Harold and Mauve

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Page 1One evening, Harold lay on his bedroom floor contemplating the futility of his existence.

 

After some thought, he decided to end it all. But he needed something to do it with.

He pulled out his trusty black marker and started to draw a bath. Before he could finish, the marker ran out of ink.

Page 2

Harold saw this as another example of life’s random cruelty.

So he turned his head away to gaze into the darkness under his bed. There was something under the bed besides darkness.

Harold reached and pulled out the object. It was his old purple crayon, nearly worn down to a stump.

 

Harold shrugged. He finished drawing his bath. Then he drew a hairdryer, a plug, and an ‘on’ switch.Page 3

He reached up to push the hairdryer into the bathtub, but stopped.

The years under Harold’s bed had dried out his old crayon. Now its purple was faded and gray.

Mauve,” said a deep part of Harold’s brain. “Hello, Mauve,” said the rest of it. Harold decided he liked Mauve. He would take his crayon on one last adventure.

 

Page 4Harold mounted the hairdryer on the bathtub edge, and set sail. He drew one mauve star for guidance.

It was lonely out in the middle of the ocean. For the first time in his adolescence, Harold didn’t like the feeling.

He wanted more Mauve.

Page 5

 

 

Harold made land, and drew himself a short pier to dock his tub.

 

With a strange new feeling – curiosity? – he took a long walk off the pier and into the void.

Page 6

 

The void was boring. So Harold drew some gravestones for company.

He lay down on his back in solidarity with the dead. It felt relaxing and familiar. But his crayon wouldn’t let him rest.

Harold drew some birds in the sky, so Mauve could fly. They were vultures, and they started circling.

Harold thought it would be nice to give them a place to land, so he drew them a tree.

The tree looked unfinished, so he added a noose.

Page 7 Page 8

To his surprise, Harold did not want to use the noose. Knowing it was there was enough.

He noticed a break in the trunk of the tree, where his old crayon had crumbled a little.

Harold drew a fancy car to fill in the dent in the tree. It was a very nasty accident.

Page 9

Feeling restless, Harold climbed inside the banged-up car. He drew a long road in front of him and drove off.

Harold didn’t like that the road had no end, so he drew a horizon line and drove off of it.Page 10

As the car fell, Harold looked at his faded purple crayon. It was almost used up. But Harold didn’t want to let go yet.

So he drew the long side of a building. He added a window edge and grabbed on.

Hanging by one hand, Harold drew the rest of the window and a building ledge to stand on.

Harold looked at the nub of his faded crayon. He looked down past his toes. It was a long way down from up here.

Harold drew the tiny wreckage of the car far below.Page 11

Behind him, Harold looked in the window. He made his bed, and the familiar trappings of his gloom.

Harold raised the sash and climbed inside. He lay down on the bed and drew the covers up around him.

With the last speck of his crayon, he drew the moon outside his window. And colored it in, Mauve.

Page 12

 

Harold smiled as he fell asleep, gazing at the moon of Mauve.

 

He could always end things tomorrow if he had to.

Tucker: A Girl and Her Dream

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Despite a recent increase in well-meaning suggestions that I try online dating, I am still not interested. But I am also never above rethinking my approach. My friends DO have a point: the internet is a powerful tool. So here you go, world. This is my version of dating online:

Dear Alan Tudyk,

I am done waiting; let’s do this.

After more than a decade writing comedy in Los Angeles, I have a practical PhD in enduring bullshit with patience and grace. But finding a man in this circus is its own special circle of hell, and this dainty Dante has had enough.

Sometimes, it is better to light a flamethrower than to curse the darkness. Here is my torch song.

You came blazing into my life just as I took my first adult steps. True, I have a long-standing passion for red heads, but it was your comedic brilliance that shined so bright as to win my heart. It was a time of many firsts for me – first job, first apartment, first car – but a girl never forgets her first drug-addicted gay German stripper.

A love that catches so intensely is destined to burn quickly out unless it is fed a steady diet of fuel. You kept my flame more than sated as a stoner waxing floors in Pittsburgh and a medieval squire waxing poetic about food. Some would have been turned off by your apparent identity issues, but this Scorpio loves a good puzzle. Were you German? British? American? I had no idea. It is so rare to find a man mysterious enough to keep a clever girl figuratively on her toes. (At 5’3” it is not at all uncommon for a man to keep me literally on my toes.)

Inevitably, every fiery romance must face the harsh cool winds of reality. I will admit, our flame flickered in those next few years. You married another woman – though I could hardly expect anyone to resist the allure of Gina Torres – and devoted your time to the one sport that was the bane of my public-school-dictated physical education. You went psycho, murdering children, humans, robots, and innocent Dolls, and even worse – you went blonde.

It was a difficult time for me, this search for your identity, and when I watched you get killed off not once (projectile through the chest), not twice (shot while on horseback), but three AND four times (as an alien lizard) I began to seriously question the viability of our spark. But I came to love and accept you for your many realities – even naked (and still blonde) shouting drug-fueled exultations from a rooftop. My naked heart climbed out that window and declared its love right back!

By then, this inferno had burned for a decade, and I was committed for life. A well-meaning lover surprised me with tickets to see An Evening Without Monty Python, and I delayed ending our dying relationship for two weeks so I wouldn’t miss my chance to see you live. (It is the worst thing I have ever done to a man, and I did it to the nicest guy I have ever dated. That is how hot this fire burns.) I applauded your accidental slaughter of a gaggle of annoying college kids who disturbed your woods. I watched a Michael Bay movie for you. My loyalty cannot be in doubt.

This conflagration I carry has grown from a spark to a blaze, through sputters, and into a bona fide bonfire; it is no mere torch – it is an eternal flame. Really, the only thing left is for us to meet. Of course, I expected that this would have happened by now. I planned to meet you when I asked you to play yourself in my indie film (cool and successful, she enters his life) or cast you in one of the other roles I have written specifically for you over the years. But the film industry moves at its own pace, and I am tired of waiting.

Sometimes, the universe needs a boot to the head, so the time has come to give Fate a swift kick in the rear. (This is not a mixed metaphor, as the world clearly has its head up its ass these days.) Thus, I send up this flare; it is yours to smother or let illuminate.

Let’s do this, Alan Tudyk. I will leave the light on for you.

Seriously, people send me stuff like this. Something's gotta give...

Seriously, people send me stuff like this. Something’s gotta give.

Manic Pixie Dream Hurl

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When Cancer 3 broke up with me, we were in the final stages of planning his belated birthday celebration – a weekend away at a lake-side cabin with a half-dozen of his closest friends. In the same breath, he told me that he didn’t feel like being in a relationship anymore but he hoped I would still come on the birthday trip; it was going to be so much fun! Was he serious? Of course he was; who else was going to make his birthday cake?

Four years earlier, my relationship with Cancer 2 came to an abrupt end when, as I helped him pack for Coachella, he noted how great it was we had started out as friends – because when our relationship ended we’d be able to go right back. Almost a year in, he honestly thought that a breakup would change nothing about our dynamic except the sex. (And who are we kidding? At 23 he probably thought occasional sex would still be an option too.)

I could chalk those two experiences up to random chance or an astrological streak of stupidity, but my rebound after Cancer 3 – not born in July – also ended things by swearing my value to him and proclaiming his desire to keep me around. Which – benefit of the doubt – he might have followed through on had I not called him a lying asshole. (In my defense, he totally was one.)

Two instances might be coincidence, but three is a trend. FOUR is a frakking Code Red.

This month, as I face yet another Eggplant who wants to have his Kate and eat others too, I have to admit that this has become a serious problem. In my head, I hear the voices of every grandmother in history chiding that “no man will buy the cow if he can get the milk for free,” and I am starting to think they have a point. Not the point they meant, of course – you should absolutely test drive a car before committing to it – but in the sense that it seems every man I find desirable wants to guzzle the precious leche of my love and attention at no cost.

Over palliative mimosas this weekend, my wise friend sunk the nail with a single swing of the hammer: “You are their Manic Pixie Dream Girl. That’s the problem.”

My inner feminist immediately reared up, wanting to shriek, “Inconceivable!” After all, the MPDG is a construct of male writers that serves as a prop in the self-actualization of their deeply soulful (read: mopey and infantile) autobiographical protagonists. Surely I, a real-life writer of the female variety, would never allow myself to become the creation of some guy!

Sure, Brain. You keep telling yourself that.

There are many characteristics of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl – she is usually attractive, and quirky, and highly spirited – but the key trait (the thing that makes her awful) is that she has absolutely no needs, issues, or even goals that are independent of her main man. This is in no way actually true of me, of course, but it consistently seems true to the men in my life.

It starts with an at-least-partially immature man. Peter Pans are pretty common these days, especially in creative professions, and I have a penchant for them to boot. Combine this with my improviser’s philosophy of trying to live in the moment, and the result is an infinity mirror of reflected nonchalance. He exhibits early concerns about things getting “too serious”; I validate with no expectations beyond the enjoyable Now (and the assumption that eventually love will render us naturally committed); time fills my heart with memories of happy moments and teaches his to stop worrying about my hopes or desires.

In the middle, it is entirely my fault. While I should not try to be less intelligent, or vibrant, or attractive (do I smell humble pie in here?), I do need to quash my over-achiever’s drive to aim for perfection. I often hide or apologize for moments of emotional weakness, because I am afraid that he will be annoyed and leave – instead of trusting that if a few bad moments make him go I don’t want him around to begin with. I invest so much energy into getting to know his life better that I forget to notice if (or demand that) he also shows interest in return. To be a legitimately low-maintenance person is fine, but being no-maintenance drives a girl straight into Manic Pixie Fantasy Hell.

By the end, it’s no wonder it doesn’t occur to them I won’t want to be their friend. I have asked for minimal emotional investment on their part, so they cannot understand how great mine has become. They haven’t had to think about my feelings in ages, so they cannot comprehend that it might feel bad to be around them. All they see is me being stubborn – removing myself from their lives as a punishment. Why can’t I just keep thinking that they are awesome, like I always have, and watch them be awesome around other, newer, more exciting women?

The myth of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is that after she does her job of helping the main character self-actualize, her purpose is served and she leaves his life (or his romantic life) with no consequences. At least, no consequences for him. In fantasy land, there are no hurt feelings because she doesn’t have any feelings to begin with. In real life, hanging out with someone who used to love you back feels worse than food poisoning.

(Okay, very little feels worse than food poisoning. But it is close.)

Toto Eclipse of the Heart

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RainbowSeventy-five years ago this past weekend, The Wizard of Oz premiered at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. One hundred and fourteen years ago this fall, L. Frank Baum published its source material, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Very little has been done in either industry to improve upon things ever since.

The Wizard of Oz was my first movie love, and you never forget your first love, but it has also been a major influence throughout my life. According to my mother, I was so terrified of the Wicked Witch of the West as a child that I would hide behind the couch whenever she appeared on screen – but that didn’t stop me from demanding my family watch the film any and every time it aired on TV. My love for the rest was just too strong. Thus, the first thing The Wizard of Oz gave me was my courage.

That new-found bravery came in handy when I learned that the community children’s theatre in my town had chosen Baum’s story for their next production. At age nine, the idea of being on stage was mortifying, but the opportunity to play Toto was one I could not resist. Yes, Toto; he was my dream role. Sure, others are more glamorous, but Toto is the real star – he’s in the most scenes – and the true hero of the story. Plus, I wouldn’t have to say any lines and in the movie he was basically the 4th-highest-paid actor. No contest.

For weeks, I wore out my storybook cassette tape, playing the narration on our living room stereo and acting out the entire story on the rug, from Toto’s perspective. I got the part. It was my first taste of success, my first bite of the acting bug, and my first experience with improv and collaborative storytelling. That play is also how I met the woman who to this day is still my best friend (she played a citizen of the Emerald City). Thus, The Wizard of Oz led me, in multiple ways, to my heart.

Time and again I have fallen back on Toto and the gang as I have chased down my heart’s desire far from my own backyard. After I completed my first screenplay – on a whim, really, just to see if I could – and the thing wound up being read at several major studios and almost getting made, I was faced with a frightening challenge. Suddenly, people in power knew my writing, and wanted to see what else I could do; I needed another screenplay to prove I wasn’t a fluke, but I had not thought that far ahead.

So I turned to what I loved. I wrote an adaptation of Dorothy’s story as a coming-of-age romantic comedy, with the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion representing archetypes of imperfect boyfriends. (All brains / no chemistry, gay, and commitment-phobic, if you’re curious.) I also started to develop a sitcom about a girl living in an apartment above a bar called The Rainbow. Both were way too weird for anyone to want to make them, but they kept my career going. Thus, The Wizard of Oz has helped me engage and exercise my brain.

At the 75th-Anniversary screening in the refurbished Chinese Theatre. (Ruby slippers on foot, of course.)

At the 75th-Anniversary screening in the refurbished Chinese Theatre. (Ruby slippers on foot, of course.)

To celebrate this weekend’s milestone, I decided to re-read Baum’s original book, which I so enjoyed as a child. Now, as an adult writing movies of my own, the adaptation choices of the screenwriters are of great interest to me. Most people know that the witch’s slippers were changed from silver to ruby for the glory of Technicolor, but did you also know that Glinda is an amalgam of two characters in the book – the North and South witches merged into one? Baum’s good witch of the North, Gaylette, is described as one “everyone loved…but her greatest sorrow was that she could find no one to love in return, since all the men were much too stupid and ugly to mate with one so beautiful and wise.” These days – these still single days – that is my favorite line in the story.

Other changes are more significant. In the books, Oz is multi-colored (blue in the East, yellow in the West, red in the South and green in the middle), but Dorothy does not fly “over the rainbow” to get there – it just sits trapped in a vast desert. There is a lot more danger in Baum’s Oz, and in turn a lot more killing by the Tin Man and Lion to ward off said danger (a fairly disturbing number of chopped off animal heads), and in the book Dorothy is stuck in Oz so long that Uncle Henry has the time to single-handedly rebuild their one-room farm house.

That last one is my favorite difference; in the book, Dorothy’s adventure is real, while in the film they chose to make it a dream. The reason I love this change is because, by doing so, The Wizard of Oz (the film) managed to both introduce the single most memorable line in movie history and completely subvert its message at the same time. Dorothy’s mantra is “There’s no place like home,” but by populating Kansas with the same actors portraying the denizens of Oz, the film shows that everywhere – even over the rainbow – is just like home. It is a physical manifestation of the old proverb: “no matter where you go, there you are.” Real change happens within.

Think you need intelligence, or compassion, or nerve? All you really need is to recognize those things in yourself. What is Dorothy’s lesson before she can click her heels? That she need not search for her heart’s desire anywhere but where she is; if the answer isn’t within her already, it isn’t anywhere. Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion all learn that your problems are your problems wherever you go. Where you are is irrelevant, because who you are is what matters.

Los Angeles is a very difficult place to live – doubly so if you have a soul – and the film industry is downright hostile. Between dating and working here since college, I have had the urge to run away roughly once every week for a dozen years. The Wizard of Oz has stopped me every time, because I know getting out of here won’t really change anything that matters. Los Angeles isn’t my home, but neither is any physical place.

What Baum meant when he wrote “there is no place like home” is that nothing compares to the feeling that you belong. In that sense, home is an energy, not a place. It is family, yes, but not just traditional family (Dorothy is an adopted orphan, after all). Home is the people who love us, and the people we love in return – with any luck, including ourselves. I never feel more myself than when I am experiencing this story, revisiting all of the memories and people I associate with our history. Thus, The Wizard of Oz brings me home.

Happy Birthday, Toto. And thanks.

A Star is Born

A Star is Born

The XX Factor

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My first official writing job on a TV series was brought to me by the letter ‘X’. Specifically, the letter ‘X’ without the letter ‘Y’.

After a friend of mine from my improv days sold a pilot script, he and his writing partner were tasked with putting together a six-man staff to complete a six-episode season. They took those instructions literally, promptly hiring four male friends to join them.

A little later, my buddy randomly spotted me in a hallway after a comedy show and this is how it went down: “Oh, hey!” (Me: Hey.) “I’m writing a series.” (Me: Congratulations.) “We staffed the show already,” (Me: Awesome for you.) “but we’re thinking maybe we should have a girl in the room too, for the perspective. You’re the only girl I know who writes.” (Me in my head: This is not true. I know your friends.) “Send me a sample?” (Me: No problem.) I sent him two screenplays and was immediately hired.

As origin stories go, it makes for a pretty lame graphic novel, but I still like to tell it. Because most people miss the point entirely.

Male writers tend to zero in on the double gender standard, while demonstrating impressive ignorance; “You only got the job because you’re a woman! You’re so lucky to have a guaranteed spot at the table.”

Um, NO. I got the job the same proud way my four male colleagues got it: nepotism. But I was the only staffer with any professional screenwriting experience, and yet I was still hired last, as an afterthought, to fill a gender quota. True, my lack of a Y-chromosome was the difference between being hired last and not being hired at all, but if I had the Y-chromosome I would have been hired first without question – or probably been hiring my own staff for my own show. Hiring me to be “the girl in the room” didn’t end sexism any more than electing Barack Obama ended racism.

Most other people take an optimistic view of the story; “Isn’t it great your friend was wise enough to recognize the value of a female voice? We should celebrate him as a shining example of enlightenment!”

Again, NO. I don’t believe in showering praise on people who “choose” to accept well-established information. Like Kindergarten graduations and participation trophies, it rewards people for doing something that should have been automatic anyway. You acknowledge the universe is billions of years old? Yes, yes, you’re very smart. Now shut up. Virtually any collaborative endeavor is improved when there is an even mix of male and female voices involved. (Notice I said a mix – I may play host to a couple of confused cats, but I am well aware that this is the true goal of feminism.) My friend was right to want “a girl in the room”, but he was the kid who shows up to all the little league games only to pick dandelions in the outfield. Hardly an MVP.

So what is the point of my origin story? The “Most Interesting Man in the World” is Satan.

They say the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist. While I find that statement confusing given the number of people I see on the news screaming about other people burning in hell, the sentiment applies pretty well to sexism. The true tragedy of how I got my first TV job is the part nobody – including me – noticed.

In the heated 2008 debates about which Democratic candidate had it worse – the one facing racism or the one facing sexism – I started to finally comprehend that even though both are horrible, there is one devilish difference between them. While I can’t speak to it personally, I don’t see a lot of minorities out there who are convinced that their genetics make them inferior. None of my Asian friends think they should have less right to a driver’s license, and I don’t know any Nordic folk who believe they deserve skin cancer more than others. Racism is the devil we know, see, and call out as bullshit. Sexism is too often the devil we don’t.

Women commit as many if not more sexist acts against women than the men of this world, and we do it most often to ourselves, without even noticing. The real point of my origin story is that, despite my ability to recognize and roll my eyes at how I got the job, I walked into that writers’ room on day one NOT confident because I knew I was the only one (besides the head writers) with experience, NOT comfortable because I already knew three of the six men and had performed comedy with them as an equal, but INSTEAD thinking, “I hope I can keep up. I hope they think I’m funny. I hope I manage to pull my weight.”

I had more experience and skill than any of my male counterparts (I was the only writer who maintained her credit or was kept on for more work); I had an Ivy League education and a well-honed comedic voice; I had a solid self-respect and an enviable work ethic – both resulting from a lifetime of guidance by ideal parental role models; I was loved and loving, praised and proud, supported and strong. In short: I had every possible advantage when I walked into that writers’ room, with great hair and a cherry outfit on top.

If even I walked in assuming I was the weakest link, what chance does any girl have?

Citius, Altius, Fortius (Midius-Termius-Reportius)

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Today is July 1st, the first day of the second half of the year in which I began to blog.

Fun Fact: On the 1st of the month I say “rabbit rabbit” before anything else. My best friend tells me it is good luck, and her word is good enough for me.

Okay, technically I started this blog on January 10th (four days earlier and in a wholly different way than planned thanks to experiencing Facebook trauma the night before), but let’s round up and say today marks the end of my first six months. What self-respecting nerdist could let such a milestone pass without some sort of midterm?

Fun Fact: The worst midterm grade I ever got was an F, when I took Ancient Greek in college for (at least this was the plan) fun.

I promise to return to my more traditional a-musings next week, but please bear with me today as I indulge in some reflection and evaluation.

Fun Fact: In lieu of resolutions, I set “themes” for myself each January, to guide my year.

This started five years ago, in part because I find the evolving process of working toward a goal far more helpful than the “all or nothing” nature of a resolution. One day without hitting the gym or not biting my nails and I’m a vow-breaker? Who does that help?

Fun Fact: I am a fanatic for the Olympics.

Summer, winter, it doesn’t matter; if it is an even-numbered year, I am glued to my screen for two weeks, don’t talk to me. When I was eight, I cut my hair to look like Mary Lou Retton (and then was mistaken for a boy on the first day of school, so didn’t cut it again until age 18.) This being an Olympic year, I set my theme accordingly…

Fun Fact: 2014’s theme is “Citius, Altius, Fortius”.

“Swifter, Higher, Stronger” (the Olympic motto). This blog was started as a direct result of my 2014 goals, so I figure it is the best metric upon which to grade my progress thus far.

Citius: With the exception of my first post (which was an emotional purge written over one long night and morning), I devoted a lot of time to each piece when I first started. Tuesday is “publish” day, but I would start thinking and planning around Thursday, do an outline or draft on the weekend, write or revise on Monday, and then proof, edit, and proof again before posting.

Fun Fact: I write everything by hand first, so when I say “revise” that also means “type.”

This was comfortable, but didn’t leave much time for other writing – the stuff that actually pays. So I pushed myself to get faster (and far less precious about my work). Now, I do a little thinking on Monday night before bed, then get up and write, revise, proof and post by Tuesday afternoon. Turns out regular practice really works – and I wish I could go back to force my childhood self to practice the piano more.

Fun Fact: I also play the French horn; I asked for one for my 16th birthday instead of a car.

Altius: I could have just started smoking pot this year, but I am the one person in California whose medical condition serves as a prescription against marijuana. Instead, I will have to reach new heights other ways. In the last six months, I have pushed way out of my technological comfort zone with a new smart phone, tablet, Roku, and blog. By the end of the year, I will either have my own website or a robot.

With this blog, I have gone much farther than I imagined I could. As of today, I have just over 950 followers, and while I realize that Kim Kardashian has over 20 million for no reason other than being well endowed with both famous partners and hindquarters, I am still proud and amazed. Thank you, all who read me! (And if you could help bump me to an even thousand my compulsive side would really appreciate it.)

Fun Fact: I have also been nominated for a Liebster Award.Liebster

This is a blogger award designed to help new writers honor and promote each other. In short, it involves answering some questions, asking a few more, and (most importantly) nominating other bloggers in turn. I was nominated by Jonas Lee who, among other things, offers awesome Life Facts in his Imaginarium. In thanks, I offer him one: You are almost always within 3ft. of a spider.

Here are the eleven questions Jonas challenged me to answer:

1. You are able to scratch one thing off your bucket list, no matter what it entails. What is it? A: Attend an Olympics. Duh

2. You can listen to any band/artist (live) in their time period. Who would you want to see? A: Mozart would be cool. Plus, I think I could rock a corset.

3. If you could collaborate with any artist/author on a project, who would you choose? A: My idol is Tina Fey, but I think my other idol, Aaron Sorkin, could use my editorial eye more. Tina doesn’t need any help.

4. Would you rather live in a zombie apocalypse (Walking Dead) or an electronic apocalypse (Revolution)? A: Hands down electronic apocalypse. I already write by hand, and I know how to build a fire. It’d be like camp – with no zombies.

5. Why to number 4?A: Oops. See above.

6. Pop Tarts or Toaster Strudel? A: I have never had the latter, so I guess Pop Tarts. But with frosting (if you’re going to eat something terrible for you, it might as well have frosting).

7. Favorite smell? Fun fact: I have almost no sense of smell.

8. You can have one super power. What would you choose? A: The ability to blink any leaf blower out of existence just by wishing it. While flying.

9. What is your worst habit? A: My nun’s habit.

10. What do you find to be your best quality (physically or mentally)? A: My heart (both physically AND mentally).

11. What keeps you from having your dreams come true? A: Nothing! This is Hollywood!

In addition to answering those, I am also supposed to offer 11 facts about myself. I will let this midterm evaluation serve that purpose, though for those scoring at home, there are exactly eleven fun facts peppered throughout.

Fun Fact: I believe that everyone I meet has something to teach me, if I am paying attention.

The last piece of the Liebster Award is to nominate my OWN favorites and ask them questions. Here are my picks:

Julie Gordon – I like to travel, but this girl has adventures. Plus, she is thoughtful, and I want her to write more. See why at Wish I May, Wish I Might.

Sarah Rodriguez Pratt – Her blogging was one of my inspirations. Also, her comic strip, Totes McGoat, has one of my favorite titles ever. Check her out at That’s A Girl’s Car.

Christine Gengaro – I frakking love smart women, and this woman is frakking smart. She writes about music such that I wish I listened to it more. Read her blog for kmozart, because you can’t listen to it.

Eric Toms – I have only met him a few times, but I already know he is just the right level of irreverent. His soon-to-launch blog is described as “the best waste of your time.” I think he should launch now. Your move, Eric Toms.

Brantley Newton – Brantley is the only person on my list I haven’t met personally. He was one of the first strangers to follow me, and his whimsical storytelling at the Brantley Blog makes me smile. Keep it up, Brantley!

To you five, if you choose to accept the nomination, I ask only three questions:

1) What would be your motto for the next year if you had one? 2) Why? 3) What are your favorite Summer and Winter Olympic sports?

Fun Fact: My favorites are Gymnastics and Curling. But I love them all.

Fortias: In closing, the last six months have made me far stronger than I was at the start of 2014. My writing is stronger, and with it my mental health and professional career. As for my personal life, it has definitely been a good season for Eggplant.

Thank you, all, for indulging my self-assessment and for reading all this way. By which I mean both this post AND the last six months of my storytelling. I promise to get back to full-on nerdity next week – I am currently reading a book about the theory of relativity. You have been warned.

Lois Lame

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When I was little, Nancy Drew was my hero. I also looked up to the girls in The Babysitters Club (Kristy was my favorite), to Dorothy Gale (loyalty to pets and a taste for adventure), and to Miss Piggy (who taught me self-esteem). But the woman I wanted to be was Lois Lane.

From the slim pickings of female role models in comics, Lois was queen. Sure, Wonder Woman was cool with the whole Amazonian thing, but Lynda Carter’s stunning beauty – and ridiculous twirling – made her completely unrelatable to me. Also, even my naïve pre-teen sensibilities understood the sexism inherent in a female superhero who wears impractically-tiny outfits, is vulnerable without her jewelry, and carries a magic rope that allows her to know what any man is thinking.

Catwoman was out of the question because, much as I love cats, I was way too goody-goody to admire a criminal, and Batgirl just made me think about how much I’d rather be at a baseball game. (As a DC Comics kid, I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting MJ or Rogue until much later.) Lois Lane was my girl.

I loved her. She was smart (except for the whole glasses/no glasses thing) and accomplished, a career woman with too much ambition to care about her looks; Lois didn’t just hang with the boys, she surpassed them. Plus, Margot Kidder portrayed her as also clumsy and bad at spelling – two things with which I could relate on a deeply personal level. Lois was brave and curious and willing to be a little bad for the greater good, and on top of all that, Superman loved her.

It kind of makes me want to hurl now, but I am pretty sure the reason I loved Lois Lane the most was because her boyfriend was Superman. My younger self operated under the misconception that the greatest proof of a girl’s awesomeness was the quality of man who loved her, and Lois was chosen by the greatest man on the planet. Literally. This reasoning was no less lame than the current trend of male filmmakers who demonstrate the appeal of their thinly-veiled protagonist stand-ins by giving them the inexplicable (and usually unearned) attentions of a manic pixie dream girl or Katherine Heigl (*cough* Judd Apatow *cough*).

I’m not sure which is worse: realizing my own logic was so messed up as a kid, or realizing that so many adult men still think like 13-year-old girls.

Admitting my own fault wasn’t nearly as hard, though, as coming to terms with the major disappointment of Lois herself. It didn’t happen until college, when I met my own Superman and dove headfirst into a relationship with him, finally living the dream. We were together for about three years, and he is, to this day, one of the best and dearest people in my life. But our relationship forced me to face a harsh truth: being Superman’s girlfriend really sucks.

Superman is, above all else, a hero. His primary objective is to be of use, no matter how small the problem. A not-so-healthy blend of Catholicism and Geekery had given my Superman similar aims, and while he couldn’t fly he could certainly help carry a couch or give you a ride. The thing is, being helpful always came first – above other things like being on time, making it to dinner, or answering phone calls and emails (we didn’t have texts yet, but if we did, I am sure he would have ignored those too).

A lot of fun was had on the show Lois & Clark with scenarios where Clark/Superman would miss an anniversary celebration and get away with it because he was stopping a nuclear war or something, but I learned to feel Lois’s pain very quickly. On the one hand, you can’t be mad at a guy for missing dinner (or being late) because he was stopping global destruction (or bringing a sick friend soup). But on the other hand – dammit, he could have taken a second to call (or gone to get the soup after meeting me).

I wasted hours trying to articulate how it is bad enough to make everyone a priority (which then makes nobody a priority), but far worse to make your girlfriend a lower priority. Is a message saying, “hey, I’m not dead, I just stopped to help a guy with a flat” too much to ask? But there is simply no way to fight with Superman without looking like the asshole; everyone loves him – and they should, because he probably helped them move that one time.

Add to all this the inherent condescension that comes with Superman’s impossible moral standards for himself – he is a Christ figure, after all – and the relationship becomes an exercise in balancing self-hate with anger. I was mad at the guy who was pure of intention and heart, which made me hate myself; I felt ashamed for wanting to just have fun sometimes instead of helping with something when we technically could, and I raged at him for not expecting me to put being helpful first. (There is a reason “holier than thou” is an insult rather than a compliment.) In short: it was unhealthy.

Maybe I am just not good enough to be Superman’s girlfriend, but I am pretty sure the real truth is that I am no longer dumb enough. Lois Lane did get shafted in that relationship (though not literally, because his Super Sperm would have made her uterus explode). He left her hanging more than he showed up (unless she was literally hanging from a ledge), he never gave her the courtesy of a note or a phone call (apparently he was not Super enough to use the phone while changing), and by never putting their relationship first he made her feel terrible every time she did.

It took me about three years to accept that this scenario is unsustainable. Lois Lane, on the other hand, still hasn’t figured it out.

List-Less

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There are a plethora of reasons why I love Louis C.K. He is smart and funny, a good dad, and definitely satisfies my addiction to redheads. But his biggest “pro” is that his television show is beautiful and brilliant.

To avoid getting “spoil-y”, I won’t go into detail about the episode I watched last night. Suffice it to say it involved “Louie” having and RDT (relationship defining talk) with his Eggplant of the moment. Upset because any and all sincerity is met with defensive humor, he wants her to express an honest emotion for once. She says, “I can’t do that. Can’t it be okay that there are just some things I can’t do?” And then the scene ends.

Leaving the question unanswered is beautiful because… well, because that is a big question for any potential couple, isn’t it? How each of us would choose to answer it says a lot about what we value in relationships, and ending the scene there lets each viewer answer it for herself. Louis C.K. accomplished a Sopranos-finale-type litmus test, except without being a dick to his fans.

I would have to answer that question with a sad, “no”, or at least a “probably not”, and it is all because of what my girlfriend and I defined several years ago as “The Three F’s” of a good relationship.

At the time, she was dating a guy we both adored (though not in a romantic way for me; that would have been messed up). On paper they were perfect for each other. He had everything she was looking for in a guy: he was tall, he was handsome, he was funny; he had a budding career and did well at parties; he had a good car, good friends, and made good money. Everything on her list was checked off. And yet…she was unhappy.

The thing is, in addition to having everything on her list, this guy also had an inclination to “keep it light”, meaning when shit went down, he went away. Career trouble, sick parents, his own family drama – no matter the issue, his answer was to close his eyes and plug his ears until it was over. Still, she stayed with him, because…the list.

“Forget the list,” I told her. Lists are for grocery shopping and little kids at Christmas. There is no relationship Santa, despite what Christian Mingle and the creepy eHarmony guy would have us believe. People need to lose their lists.

She countered that it is probably not a good idea to have no criteria for a mate; at the very least “no scrubs” should be a goal. So we compromised with a new list: one with the only three things that matter (and we added alliteration, because alliteration makes everything better).

Here are The Three F’s: Feed me, Fuck me, Fascinate me. If a partnership has all three, nothing else matters. Without even one of them, it will never work.

Fuck me: duh. This one is pretty self-explanatory. There must be sexual chemistry for a relationship to survive. I have been with a few men who, for various reasons (medication, Catholicism, homosexuality), were not that into being intimate, and it doesn’t take long for the dynamic to get irreparably weird.

Fascinate me: beauty fades, bodies sag, and even with sexual chemistry two people will eventually need to find each other interesting. Pretty but dumb is great in the short term, but for the long haul there needs to be a mind at work. If you don’t make me think, or laugh, or see things differently, I have no use for you. If you don’t find me interesting, ditto.

Feed me: aye, there’s the rub. For me, this has been the hardest criterion to satisfy, and to my detriment the one I have been most willing to overlook. In the literal sense, yes, it can mean “have a job” (or at least be able to feed yourself), but here it means feed each other emotionally. Be able to have a conversation about feelings, no matter how awkward. Be able to care about my life and my day. Be able to be there for me, even when I’m too stupid to know I need you (especially when I’m too stupid to know I need you).

My friend’s boyfriend was incapable of feeding her, and that is why no amount of height, handsome, or humor could make her happy. I have suffered from an unfortunate fondness for artists, narcissists, and depressives – which are three different ways of saying “emotional cripples”. And as much as I want “Louie” to be happy, I want him to say, “No, it’s not okay” to his Eggplant, because two out of three isn’t enough.

Look at it this way: the Suitable For Work version of The Three F’s is the mnemonic PIE (physical, intellectual, emotional). Without the Emotional support, all you have is PI. Any good math teacher will tell you that pi is irrational.

F*ck You, Clint Eastwood

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This week, I planned to write about the cringe-inducing example of “femininity” that sat behind me on a recent flight from Wisconsin to Los Angeles (#UnfortunatelySomeWomen). She had artfully tousled hair, that baby-infused voice, and an Ed Hardy tank top two sizes too small for her boobs, and when given the choice between the last two empty seats on the plane (she was late boarding), she bypassed the one next to me in favor of the one between the two middle-aged refrigeration company managers in the next row.

As I listed to her breathlessly inquire about one man’s cracked cell phone (“that’s what happens when you have kids – shit breaks”), coyly threaten to “fall asleep and drool” on them, and feign doe-eyed fascination while failing to correctly comprehend a single detail about their work (which irked the one on the aisle), I could not help but marvel…at how great it is to luck into the only empty seat on an airplane. Oh, and at how this girl represents everything that is wrong with gender relations in our society.

In my brain, I cried out, “Why do some women act like this?!” Almost immediately, the other side of my brain yelled back, “Because it works!” As angry as I am at this girl for choosing to be such a disgusting caricature of stupidity, I am equally annoyed by the men who responded by giving her everything she wanted – including a shoulder to sleep on, both arm rests, several Bloody Marys, and the use of all three tray tables as she redid her manicure mid-flight. Too many women giggle their way through life with an “I just might fuck you” overtone because too many men would rather believe that fantasy is true than demand basic human competence.

So I was going to write about all of that and how it relates to gender imbalances in work and life, but then I watched the Tony Awards. Clint Eastwood showed up to present the awards for Best Direction, and hot damn if that man doesn’t make me completely flip my shit.

I get it – he is very talented. I do not deny that his acting work is iconic, or that the movies he has directed are often brilliant. His career and status are not mysteries to me. But he also appears incapable of opening his mouth without some spectacularly casual sexism falling out.

Even on the Tonys, after delivering the prepared remarks about what makes for great direction, he ended with, “and that’s all true of these guys…and they are guys…because…well…[shrug].” Because well what? Because that’s the way the cookie crumbles? Because directing is a man’s game? Because he failed to notice one of the nominees was actually a woman?

Sure, it’s possible that at this point Mr. Eastwood is more senile than sexist. But I also think age is a lot like alcohol – it doesn’t create new feelings so much as lower our willingness to temper long-existent ones. Age lets the freak flag fly – and America’s Cowboy has flown his skull and cross-boobs flag too many times to be discounted.

My vitriol toward Clint Eastwood as spokesman for misogyny started in August, 2010, when I read an interview he gave in Entertainment Weekly about his then-upcoming film Hereafter. In it, he said, “I like to think of it as a chick flick. But one that men will like too. Or at least one that won’t make them want to stick a Swiss Army Knife into their leg.” Now, Clint was certainly not the first man in Hollywood to make such a jackass comment, nor were his words the most obnoxious thing ever said about “chick flicks”, but the context of the quote brings its inherent fear of the feminine to a whole new level.

Setting aside the disrespect contained in the label “chick flick”, the comment is particularly infuriating because Hereafter doesn’t even satisfy any markers of the stereotype. It is a movie starring Matt Damon, not Meg Ryan; it is a movie with three loosely-related stories about people dealing with the idea of mortality and loss; it is a movie written by a (male) screenwriter who also earned an Oscar nomination for writing Frost/Nixon. Sure, the main character has girlfriend trouble because his psychic connection to the afterlife is intrusive, but the movie also deals with the 2004 tsunami and the London subway bombings.

What exactly was it about Hereafter that made Mr. Eastwood think of it as a “chick flick”? Usually this derogatory term is reserved for films about “girly” things, like marriage and shopping and having babies; by Clint’s logic, a movie is aimed at women if it deals with love, torment, or emotions of any kind, since no man could be expected to tolerate such nonsense without wanting to stab himself. That is the equivalent of me calling The Wizard of Oz a “dick flick” because it has a chase scene and a couple of explosions (not to mention two murders).

The problem, of course, isn’t actually Clint Eastwood, or even that Clint Eastwood sees the world as divided into “girl stuff” and “boy stuff”. It is that too many people still think like Clint Eastwood, and too many of those people are in positions of authority.

As long as our world is primarily run by men, as long as most of those men continue to see women as “other” – be it sexual objects, emotional mysteries, innocent victims, or simply less competent beings – and as long as too many women choose to play into these stereotypes to get ahead, we won’t make much progress as a species. Eliminating all pink toys might be the solution, but so might demanding mutual respect to and from each other.

I know, it sounds crazy, but I’m putting it out there anyway. Maybe I just feel lucky.

One Fish, Three Fish, Big Fish, Me Fish (Or, What I Learned on my College Vacation)

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One day, in my Senior year of high school, something unexpected happened to me in the middle of calculus: I didn’t get it. I have no memory of what mathematical principle we were learning that day, but I vividly remember the frustration of being confused. It had happened to me only once before (with math, I mean – I “didn’t get” the rest of life all the time), when my 5th-grade class learned “greater than” and “less than” (“>” and “<”).

Back then, I had stared at those little arrows for hours, trying to see the difference between them that everyone else could see. Was one wider than the other? A more acute angle? Was there something wrong with the printing on my paper? It simply never occurred to me that they were pointing in opposite directions.

Eventually, light dawned on marblehead, but for what felt like weeks (and was probably only days), it was as if everyone spoke a language I just couldn’t comprehend. Like how people describe the experience of having a mild stroke – or a conversation with hipsters.

In calculus class that day, those feelings of vertigo came rushing back, and it was a formative day for me because of two things that happened in response. First, unlike in 5th grade, this time I raised my hand and asked for clarification. Since I had come to define my self-worth by my academic ability, it was no small thing to ask for help. It is also why it pissed me off when, instead of answering, my teacher told me to see her after class. I felt that my years of patient listening to the answers to everyone else’s questions had earned me a little class time, so I asked again – and a third time when she politely deflected.

I have no idea why this otherwise-wonderful math teacher refused to address my question in class. Maybe I was missing something obvious again, or maybe we were behind schedule or she thought I was punking her. What I do know is that her denial made me feel that my questions didn’t have value – and the memory of that feeling hovers over me as a cautionary tale every moment that I stand in front of my own students now.

The second thing that happened that day is that, not two periods later, my friend Doug – who would not have understood calculus if Jaime Escalante himself explained it – came up to me at my locker and said, “I hear you messed up in math class today.” Apparently, word had spread around school, and there was a fair amount of Schadenfreude at the fact that Kate, Captain of the Math Team, had “messed up” in calculus.

My initial instinct was to tell Doug that if having a question constituted a mistake then he must be the biggest disaster since the Hindenburg, but instead of lashing out I decided to listen to my second thought: “F*ck this, I need a bigger pond.”

That day, my outlook toward college went from terror I would fail to remain the best to ardent desire for a place full of more-accomplished peers. When the miracle that was my Harvard acceptance letter showed up a few months later, I knew I had found the Lake Superior I was looking for.

Humility is a wonderful thing, and being humbled is even better. Those first couple of years in Cambridge, the knowledge that I was surrounded by so much talent freed me to try all kinds of new things. I figured, “if I’m not going to be the best at anything, what the heck? Let’s explore!” I took the hardest freshman math class there was and actually hung in there for a few weeks; I took Ancient Greek with a bunch of people who already spoke Latin and only freaked out a little at my F on the first midterm; I volunteered for Model Congress despite almost no awareness of current political events, and I did perhaps the scariest thing of all: left the comfort of mathematical certainty for the subjective world of the English department.

As I reached my last couple of years, the freedom of the big pond turned more into a driving force. Swimming with bigger fish had boosted my confidence, to the point where I was frustrated I wasn’t bigger myself. My desire to make a splash (or even a plop) drove me toward leadership positions I would never have considered before, and even inspired me to audition for a spot as a commencement day speaker – something I still can’t believe I actually attempted.

This weekend, the class of ‘99 returned to Cambridge for our 15th reunion, and my fellow Harvardians continue to represent for me those two pillars of a happy life: confidence, and humiliation (er, humility). The ambition, drive, and success of my classmates is inspiring, and reflects back on me the courage to earn my spot within their ranks – or at least to try. At the same time, I am acutely aware that no matter how good I get at anything, there will always be someone bigger or better. Probably someone I have seen contemplate philosophy and quantum physics while high.

Sure, knowing I will never be “the best” can be a little depressing at times, and occasionally makes me want to go drown myself in a small pond somewhere. But mostly, I find it a comforting assurance that I will never be bored. No matter how far I get, there will always be those who challenge me to swim farther; there will always be new waters to explore.

As long as those waters aren’t the Charles River – that shit is still toxic.