I Am The Annoying Christmas Person

It’s true. I’ve always loved Christmas. I’m the really annoying person who is super enthusiastic as soon as it starts getting chilly. And everyone asks the question, “how can you possibly have the energy for Christmas already?”

I’ve liked Christmas since I was little. I used to ask to listen to Christmas music in the middle of summer. I’d want to put up the Christmas tree as soon as November hit, and I was always sad when we took it down. Any Christmas that wasn’t a white Christmas, I would get really upset about it.

Christmas was always a big affair when I was younger. The Christmas eve, Annie and I would get to open our first presents, which were always new pajamas that we’d wear that night. We would sit at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning and wait to be told breakfast was ready. Breakfast was always pancakes and eggs and it always tasted like magic because it was Christmas morning. And we’d eat as fast as we could because after breakfast was presents. And we’d have to wait for our dad to get the video camera and make sure we had a blank tape and wait for the red light to come on and we’d yell “Merry Christmas!” at the camera and then open stockings, and then take turns opening presents under the tree, presenting our spoils to the camera every time. (Later in life, I was responsible for transferring these from tape to DVD, and the one memory that sticks out is hearing my young self yell “POOCHIE! POOCHIE! I GOT A POOCHIE!”) And we’d spend the rest of the day playing with our new toys while our parents packed up the car, because that evening (or the day after,) we’d make the six-hour trek to Delaware to see our relatives.

Our grandparents would have a whole other Christmas. We’d eat Christmas breakfast of pancakes and eggs and scrapple and it was always good, and then we’d open our Delaware stockings that Santa came through the front door to fill because they didn’t have a chimney, and then we’d have to wait for the night to open everything else. That night, we’d have a belated Christmas dinner with my cousins and aunt and uncle and then we’d all take turns opening presents under Mommom’s beautiful tree. And each day was another Christmas. We’d see friends and family and exchange gifts and eat wonderful food and talk and laugh, and it was good.

My mom moved out of my dad’s house the summer before my senior year, and I went with her. That year was the first year I started suffering Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as seasonal depression and SAD.) As soon as the leaves started falling, I felt really down, and like nothing was worth it. Not even Christmas. I didn’t know what was wrong with me; I hadn’t realized I was depressed, I just thought I was broken. I wasn’t excited over Christmas, so I had to be broken. Something was definitely wrong with me, and no one seemed to understand, not even my boyfriend or mom. My dog was pretty much my only real friend, it felt like. To top it off, the holidays seemed broken, too; I only saw a fraction of the people I usually did because I didn’t get to see my dad’s side of the family or friends, or even Annie. Things started looking up late spring, and I finally figured out that I’d suffered through my first round of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

And so it comes back, every year. I’ve been looking into a sun lamp, since one of the leading causes of SAD is lack of vitamin D from sunlight, but those things ain’t cheap. So I do my best to get through as best I can. As much as the season does a number on me, I get annoyingly excited annoyingly early for Christmas because it helps pull me through. I start getting pumped and counting how many sleeps til Christmas (65) before Halloween starts because it’s the best way I know how to not think about the days getting shorter and more overcast and what that’s gonna do to me. Even with my messy Christmas (which will be messier this year, with my sister in college and my mom moving back east,) Christmas is still a beacon of like, cheeriness to me.

I know it’s annoying, but please, forgive me if I seem overeager or start blogging for a holiday two months away.

Pinterest

If you know anyone with a suburban white mom, you know they’re probably on Pinterest, even from just a quick statement. (“This casserole is fabulous!” “Oh, thanks. I found the recipe on Pinterest.) This site is probably the most dangerous time sucker I have ever come across.

I knew about Pinterest in my junior year, back when you still had to get an invite to join. (Yeah, it was that niche in the past.) My friend Beka was raving about it in English class. I really liked Beka; she was trendy and slightly boho (is that even the right word?) before boho was popular. And she was nice to almost everyone, indiscriminately. So when she mentioned this site, I was kind of pretty interested. I signed up for the wait list, and then promptly forgot about the whole thing after about a week. I hadn’t gotten the invite email, and so I figured I just would never get into this Super Elite site. Which was okay. I had my Tumblr blog which took up enough of my time as it was.

I did eventually get my invite. I used the site for probably all of three days before realizing my pin boards were even less disorganized than my usual attempts at organizing. I deleted my account, assuming I’d never use it again.

Flash forward like, a year.

I’m suddenly on Pinterest again. I don’t even know why. I’ve linked it to my Facebook and I’m pinning like it is my job. I’m frustrated when I go up to the top of my new pins page and the only things there are my own pins. I want new content, dammit! I need new recipes to try, new cute home ideas to put in my imaginary house, new wedding ideas to pin to my super secret wedding board (because everyone knew I was never getting married.) But alas, there was nothing. I’d have to wait at least a day for my new pins page to fill up again. Tedious. I deleted my account again.

As time went on, Pinterest gained a reputation. At The Picture People, where I used to work, we’d view the Suburban White Mother with her cubs in the wild. Sometimes, she’d bring the father of the cubs, who wanted nothing to do with the display that it’s mate was about to put on. The Mother would come in armed with props and ideas and the phrase “I saw it on Pinterest, and I want my kids to look just like it,” without understanding that those kids did not have an entire cinnamon sugar pretzel from Auntie Annes before going into their photo shoots. Those children were not photo shy, screaming how they want to go home, or just woken up from a nap. But the Mother would persist; her cubs are angels, and she will not go home until she gets the picture she wants. (She will then produce a Groupon at the sales counter and fight that the Groupon entitles her to more than one pose, and what would she even do with twenty copies of the same pose, and she doesn’t even want wallets so can’t she switch those out? And then she won’t buy anything else despite the high-resolution CD being half off and therefore she will drag your average sale down to $18 on a slow day.) I’m sure they then went on to cause havoc in some other corner of the world because “I saw it on Pinterest and now I need it for me right now, exactly as it was on a website full of things done by other people who I have never spoken to and have no idea how many times they had to try to get it right.”

The Suburban White Mom reputation kept me away from Pinterest for a while, because god help me if I ever turn into one.

Something always brought me back to it, though. I must have three accounts open right now because they’re tied to emails that I don’t know what they are anymore. I apparently came back at one point, started one on my Facebook again, and never deleted, because there was one open when I logged back in a few days ago. (I will say, the new interface is a lot more “find new boards” friendly than the old one.) And once I got on, I haven’t been able to get back off.

Pinterest is the biggest productivity killer I’ve ever willingly logged onto (and still go back to.) More than Tumblr or Facebook or anything else like it. It disguises itself as being productive in most cases. At least other websites, there’s a voice at the back of your mind going “this is literally the opposite of being productive, you’re procrastinating, you need to get up and do something worthwhile.” On Pinterest, you see these wonderful foods and go “ooh, I can make that one night this week!” and continue on, fooling yourself that you’re making a recipe book, or a wedding idea board, or accruing writing inspiration. And at least for me, this shuts up the little nagging voice at the back of my mind because I’m being halfway productive. I almost never actually look back at these boards when it’s my turn to make dinner, or I have writers block. They exist to be fake productivity. That’s all.

And yet it is so addictive that I can feel myself being drawn back, all the while muttering under my breath “I will not be a Suburban White Mom” and trying to ignore the gender stereotypes plastered all over the baby planning pins.

If you’re on Pinterest, and want to wallow with me, you can follow me here.

Lemonade and Brownies

Each year, my neighborhood would have a weekend where everyone would set up a yard sale and sell off their old stuff. My family was no different. We’d haul out our old junk that someone might find interesting, and we’d arrange it in the driveway. Annie and I wanted to make money, too, so we did what we’d seen on TV so often; we set up a lemonade stand.

Our stand was, for a few years, the only stand in the neighborhood. We sold Mom-Made lemonade and Us-Made brownies for a quarter each, and in all honesty, we made a killing. When two small girls are selling sweets for a quarter, it’s hard to pass up. We even had people stop by our sale just from hearing up yell “lemonade and brownies” as they passed in their cars.

Then, one year, it rained. It was rainy and miserable, and to top it off, some girl up the hill was also selling lemonade and brownies.

Let me be clear, I considered this girl my friend. And she had known we had the lemonade and brownies market. So I was hurt. Couldn’t she at least ask if she could sell them? Couldn’t she sell something else? It was inconsiderate. I must have been pouty with her for at least a day afterwards.

So between the rain and the competition, we weren’t sure we’d be able to get as much as we had in the past. But we had to try. Our hopes of getting new Littlest Pet Shop toys was riding on this, and we couldn’t just give up.

Friday was awful. Hardly anyone came. To be fair, Fridays were always a hit or miss. But this year it just seemed so much worse in our minds. We had to think of something. Saturday morning rolled around, and on our table were two crockpots, bread, mustard, and ketchup, along with our usual brownies and lemonade.

“Mommy, this is our table. We need it for our stuff,” I told our mom, a little salty about it. She knew this was our table, why was she putting her stuff to sell on it?

“That is your stuff,” she told me, opening the lids. One pot was full of boiled hot dogs, the other held hot apple cider. “It’s cold, so people might want warm things.”

Annie and I could hardly contain our excitement. Leave it to our mom to figure out how to beat the weather and the girl up the street.

“The apple cider is fifty cents, hot dogs are seventy five, or two for a dollar.”

This sounded like a good enough plan to us.

And so we sat at our table under the tarp my dad had put up over the driveway, nursing our own cups of hot apple cider to keep us warm, smiling at anyone who ventured into the sale. We even made a sign, because yelling “lemonade and brownies and hot apple cider and hot dogs” was too long-winded.

It was getting colder by the minute. We had to go in and fetch gloves and extra socks, and we were doing our best to not drink even more apple cider. (You can only get away with drinking so much of your own goods.) We were just about to pack up for the day when a Very Large Man parked his car on the side of the street, passed all the tables full of Gently Used Junk, and right up to Annie and I.

Now, when I say Very Large, I don’t mean as in He Was Kind of Big or Fairly Fat. This was a guy comparable to a burly lumberjack man who taps trees for maple syrup every morning and smothered his three dozen breakfast pancakes with it, straight out of the tree. He walked up to us and grinned a wide, warm grin, and said, “what’ve you got, girls?”

Annie and I both talked at the same time, listing all our foodstuffs, but in different orders, so it probably sounded something like “lemonPPLE CIDER, HOT DOwnies, hot doMONADE, AND LEMOdogs!”

He laughed an earth-shaking laugh and looked down at the table. “Well, then. I’ll have… an apple cider, a brownie, and six hot dogs.”

Six. Six hot dogs. Could one person even EAT six hot dogs? AND apple cider? AND a brownie?

Six hot dogs.

We were stunned.

Annie started running the numbers on the calculator while I ran inside, where my mom was on the phone.

“MOMMY,” I screeched.

“I am on the phone.”

“MOMMY A MAN WANTS SIX HOT DOGS AND WE HAVE SEVEN LEFT WE NEED MORE HOT DOGS.”

“Senna, I am on the phone.”

“THIS IS IMPORTANT.”

She sighed. “Hold on, Debbie.” Then she put the phone against her shoulder. “What, Senna?”

“There is a Very Large Man who wants six whole hot dogs and we only have SEVEN LEFT PLEASE MAKE MORE HOT DOGS, MOMMY.”

She looked baffled. “Six?”

“Yes and he is all by himSELF.”

She was not planning on needing to cook more hot dogs. You could see it in her eyes. She had been counting on Annie and I getting too cold to keep going and then serving the family the left over hot dogs for lunch.

“Debbie, I’m going to have to call you back.”

She hung up and knelt next to me. “Are you sure you’re going to sell the hot dogs if I make them?”

“Yes.” If there was one man in the world who wanted to eat six hot dogs at a time, surely there had to be more. And they were probably here. In this neighborhood. Just waiting to stumble upon our treasure trove.

“I will make one more pack, but that’s the last one, okay?”

“Yes!”

I ran back outside to a perplexed Annie, who was trying to fit the man’s six hot dogs on bread and his brownie all on one plate, all the while refusing help. And the man was just looking on, amused by the folly of this small child, when his frying pan sized hands could probably carry two hot dogs in each hand. She ended up giving him three plates, with two dogs on each and the brownie on the third. I’d poured his apple cider while she got everything situated, and he handed us a ten dollar bill. I started on the calculator to get his change, but he just smiled his Lumberjack Smile and said “keep the change. Thanks, girls!” and walked back into his truck. We sort of paused and watched him drive away before putting the bill into the pencil case we were using as a money bin.

I mentally refereed to him as “The Hot Dog Angel” for the rest of the day, especially when we realized we’d made over a hundred dollars.

Apple Cider

Fall is a wonderful, wonderful time. It begins hoodie season, changing leaves season, and hot drink season. Hot drink season is honestly what I look forward to most. Drinking something hot won’t make you overheated or uncomfortable, but rather warm and fuzzy. Plus, there’s so many great fall flavors.

And what does everyone do? They go out and drink pumpkin spice everything.

Now, I like pumpkin spice things as much as the next girl. Our office is burning a pumpkin spice wax as I write this. There’s some pumpkin spice tea hiding in my desk. Some days, my boss’ll come back from lunch break with a pumpkin spice coffee for me. And don’t get me started on how much I love pumpkin rolls or pie.

But see, pumpkin spice gets so much hype that it’s older, more relaxed cousin gets practically no love. And this is a crime.

It’s okay, apple cider. I know how special you are.

Apple cider was on the scene before people were dumping pumpkin spice in their everything like the colonists dumped tea into their harbor. It has been paired with cinnamon sticks, pumpkin carving, and even trick-or-treating – my neighborhood has a group of adults who throw a part in their yards Halloween night and offer apple cider and hot dogs to anyone who passes. It can be drunk hot, cold, spiced, spiked, or straight out of the jug. It is it’s own drink; it doesn’t exist solely to be put into other drinks to make them taste good. (You can make other drinks with it, though, and I find a splash of it helps cool down coffee as well as liven it up.)

“Apple cider is just apple juice though, but with a bigger price tag!” you cry. To which I laugh and pat your head. Apple cider is not filtered; you get the teeny apple bits in your drink, and there is much less added sugar than apple juice. Apple juice is an imposter and should not be trusted around this time of year, as it gets jealous and spouts lies that it is, in fact, the same as apple cider.

There’s also the argument that November is the month for apple cider; pumpkin spice is just for October because, y’know, pumpkins. And this may have been the case in the past. But they are advertising Christmas before Halloween is even over anymore, and people buy into this, so what do they drink because the season is upon them? Hot chocolate and mint flavored everything. It’s so festive. And the kids just love it. I can’t deny these thing; I’m a huge sucker for mint hot chocolate. But in this, cider doesn’t get it’s time to shine. A crime against humanity. A front-page scandal.

So I beg you, the next time you’re in the grocery store, pick up a jug of apple cider. A little one, at least. For me. Whether you keep it all to yourself or share it with friends is your business, so long as you are part of the Apple Cider Revolution. Together, we will overthrow Pumpkin Spice from it’s throne of deceit and crown the true Fall Drink Royalty.

Chicken and Dumplings

Grandmothers evoke a lot of memories for different people. Kisses. Cookies. Days out and about. Gifts. When I think of my mommom though, the first memory that comes to mind is cooking with her.

We moved from Delaware to Pittsburgh just after I turned three – my dad had a job out here, and we decided him commuting six hours each way and only seeing him on weekends just wasn’t the best for the family. My entire family was in Delaware though, including my grandparents. So there was only one solution. We had to return to Delaware whenever possible.

I could tell so many stories about Mommom. Shopping with her, or going down to the beach with her, or to fairs and theme parks and petting zoos. But really, no matter how many memories I come across in the shoe boxes full of old pictures with her, I always wish we’d gotten more pictures of my sister and I helping her to cook.

Our group specialty was pancakes, scrapple, and omelets. The pancakes were just the Bisquick ones that you added milk and eggs to, but Annie and I didn’t know any other way to make pancakes. We were tasked with adding the eggs and breaking the yolks, then beating the entire mixture as much as our little arms could. She was the one who poured the batter onto the griddle and, like magic, turned it into pancakes. I started enjoying them less once my dad started regulating how much sugar I was allowed to have. I couldn’t even have enough syrup for one pancake. He started trying to get me to eat mine with peanut butter. It wasn’t until Mommom started mixing my peanut butter with a fair amount of honey that I really enjoyed pancakes again.

Thanksgiving was when everyone started coming to the house to visit. She refused to make Thanksgiving dinner, though. I think she either went out or visited my uncle ever single year. Instead, she cooked a family dinner right between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Usually, it was me, Annie, my mom and dad, my five cousins, my aunt and uncle, and my Mommom and Poppop, give or take one or two people each year. That’s thirteen people. Her kitchen was fairly small, and she and my mom seemed to rush around like madwomen trying to prepare everything, but every year, she made enough food (and desert!) for thirteen or more people. And what did she make? Chicken and dumplings.

Now, around Pittsburgh, chicken and dumplings is like a sort of soup, from what I’ve eaten. It’s chicken soup with biscuity-type things that they consider “dumplings.” This is not, in fact, chicken and dumplings and I know and love. Dumplings are thick, square-cut noodle-type things that I would seriously eat on their own for three meals a day if I thought I could get away with it. They cooked in chicken broth and gravy, and were paired with a chicken that I believe Mommom cooked whole. They were two separate entities; the first time they were brought together was on your plate, soon to be consumed by someone. I have never heard of anyone who let dumplings get thrown away in my family. We also had boiled carrots and potatoes, salad, rolls, and usually a pie or two (or three) for desert. And everyone looked forward to this meal. The one year she decided to cook something different, my sister, my cousins, and myself would not shut up about “I miss chicken and dumplings.”

Mommom recently remarried, and even after moving into her new house and settling down with her new husband, she was still expected to make chicken and dumplings. And so she did. It was a smaller crowd this year; my mom had just finalized her divorce with my dad, and a couple of my cousins wouldn’t be in town for the meal. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful meal. I’d brought Brandon, my boyfriend, along with me this year; his family doesn’t really celebrate holidays the way you’d expect most families to. Brandon has always been a picky eater, though recently he’s been more willing to try new foods. (Getting him to like pizza is one of my mother’s and my greatest accomplishments.) So we all sat down, said grace, and began piling food on our plates.

I guess no one noticed the first time that Brandon took chicken and potatoes, but not dumplings. He’s not really a noodle-thing fan; the only thing he eats noodles in is Campbell’s  condensed chicken noodle soup. As the dumplings went around a second time, my Aunt Kathy asked, “Brandon, would you like more dumplings?”

“Oh, no thanks, I don’t really like things like that.”

My cousin Sean was the first one to respond. I had never seen his eyes so wide. “You don’t eat dumplings?” He asked it in such a way that you knew he had never met anyone who didn’t eat dumplings. The thought of it was inconceivable. Dumplings were a gift to this world. (Before I’d met Brandon, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible for anyone to not like dumplings either.)

Mommom, who had met Brandon in the past and knew he was picky, simply said, “Just pass them down, someone will eat them.” (It was me.) My cousins marveled at Brandon’s dumpling-less diet for a little while longer before we went back to talking about school and work and how life had been since we’d last seen each other.

I don’t know how much longer the tradition is going to hold up; from what I hear from my mom, Mommom goes out to eat more often than not these days. But the year that she says “Why don’t we all go out and have a family dinner somewhere instead?” will be the year I commit that recipe to memory, because I do not want to live in a world without her chicken and dumplings.

Plus, how cool would it be to say to my grand kids when I make the recipe for them “This was passed down to me from your great-great-great grandma”?

Winnie the Pooh

Everyone has that one thing from childhood that they loved that seems to still follow them around. Dragons. Pirates. Rainbows. What have you.

Mine was a yellow bear in a red shirt.

I think it helped that my mom was always into Winnie the Pooh as well. My earliest memories of sleeping in my first ever Big Girl Bed are blanketed in Pooh and Tigger comforters and sheets. We didn’t just have the original Winnie the Pooh VHS, we had Sing Along with Pooh, the mini-episode VHSes, the Halloween special, the Christmas special… this doesn’t count any of the episodes on they Disney channel that we taped. My mom had a watch that had Pooh looking up at the sky, and the sky would change from day to night depending on what time of day it was. We had Pooh drinking glasses and plastic plates with matching tiny silverware. I had a Winnie the Pooh lunchbox. It was everywhere.

Of course, there came a time when I got to be “too old” for Winnie the Pooh. It was actually sparked in third grade – yeah, at the ripe old age of 8 – when one of my friends saw me walking to lunch with my class, saw my purple lunchbox with Pooh and friends having a picnic on the front, and asked “aren’t you too old for baby stuff like that?” An eight-year-old asked her fellow eight-year-old this. I was devastated. Was I really too old for Poohbear? I spent all of lunch feeling very self-conscious about my lunchbox. I went home and told my mom what she’d said.

“You are never too old for Pooh, Senna. If someone gives you any grief about liking Winnie the Pooh, you just tell them your mommy still likes Pooh.”

I didn’t tell anyone that, but I did feel a little bit better. The seed of “you’re outgrowing baby stuff” had been planted, though. Over the next few years, I started becoming “too cool” or “too grownup” for things I used to like. Pooh included. It took a little while for my mom and grandmom to get used to, I think; I still got Pooh ornaments for Christmas for a couple years after I had condemned it to the “not grown-up enough” category. I could never quite escape Pooh. Just as I stopped getting Pooh things, my sister became very attached to Eeyore. She got Eeyore shirts and plushies and everything. I was appalled that she’d be interested in something as babyish as Pooh still. She was only a year younger than me.

I finally got over myself in high school. (I think everyone starts taking themselves less seriously some time around high school; childish things are cool again, people go to school in pajamas, and in some circles, it’s perfectly okay to admit that you still sleep with stuffed animals.) I found my mom’s copy of the complete tales of Winnie the Pooh. It was old, and the dust jacket was stiff and cracked when you opened the book, and the pages were just a hint of yellow. God, did I love that book. I must have read it dozens of times. All the tales were the same as the ones I’d seen onscreen, just enhanced; Eeyore was much more of a pessimistic downer, Rabbit was even more high-strung and sarcastic, and Pooh was even warmer and more Pooh-like.

Now that I am A Professional Adult, I try and surround myself with Pooh things. I took my old comforters to college. My boyfriend bought me an Eeyore pillow pet when we were down in Disney. My sister brought me back a mug with Pooh, Eeyore, and Piglet from her trip down to Disney. I bought my mom a Doctor Who / Winnie the Pooh crossover shirt.

I’m lucky – really lucky. Some people have to scrounge for their favorite childhood things. (See: Skydancers.) Pooh is iconic, and he doesn’t seem to get left behind by other generations. The office baby where I work has a Pooh plushie and an Eeyore plushie. (He was thrilled when I brought my mug to work.) Disney has a ride dedicated to Pooh and his adventures, and the ride lets you off in a gift shop full of Winnie the Pooh merch. The same can’t even be said for Peter Pan.

I think the reason I latched on to Pooh in my Adultness is because it’s a world with conflict, but no villain. Even in The Tigger Movie (which I still cry at,) there was no real bad guy, just emotions and misunderstanding. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bad guy as much as the next guy, (I absolutely adore the Voodo Doctor,) but a world where problems come from wind storms or honeybees or eating too much honey is so much more comfortable to me. The closest semblance of a villain we get is heffalumps and woozles, which for the longest time didn’t really exist outside the character’s imaginations. Worrying about heffalumps and woozles is a better problem than “did I pay all my bills on time” or “should I go see a doctor” or “you need to get your drivers license because you are nineteen, Senna, you can’t even drive yourself to work, why don’t you have your license yet”.

The entire world of Pooh is just more comforting than any other place I’ve heard of or seen, and my answer to “If you could live in a fictional universe, where would it be?” will always be “The Hundred Acre Woods.” There is no other place where Tiggers are spelled “T-I-double guh-er.” Or Piglets can learn to read (but bears of very little brain cannot.) Or a one-hero party can turn into a two-hero party. Or an empty honey pot and a busted balloon can make a perfect birthday present. Or a balloon and mud might be considered the perfect little black raincloud disguise.

National Novel Writing Month

Lots of things come to mind when you say “autumn.” Leaves. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Family. Hoodie weather. Windchill. The impending threat of Christmas tunes on the radio.

For me, and like, half a million other people at least, it’s new notebooks and fresh word documents and a bunch of “oh my god, what are we doing?”

November, dear friends, is National Novel Writing Month.

I first heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in eleventh grade. A couple of my writer friends were a lot more stressed than usual, and typing things more furiously than usual.

“Forget you had a paper due?” I asked one of them. She shook her head, not taking her eyes off her screen.

“NaNoWriMo,” she said simply.

“Nano who now?”

“National Novel Writing Month. It’s where you write an entire novel in a month. It starts in like, a week, and I’m not ready at all.”

I blinked a few times. A month dedicated to writing? That was right up my alley. So I googled it. Turned out, there was an entire site dedicated to it. It was run by a nonprofit organization, and they provided you with forums, local events run by volunteers, You had to write 50,000 words in 30 days, which averages to 1,667 words in a day. Easy peasy, I told myself. I was absolutely positive that I’d written at least that much when I was younger, back before I’d decided I wanted to write short stories instead of feature-length books. I could make an exception. In the spirit of writing. I’d have it done in, like, two weeks, tops.

Wrong. Wrong wrong wrongity wrong wrong. I hardly lasted two weeks as it was. Looking back on my first year, my stats were abysmal. I topped out at 13,105 words, and through the entire month, my daily average was 436 words. A day. I’ve written essays with more words than that in one day. It was abysmal. I can’t even remember what my plot was; all I know is I named it “Promethia’s Young Women’s Institute.”

I was beaten, but not dead. I decided to throw myself at the challenge the following year, and I started my new novel, “Dragonfire.” Man, this was a good idea, and if I wasn’t so sick of trying to re-write it, I’d love to, y’know, re-write it. It was about this girl, Adia, who found out dragons were not, in fact, extinct, and in fact, had to go defeat “The Dragon Queen” who was controlling the dragons and making them evil and all that jazz. She paired up with a witch, and eventually, two knights, one of which was an ex thief. I never got to write them in, however; I lost this year, too. I did get over 24,000 words though, so I did a lot better than the year before. I remember eating Thanksgiving at my mom’s friend’s house, then escaping to a dark, uninhabited room and writing as much as I could. My mom was thankfully very understanding; she didn’t bother me until it was time to eat dessert. This was also the year my best friend refused to read anything of mine that was unfinished; “I loved this stupid story, Senna, and you’re not even going to finish it. That’s not fair.”

This past year, I was in college, and found a good group of friends I could write with at like midnight up in our campus coffee house. It was great. We would do word sprints, the food was always good, and there was so much banter you couldn’t believe it. Of course, this was the year that I decided to outline my entire novel; I usually get a general idea and then write, rather than plotting things out ahead of time. But I had this wonderful idea that I just had to get down on paper before NaNo started, meaning I outlined it. And as I was writing, I got so bored of it. My characters seemed flat and lifeless compared to the characters of anything else I’d written; they would help me forge the way for the story, adding in their own quips and sass. These new characters were just playing the part I’d set forth for them, unable to deviate form the plan I’d made ahead of time. I tapped out at 12,000 words, and I haven’t touched the story since.

This year? This year, I am super stoked to get started. This year, I’m back to writing as I go with a rough idea. I even made my own cover this year. Of course, I’ll be juggling a full-time job this year as well, but hopefully that’ll just mean bursts of creativity at night and on my days off. Or I’ll get to write on my lunch break a lot. Either way, I’m really, super duper excited.

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A Letter To my 14 Year Old Self

Hi, friend. Let’s talk.

This whole high school thing is pretty weird, yeah? Yeah. I hear you. There’s suddenly a lot of really pretty boys, and you recently went through a break up, so that’s kinda hard, you think you’re not worth too much, and just holy shit people. It’s rough. It is rough, and you’re sort of caught up in this feeling of “oh my god if this was a river I’d be halfway to drowning in the current.” I get you. See, thing is, I’m you, only like… almost six years older than you. Wow, that’s weird. Ew that’s really weird, I shouldn’t have said that, that’s gross.

Anyway. I wanted to talk to you and it is a very important talk so if you could please sit down? Thanks. Awesome. Here we go.

First of all, I want you to know that every single fucking girl in middle school lied to you. All of them. They were vicious and cruel and somewhere, you know that, but you still think the words they said behind your back were true. They weren’t. You are radiant. You’re wonderful. You have a great personality and anyone would be lucky to be your friend because you try really hard to be motherly to everyone, and that’s a great trait to have. Honestly, that’s one I wish I would have retained through the years.

You need to do what you want. Dress how you want, do not, do not confine yourself to baggy jeans and hoodies because “you don’t want to be noticed.” That’s a lie, and we both know it. You’re afraid to be noticed because when people can see you better, you’re more likely to hear shit about you behind your back. I’ll let you in on a secret. People already can see you. Because of who your friends are, how small your school is, and your personality, people know you or know about you. Trust me. In three years, you’ll be passing people in the halls who’ll say, “hey, Senna!” that you have never spoken with and don’t even know what major they’re from. So if you want to buy yourself that cute dress, fucking do it, wear the shit out of that thing, it’ll be weird at first but that feeling will pass as you realize how great you look. Wear what you want. Say what you want. And you know what? Take no shit. Not from your friends, not from your classmates, not from a single senior on that fucking bus, take no shit. You are a person, not a thing or a project or a rival or anything, you are a person and you have a voice so use it and tell people when enough is enough.

And while I’m on this line of thinking, call people on their bullshit. Tell people when they’re being offensive or purposely stepping on your toes. Yell at people for using you. Don’t let anyone do something that’s completely against your morals or anything that you’re super uncomfortable with. Get out of your comfort zone, sure, but don’t confuse “getting out of your comfort zone” with “doing things that under no circumstances you’d ever want to do.”

You like girls, also. Seriously, just humor me. I want you to think of the couple times you’ve seen one girl or another in the hall and gone “oh, wow.” This is because you like girls. Everything makes so much more sense when you understand this, so yeah, there you go. Honestly, you basically like anyone of any gender, and your thought process ends up being “fall in love with people, not gender.” Which is great! This will give you a much less biased look on things in the future when you start learning about trans people and all that jazz.

Which reminds me. You have some pretty problematic views, if I’m honest, and it’s mostly your view on, ahem, “whores and sluts.” Listen, I know sex is a really foreign and strange concept to you, and you think virginity makes you special, but it doesn’t. You’re a person, not your virginity, the same as those girls are people, not their sex lives or how they dress. They dress that way because they want to, because it’s an ego booster, because they know they look good. And who cares if they have a lot of sex or they don’t? It literally doesn’t impact your life at all. So, yeah. Please stop with that, okay?

While we’re on the topic. You’re not broken. You’re not interested in sex the way most of your friends are because you’ve got this kind of obscure view on it that most people don’t. See, you’re what you’ll learn is called “demisexual,” which basically means you won’t be interested in sex until you’re really bonded to someone, like in a romantic way, and even then, it’s weird. It’s okay. You’re not broken, you’re just made differently. Punch anyone in the mouth that says otherwise cause they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Your sister and mom are both really great people. I know you aren’t getting along with them right now, but believe me, just… wait it out. You’ll see. They’ll mean so much more to you.

You’re still friends with Sarah, and she’s still an absolute gift to this world. Please hold on tight to her, cause you’ll need her in the near future over boy troubles. And trust her judgement? She’s usually dead-on when it comes to her predictions on whether someone is good or bad for you. …Actually, I can’t think of a time when she was wrong. I know you’ll be head over heels for a least two of these guys, but believe me, the one isn’t ever gonna be interested in you, and the other isn’t worth the months of tears and damage that you’ll go through after he decides he’s done using you. And she was dead-on about both of them. If you don’t listen to her, though, there’s someone who’ll pick you up at the end of it, as long as you’re willing to wait for him. He is worth the wait.

Keep writing. I’ll be honest, you have a long way to go with your work, but you’re getting better. Go back and read that dumb fairy series you wrote in the fourth grade. Yeah. You’ve come a long way, and I’ve come a long way since you. We’ll get published someday, kid. Keep at it.

It’s okay to ask for help. Your depression will go away so much faster if you start asking for help rather than trying to do everything yourself.

Stop buying mANGA JESUS CHRIST YOU’VE SPENT OVER $800 ON BOOKS YOU READ MAYBE TWICE STOP JUST READ IT ONLINE I AM BEGGING YOU

College is a big scary decision. It’s big. And it is scary. Do not rush the decision. Don’t go somewhere just cause someone else is going. Look at all your options. Consider all majors. Look near and look far away and just… do more looking than I did. I fucking dropped out of college because I made a bad decision about what school to go to, and now I’m jealous of Annie’s college.

Above all, love yourself, and help others love themselves. Everyone deserves to feel worth something. Yourself included. You’re fuckin rad, and you deserve so much more than you’re currently giving yourself. Don’t be so hard on yourself, okay? And spread goodnes and self-love. Make the world a nicer place, if you can.

I love you, nugget. I hope you end up loving you too, soon.

Problematic

We all have people we look up to. Friends, parents, neighbors, band members, fictional characters, people from the internet. Conscious or not, I’m fairly sure everyone has someone they admire and look up to.

But what happens when that person becomes problematic?

This sentence could punctuate my entire existence. In my early years of high school, I looked up to people who were liars and manipulators, even to myself, and in my mind, I excused their actions. In middle school, I looked up to a girl who ditched me without a second thought and a devout Christian who was very homophobic as well as not very accepting of anyone who wasn’t Christian, and again, in my mind, I excused their actions. In elementary school, I looked up to fictional fairy characters, 90’s and 00’s anime protagonists, and Winnie the Pooh. Which, I mean, that’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to “non-problematic.” Recently, in the Nerdfighter community, there have been people I looked up to that have seriously fucked up. (If you’re interested and don’t know about it already, Google can tell you more than I can. The names you’re looking for are Alex Day and Tom Milsom.) Tom, I am able to see their mistake, as well as the fact they have no apparent comment on said mistake, and go “…so you’re probably not the best person for me to look up to.” Alex has admitted his faults, is owning up to them, but that also doesn’t excuse what he’s done. But I’m old enough and smart enough to not simply excuse them in my own mind. So now I get to let my brain play tug-of-war over how I feel about him and his actions.

But I think, really, what makes this harder, is the fact that I looked up to them not on a human level, but more on… how should I phrase this… more with a level of detachment. Almost like an idol, but not quite. They were human, sure, but somehow they didn’t seem to be. They were better than your average joe. Above the average joe. And that’s where I – like a lot of other people – go wrong in my looking up to people.

In John Green’s “Paper Towns,” he shatters the idea of the manic pixie girl, states that that’s liking the idea of the person, not the person. “When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside.” At first, I kind of dismissed that idea. How could anyone see just “an idea of a person”? And in that, I kind of missed the entire point of the book. But I’m starting to get it now. When we see these people on a non-human level, when we either raise them up above us, we don’t see them. We see what they do, maybe. What they look like. What we want them to be. What we think they are. And I when I think about it… it’s not something I’d want done to me. Were someone to look up to me like that… I’m just a person. I’m just a human being, the same as everyone else, the same as anyone who might look up to me that way. To borrow a tired phrase, I put my pants on the same as everyone else; one leg at a time.

And this is information that I’m trying to process, something I’m trying to change about myself. With the current situation still playing push-and-pull in my head, it’s hard. But it’s a start. And I’m hoping this can help other people to start seeing the people they look up to as people, not symbols or great beings or anything of that sort. As humans. Not someone you’d want to scream about seeing, but someone you’d like to sit down and have a one-on-one conversation with.

Shame

Through my life, my general attire has been the same. Jeans and a T-shirt with sneakers. In 6th grade, I switched jeans out for sweat pants because I could not stop growing, and therefore I could not find a pair of jeans that would comfortably fit me without me growing out of them two weeks later. I was rarely seen in a dress or skirt because I was uncomfortable in them as well as not confident in them.

In high school, I would see these girls with shorts and shirts and skirts and dresses that didn’t meet the dress code, and I generally resented them. Really, it was more because they wouldn’t get called out on breaking dress code because of who they were, and what major they were affiliated with, but other girls would. (My friend Sara got yelled at one day for wearing a tank top without a cardigan to cover her shoulders when other girls would walk around in tank tops and short-shorts all day without a word spoken to them.)

And I told myself I hated the way they dressed, that they looked like whores and sluts, that certainly they could dress more modestly, and with less makeup, to boot. A lot of my friends agreed, even guy friends. But stepping back from those moments, I realize that some of the things they wore were things I would have loved to wear if I had the confidence. The shirts, the skirts, the dresses, most of them were really cute. Their eyeliner was always even and their lipstick was kick ass. And I’m angry and jealous that I wasn’t brave enough to try and pull it off.

But the people I’ve been in contact with a lot lately have a different idea than that. “No,” they say, “no, they’re still just sluts and whores who need to cover up. You’re different, Senna. You’re modest, and no-makeup natural. You’re not a perfect hourglass. Not like those other girls.” And that got me thinking. If I were to wear those things – not to be provocative, or because I wanted anyone’s approval, but because I wanted to wear them – would these people still hold the same opinion of me? Would I lose their respect simply for wearing something that wasn’t finger-tip length, or that showed my stomach, or that exposed my back? Is embracing and playing up a body figure really that horrible? Were these really people I wanted to associate myself with if they thought this way?

The issue here, is what society likes to call “slut shaming” (which, really, can’t we come up with a better term?). If you’re unfamiliar with this idea, it’s basically when you call someone a slut, whore, hooker, what have you, simply because they’re wearing something “immodest” that you don’t approve of, because it’s “distracting” or “inappropriate.” You know what our ancestors wouldn’t approve of? Showing our ankles. Or our knees. And what do we do almost every day when the weather is nice? Show both. I don’t see anyone going off about that, do you? It’s one thing to print “SEX” on a shirt and wear it to school or work (which, by the way, I’ve seen instances like this go unchecked more often than not), but being told “your shirt is showing your midriff, you’re going to give boys the wrong idea” boggles my mind. The wrong idea? That what, I have a stomach? That I don’t have cotton surgically attached to it? That I have legs, that I have shoulders, that I have a back? Covered in skin? What a concept, who knew?

The idea that men can’t keep it in their pants or pay attention because a girl is wearing a skirt is an idea that demotes men to beings that have no willpower. (This idea also is why rape culture is a thing; “she was dressed like that/drunk/passed out, how could he not rape her?”)

It’s also the idea that a woman will dress to sexually distress a man. Which, in certain cases might be true, but by and large, is a ridiculous idea. Unless I’m in my work uniform, I dress for me. I dress so I can feel good about myself. “Well, can’t you do that without dressing so scantily?” the masses of men ask. Can’t you think about anything other than getting into a woman’s pants depending on what she’s wearing? If the answer is “no” or “yes, but…” I’m not the problem. You are.

And this idea has followed me beyond high school. It still haunts me today, with people continually telling me that I’m “better” than other girls because I dress and look different from them. And it makes me look at things I want to wear, makes me try them on, and then sadly put them back on the rack because the people around me wouldn’t approve of them. It was my sister fearlessly wearing whatever she wanted to wear, and my mother’s acceptance of it, that finally made me realize that I could put on whatever I wanted as long as I felt good in it.

“Modesty is hot.” Yeah, that might be true, in some cases. But you know what else is hot? Me in a strapless red dress that doesn’t meet the fingertip test and thigh-highs and winged eyeliner and silver eye shadow and bright red lipstick. You know what’s not hot? Your idea that I need to dress the way you think I should.