not need a single look.

I do not want warped S&M,

I do not need it, Sham-I-am!

 

The pain! The pain!

Again! Again!

Could you want it with more pain?

 

Not with pain! Not to free!

I say again, Sham, let me be!

I do not want a man to force,

I do not want to scream ‘til hoarse.

Your fantasy is pretty dark,

Abuse and rape are not a lark.

For girls this is an evil book,

And victimhood is a bad look.

I do not like it, Sham-I-am.

 

Say! With a fox?

Look, he’s a fox!

Would you if the guy’s a fox?

 

I would not, even with a fox.

 

Would you if he’s super rich?

 

I would not, could not be his bitch.

Not for a fox. Not if he’s rich.

I do not need to be set free,

I do not need it, Sham, you see!

Not as a lark. Not as a horse.

No need for dark. No need for force.

I will not read submissive books

No matter how risqué it looks.

 

You do not like BDSM?

 

I do not like your savior scam.

 

You do not like it, so you say.

Try it! Try it! And you may

like the nightmare Christian Grey.

 

Sham! I do not need your muck.

I already like to fuck!

 

Yes! I like the sex and stuff.

And my libido is enough!

I like to do it in the dark.

I sometimes do it as a lark.

I’ll also do it in the sun.

I’ll even do it just for fun!

And by my choice. And just for me.

Because it is so good, you see!

 

So I do not need an excuse.

Or else a psycho savior ruse.

And I already have no guilt

For being sexy to the hilt.

And if I want BDSM

I’ll find an equal, unlike them.

 

So take this f-ed up book and scram.

We do not need it, Sham-I-am.

Rock, Paper, Sisyphus, Shoot (Me)

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I imagine if Sisyphus were alive today he would be a New Hampshire-ite. (New Hampshirino?) He would at least be a New Englander. Heck, he may already be Bernie Sanders. And I don’t just say this because of the futility that is shoveling in the midst of a New England winter.

Everyone thinks of endless futility when Sisyphus is invoked, but rarely do we remember why he was sentenced to such a fate. In life, King Sisyphus was a practical leader who placed his own judgment and passion above silly customs and superstitions like “the gods”.

Zeus steals the river god’s daughter for his own version of Fifty Shades of a Rape Fantasy and no one dares to speak up? Not Sisyphus – he’s all, “I’ll tell you where your daughter is, river god, if you promise to give my people water.” That’s good leadership. Angry Zeus sends Death to chain Sisyphus up in punishment? Clever boy says, “Hey, Death, you mind showing me how those chains work first, so I’m less nervous?” BAM. Death in chains, King S back on Earth – Live Free or Die, baby. Literally.

Even when he eventually did die, Sisyphus refused to stop living. He talked Persephone into letting him back up “just to haunt the wife a little”, then simply refused to leave until he’d had his fun. Sure, his lust for life and complete disregard for what is “supposed to” happen made his ultimate torment inevitable, but I’m pretty sure Sisyphus would have done it all anyway. You only live twice; what is an eternity of monotonous labor in exchange for greatness?

Great victories are always balanced by great struggle somehow, whether it be before or after. Call it Newton’s Third Law of Emotion. The problem is that in the midst of those darkest moments – as our strength is on the verge of giving out – it is impossible to know if we are about to be victorious over Death or about to watch that damn rock roll back down the hill for the umpteenth time.

There is a moment near the end of The Two Towers that is one of my favorites because it perfectly captures this uncertainty. Frodo, after months of mental torment and in the middle of a seemingly endless upward climb into Mordor, is feeling understandably desperate. To distract his friend from complete surrender, Sam starts talking about adventures:

“I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for… But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered… Folk seem to have been just landed in them… But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on – and not all to a good end.”

Sam then asks the magic question: “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?”

“I wonder,” says Frodo, “but I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale…the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.”

Frodo is convinced at this point that he is pushing a ring up a hill in complete futility, but of course we know that he will end up victorious over death. I like to re-read this part of Tolkien’s masterpiece in the midst of my darker moments. True, Frodo is attempting to destroy the source of pure evil and I am merely trying to bring some respectful and multi-dimensional portrayals of women to our modern mythology, but a struggle doesn’t have to be epic to completely suck sometimes.

Hollywood may not be Mordor, but can come close. The need to write is my ring/rock, and the patriarchal, nepotistic power structure is my uphill battle.

Lately, I have been feeling more like Sisyphus on the hill than Frodo in the midst of a dark tunnel leading eventually to light. If we’re lucky, in these darkest times we find ourselves in the company of a Samwise Gamgee – someone to give a little perspective, or at the very least a distraction for a moment or two. I am thus blessed, and so am prepared to keep pushing this rock no matter how many times it rolls back down the hill.

Life could always be worse, after all. As my own Samwise put it recently, “Sisyphus is better than syphilis.” Truer words have never been spoken.