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If I Were On Queer Eye

A hypothetical script

The cast of Queer Eye will be blown away by meeting me.

<cast driving. Clips of cows and suburbia. Occasional Texas stereotypes>

Antoni: “So today we’re going to meet an author! She writes about zombies and aliens and things like that…”

Tan, making a face: “Uh okay, weird.”

Jonathan: “Love me some creativity, yas!”

A: “…she’s had a baby and been trapped inside because of a pandemic, and has kind of let some things go…”

Bobby: “Understandable, it’s a busy time.”

Karamo: “We’ve all been there.”

A: “But it’s time for a refresh and a change! Boys, we’re going to help this author turn a new page!”

All: “wooo!”

<cue intro theme>

<Cast pull up to a small suburban house. It’s ok, but the plants are half-dead. Jonathan pretends to faint from the heat. Karamo glistens.>

<ME Kinkade is sitting on the floor, playing with a baby. There is a knock at the door and the boys tumble in.>

M: “wow what a surprise! This camera crew has been here for half an hour, what took you so long?! Yay!!”

<they tour the house. Bobby looks disappointed at the clutter. Antoni inspects the fridge, which is clean but pretty empty. Jonathan tries on maternity leggings. Tan looks disgusted. Karamo glistens.>

M: “I’m just so excited you’re here.” <She looks generally embarrassed.>

<intro for Antoni’s portion>

A: “So I understand you like to bake?”

M: “Yeah, I was one of the ‘quarantine bakers,’ but that was just because I was home more. I also love Great British Bake-off.”

A: “Ok great! I thought I’d take you here, to Really Obscure Bakery!” <to woman behind the counter> “Hey Tricia!” <back to M> “Ok so you’re a busy mom, and I get that, so I thought we’d learn to make croissants. They only take 14 hours to make and the delicate puff pastry is great for kids to play with.”

Antoni is love

<cut to the removing croissants from the oven. A’s look perfect. M’s look like buttery poop emoji.>

A: “Delicious, right? You could totally make this with the baby if you take 2 days off work!”

<M attempts to smile> <transition to Karamo>

K: “Heyyy! Let’s go girl, we got lots to do!”

<K takes M to a carnival. They walk through, eating oversized caramel corn.>

K: “So you’re a mom now? Woah, right?”

M: “Yeah, it’s been a lot. It’s a big transition and it’s hard to feel like I know what I’m doing.”

K: “And you are having some trouble with body image? You think you look fat.”

M: “well, I mean, yeah…” <she looks flustered>

K: “that’s why I brought you here, to the House of Mirrors! You just have to walk through and learn to accept yourself.”

M: “… seriously?”

Karamo, a man carved from mahogany and psychotherapy

<M enters funhouse mirrors. She warps tall, wide, with huge eyes. The camera makes this extra unflattering.>

K: “See? I have taught you everything in 15 minutes!”

<M gives a tepid smile. She is more self-conscious than before.>

<Tan appears, mysteriously. He is wearing what looks to be a neon green garbage bag. This is “chic.”>

T: “Karamo has you all ready for me? Nothing like seeing yourself in mirrors to get psyched for trying on clothes, right my luv?”

M: “Uh, sure. Can we go?”

<cut to a Fancy Store.>

T: “Ok, so have you considered not dressing like a pile of dirty laundry? Let’s get you in some actual clothes.”

<M comes out wearing high pumps and excessive animal print>

T: “Gorg, you look gorg! How do you feel?”

M: “…I hate this…”

Tan, a man with more clothes than most department stores

<producers rush over to M, panicked. A whispered conversation ensues, reminding M that she has signed a contract promising to like what Tan gives her. He is Not To Be Ruffled.>

<cut back to M, in a new style. In a dry flat voice:> “Wooow, this is so meee. How diiid you do it? <she looks pained>

<hasty transition to Jonathan>

<Jonathan fluffs M’s hair, which was possibly washed three days ago> “So like, tell me, what we’re you trying to do here?”

M: “Umm, I just never know what to do with my hair so I give up and put it in a pony.”

J, fabulously: “You have, like, such great foundation here, we are just going to jjuxz it up a bit, ok?”

<Jonathan works their hair care magic and introduces the concept of makeup.>

<J turns the chair around for the reveal. M looks like a supermodel, somehow. She will never be able to replicate this look.>

Jonathan, actual wizard

<transition back to the house. The boys are outside, cooing. M attempts to strut. She is blindfolded and taken inside.>

<reveal. How is now bigger and is decorated like a Pier 1 store before bankruptcy. M is astonished.>

B: “So your house was great but it had textured walls, so I just burned it down and built you a new one with more rooms in three days’ time. I put up wallpaper from my brand in the foyer so you’d remember me.”

M: “OMG Bobby you do the most work out of anyone here. Karamo just took me to a carnival and spent $15. He wouldn’t even buy me a snocone. You are the greatest!”

Bobby is an artiste

<the boys gather in for the summary. Everyone cuddles. M gushes.>

M: “Wow. Thank you so much. I never thought this would happen because, while I not together enough to care for myself alone, I am also not in terrible shape. It was like writing Queer Eye fanfic was going to be the only way I would be close to you. But here you are, and here we all are in my brand-new house that Bobby built.” <close-up on Bobby, who blushes modestly> “I’ve learned so much from you and I am so grateful you exist to brighten people’s lives—especially mine!”

<closing shot of happy family, failing to make croissants while awkwardly waddling in two-small heels. The boys are attractive, as usual.>

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All The Things No One Warned Me About Breastfeeding

Look, this is an embarrassing topic. To be honest, I don’t much like even thinking about breastfeeding because it makes me feel a bit weird and squeamish. But I also wish someone had told me these things, so in the interest of warning others and possibly engendering some empathy for new breastfeeding mothers, I thought I’d write about it.

But that means if you feel like workin’ boob talk makes you uncomfortable, please skip this post! See you at my next book review or something happy and fluffy.

Gross baby feeding talk incoming. Definitely TMI.

Last chance to bail…

Comic by Victoria Bolduc
Comic by Victoria Bolduc. Extremely accurate.

Ok. So breastfeeding. There are a lot of Opinions about breastfeeding, about whether or not you are a good enough mother or if your baby won’t be Einstein if you don’t, a lot of shade gets thrown. But it was pretty hard to actually learn anything useful before I started.

I tried. I am a big research person. I read Emily Oster’s books, Cribsheet and Expecting Better (highly recommend), The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (a La Leche League book, do not recommend, hated it), and lots of online articles. I watched the Babies documentary series on Netflix (lovely, but mostly about babies and less about parents, duh). And I attended a two-hour hospital class on breastfeeding, which was 70% about why we should breastfeed (and wasn’t factually correct, often), 10% how, 10% about breastfeeding complications, and 10% about how to pump (with 5% of that being totally bogus ways to ask for accommodations). (That class made me real mad.)

My point is, I tried to be prepared. I bought the things. I read the books. I wish I had known more. Here is what I have learned, in the months I’ve been breastfeeding my kid.

  • It hurts. Like, way more than I was led to believe. The lactation nurse was like “yeah, it’ll curl your toes!” And that wasn’t warning enough. It hurts about as much as my cat when he kneads the bare skin of my leg; about as much as someone coming up and pinching and twisting a bit of your arm. Except on a very sensitive area. It hurts for every feeding for the first two or three months, gradually getting better as your baby figures out eating. There is nothing you can do for the pain. You are expected to just tough it out. It also, apparently, hurts all over again for each baby, because it has to do with both your body learning what to do and with baby figuring out the mechanics of eating.
  • Not feeding the baby also hurts. Especially at first, your hormones are running wild and your body is just churning out milk, and your boobs just fill with milk. They can get engorged. You end up with rock-hard boulder-boobs that just throb.
  • Sometimes it hurts just randomly. Even now after several months of practice, sometimes I get a shooting pain, like being stabbed with a needle. No apparent reason. Fun!
  • You can leak. Some people don’t. Some people only do if they get engorged. I am one of the “lucky” ones who just leaks randomly all the time. There are these little absorbent pads to stuff in your bra to keep your shirts from being ruined. They inflate like beach balls when they get wet. I have to wear them all the time. My baby sleeps through the night, which is great for my sleep and mental health—except I sometimes wake up in a totally soggy bed. Sometimes it feels like someone poured a half-gallon of milk on me. It is gross and dispiriting. The only advice is to wear a better bra to sleep in. Great.
  • Your breasts can get clogged. If you don’t feed baby enough, or wear the wrong clothes, or just whenever, you can get a clogged duct. This was mentioned in the class, but I didn’t know what to expect. It’s a rock-hard limo under the skin, and if you don’t get it out, you can get an infection called mastitis, which is exactly like the flu but with red streaks on your boob. So to avoid mastitis, you have to get the clog out, mostly by trying to put enough heat on it to melt it, but also by squeezing and/or vibration. And when it’s finally gone, you feel deeply bruised even if there are no marks.
  • The first month of a baby’s life, you have to feed them at least every three hours, around the clock. And the three-hour timer begins when the baby starts eating (and a single feeding session can last 40 minutes at first. They really aren’t good at it.). So this means, at first, you are constantly either feeding the baby or about to feed the baby. It is exhausting.
  • The nurses and LLL lie to you. Breastfeeding is not free. You need nursing bras, and lanolin cream, and a pump (and extra parts!), and new shirts that work with breastfeeding, and and and… Sure, in theory you don’t have to have anything, but in reality people are still spending money on breastfeeding. And don’t discount the time and emotional energy costs!
  • Breastmilk is sold to you as the “perfect” food for your baby and you are told you always have enough. Definitely not universally true. Even putting aside baby food allergies (which make the mom stop eating all kinds of fundamental foods like eggs or wheat), you are encouraged to give baby vitamins. If it is perfect, why do you need to add vitamins?! As for always having enough, I have not yet encountered a mom how has not had, at some point, to supplement with formula. This is presented as basically failing, but it is almost universal.
  • You don’t have to lose your sense of modesty. I understand a lot of women do, but I still have no interest in being topless around others. I use a cover or leave the room. It’s your body and you get to decide how comfortable you are with showing it, even if you are using it to feed a baby.

Put all this together, and breastfeeding is just hard. When you first start, you are exhausted and in some kind of pain, and have no idea what you are doing, and it hurts. You’re told to just keep doing it, despite running on fumes.

I don’t write any of this to discourage breastfeeding at all. I am glad I have been able to feed my baby adequately, give him the nutrition he needs, and cuddle him a lot. But I don’t think I was given the tools to be successful. By not telling people these things, we a) make the early struggle seem like it is their personal fault and responsibility (if breastfeeding isn’t “magical”) and b) limit others’ empathy for someone going through a challenging time.

I think I would have been less stressed and anxious had I known what to expect. I could have been easier on myself or at least been prepared to change my sheets frequently. I would have had a better understanding of what is normal versus my own struggle.

So that’s my advice to new parents: take it easy on yourself. There is no one way to be successful. And talk to others in a new parent group; they’ll talk about everything, and you’ll learn from real experiences. And good luck.


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Animal Crossing: Real Life

Like everyone, it seems, I’ve been bitten by the Animal Crossing: New Horizons bug (where IS my net?). It has such a simple, peaceful format, with nice, achievable bite-size goals. It’s so pleasant.

It was about when I realized I was spending more time digital gardening than real-world gardening that I wondered, why not?

Let’s try to make real life as nice as our islands.

So here you go: AC achievements for your real life. Have fun and make your world a little better. Print them out and put a stamp next to each achievement as you go. You can even give yourself “nook miles” to spend on yourself!

  • Eat a piece of fruit
  • Plant a tree
  • Plant native flowers
  • Plant a shrub
  • Take a photo
  • Go fishing
  • Hold a celebration
  • DIY
    • a wreath
    • A bench
    • Artwork
    • A gift
  • Customize furniture
  • Send a letter to a friend
  • Give someone a present
  • Buy shares (or invest in your retirement plan
  • Research fossils
  • Google an insect you find outside
  • Tidy up
  • Change your wardrobe
    • Dress in something spooky
    • Dress in something fancy
    • Dress in something colorful
    • Try on a hat
  • Pick up litter
  • Call a friend just to say hi
  • Reach a savings goal
  • Decorate your room
  • Decorate your neighborhood (with chalk)
  • Go for a walk
  • Collect seashells/leaves
  • Catch a butterfly (and then release it)
  • Share a recipe
  • Shop at a local business
  • Rearrange your furniture
  • Buy something that will be shipped to you
  • Dig up a rock
  • Put money in the bank/grow your money
  • Pay off a loan
  • Design a pattern
  • Plan a trip somewhere new
  • Make every day feel as cozy as a day in Animal Crossing!

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Paint-by-Numbers Creativity

A ghastly paint by numbers canvas

I like to craft — I have a bookcase and two storage stacks overflowing with craft supplies of all sorts — and I like to get gifts I can “do.” But because I’m a craft generalist at heart, it can be tough to find a craft.

I got this paint by number set at Christmas and immediately sort of hated it. First, it’s a paint by number. Who does that past age five? I can do real art. There’s no creativity in paint by number; this was even the point of that movie Mona Lisa Smile. You’re just following orders at that point. Plus all the numbers show through when you’re done, so you can’t pass it off as your own work anyway; everyone knows you’re just filling it in.

Second, it’s a bizarre semi-abstract painting of four cats. The little paint pots are mediocre quality, and half the instructions are in Chinese, the rest in computer-mistranslated English. And the canvas is pretty big, like poster sized if you were planning on displaying it for everyone to see your definitely-not-paint-by-number artwork (wink wink).

So when I got it, I kind of laughed, wrote the thank you note, and set it aside.

But I had a baby, and then maternity leave ended, and the world ground to a halt because of zombies covid-19.

As my stress levels climbed, I started to feel like a tube of toothpaste, being squeezed dry of the creative energies I just assumed were an essential pet of myself. I felt desiccated and hollow. And I found myself thinking about that paint by number set. And eventually, I decided to stop berating myself for doing something embarrassing, and I got out the kit.

It’s hypnotic. I don’t have to think. I can let the overworked stress hamster in my brain run itself out while my hands just quietly and methodically fill in the voids. And I felt accomplished, while everything else was spinning out of control. I couldn’t control that, but I could find and color in every little blob marked 12.

And little by little, the ugly incomprehensible blobs started to turn into a picture. The act is soothing, and I will have something visible to show I had done something. It is lots of little victories.

I’m nearly done with it now. It still looks moderately hideous, partially because the cats swirl into each other and are garishly red, blue, and yellow and partially because I didn’t do a great job filling in the blobs. I probably won’t display it on the wall.

But I’m proud of it. It shows I kept going. I’m still here, still doing creative things, things are being created. And I can take some of that pressure off.

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Review: You

You by Caroline Kepnes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Smashingly well-written, with the ability to pivot from stereotypically romantic to downright creepy within just a line. I really enjoyed it — but honestly, I couldn’t finish it. It wasn’t the book. It’s the crazy time. It is hard to read anything right now, but especially a book which erodes my faith in humanity and for which I know the major plot points (I was introduced to the book via the TV show on Netflix). I picked up this book to study its form, and for that, it is outstanding. It is delightfully twisted.
But I just don’t have capacity for delightfully twisted right now. I need cozy and sweet. Simple, perhaps fantastical. But I don’t want the world to feel as normal-but-dangerous as Kepnes makes Joe. Yes, I’m breaking up with this book, but it’s not you book, it’s me. It’s the world right now. It’s just not the right time for us to be together. May you have better luck out there in the hands of someone else, someone who can really appreciate you.

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Stay Safe. Watch Out for Zombies.

To avoid the zombies, it is important that you stay inside and stay away from other people. It’s spread from close distances, so stay at least six feet away, from strangers, from friends, from family you don’t live with. Wash your hands; zombies hate clean hands. Plan ahead.

Two weeks ago, I was anxious about a lot of things. I was just returning to work after maternity leave, and taking on new work responsibilities while also trying to figure out schedules and how to feed my baby. I was so stressed I broke into hives the second day.

I’m not stressed about those things anymore.

Or rather, I am, but that damned coronavirus has made me and everyone else reevaluate our fears. Now I’m afraid to go out. I’m afraid of the economic consequences of not going out, both for my family and the community as a whole. I’m afraid for my parents. I’m afraid for my baby, who is so small, who must be protected.

I feel guilty, because at first, when my daycare was closed for a week because of the pandemic, I was happy. It meant one more week of my baby not being away from the family. One more week we could watch for his first laugh, one more week to help him grow strong. One more week until I had to pick up that anxiety again.

Now it’s been closed for two, and will be closed for at least two more. Now the virus feels like it is swarming my life. Now I feel afraid almost all the time. It’s not some far-off possible fear; it’s pounding at the glass doors of the grocery store.

I’m having trouble reckoning with the virus. It’s invisible, it could be anywhere, and there is nothing I personally can do to fight it. So, recently, I’ve been worrying about zombies.

Zombies are a nice, healthy, irrational fear. Everyone knows they aren’t real. But they are visible, so you’ll know if you see one. They are something you can wrestle with, fight off, but it’s better if you can just avoid them. If your friend is a zombie, you know what to do. Everyone can be heroic in a zombie movie. And most of them end with hope.

It works out that many of the rules for zombies are the same as for an invisible, highly transmittable virus, but zombies are laughable to be afraid of, making them a nice bite-sized fear.

Stay safe out there. Watch out for zombies.

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Review: Old Man’s War

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wonderful modern sci-fi that feels classic — The Things They Carried set in a future where galactic soldiers fight wars with different alien races in every battle. Perhaps the anti-Star Trek: in this book, Earth is stagnated, and while space is widely discovered, every other species is out to get us in an alien-eat-alien world. It’s brutal, and the soldiers have to try to hold tight to their humanity.

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Review: Princeps’ Fury

Princeps’ Fury by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought I had read this book a long time ago; turns out I was definitely mistaken, or at least I’d forgotten how great it was! This book really deepened the Codex Alera lore and did a great job “zooming out” on the rest of the world outside of Alera. It’s got military tactics, sea voyages, and cleverness aplenty. I highly enjoyed it!

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I Miss the Anonymous Internet

I can’t stop thinking about this article in The Atlantic about a group of women who met online and became friends in an Internet forum, eventually meeting in real-life and staying friends.

I miss that kind of internet. I missed the MySpace phase, but had both a blogger and a LiveJournal–under pseudonyms, of course. I loved that they were journals, and it felt sort of secretive and powerful that they were also available for real people to read. But eventually real people I knew were reading those, and an element of self-censorship. At least one college friend forgot he had told people about his online journal and made some awkward confessions with bad ramifications.

But then I found my way to semi-private Internet forums. There, I could be myself (or not), and talk about the things weighing on my heart. I could be honest. And the forum was moderated, which, although it led to a good amount of complaining, meant that overall the conversation was positive. People were friendly. Relationships were forged. It was a place to connect–while staying safe and protected. You only had to reveal as much as you wished.

The downside was that others looked down on you for having internet friends. You couldn’t go around telling people you spent all your time talking to strangers. You’d just tell the real-world people in your life, “a friend of mine…”, leaving out the pertinent detail that you don’t know this friend’s real name, location, or face. You know them by an affectionate but goofy-sounding username.

I even got so far as making a friend in another country. He invited me over–and I visited him in England.

(I told my friends he was a pen pal, which is about 80% true.)

But that kind of community doesn’t seem to exist now. Or, at least, if it does, I’m not part of it. Facebook and Google, and to a lesser degree, Twitter, are the big behemoths in the Internet, and they decided to make the push for transparency. Real names became the mandate (once, when I forgot my password, Facebook required that I upload a copy of my drivers’ license in order to unlock my damned account.)

But with that kind of transparency comes a loss. There are things you don’t want to broadcast to your whole network. So you self-censor, show less than everything. In a world where everything you say it shown to everyone you really know, you say less and less of the whole truth.

Sure, transparency in social media seemed like it would be good, but in lieu of the ability to wear our masks, we have made our lives look like the masks. I’ve made and kept far fewer friends with those kind of deep connections since the transparent social media era–even as my friends list and Twitter followers burgeoned.

I miss those small, safe pockets of unfamiliarity.

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Review: Year One

Year One (Chronicles of The One, #1)Year One by Nora Roberts
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“Well, that’s unexpected.”
That was the running theme for this whole book, for me. I’m not a typical romance reader, but this was romance/thriller/apocalypse and came highly recommended, and I’m glad I gave it a shot! The plot twists were like riding an old-school rollercoaster; you’d think you knew where things were going, then whipla, you’re onto something else. That’s what is both good and bad about this book.

I love the concepts here. A curse/plague spreads globally, very fast, mutating so scientists can’t get a grapple on a cure. At the same time, magic starts to spread through the land, creating beauty and power in new and mysterious ways.

Great premise! So much potential. I loved the big ideas here, but then–maybe because I came to this as a fan of apocalypses rather than romances–I had a lot of pragmatic questions that were brushed aside. It also felt like the pacing was weird; things were slow at the beginning, but toward the end of the story I felt like things were being “said” not “shown,” in a much more creator-speaking-to-reader-just-go-with-it kinda way. I get that some of it is supposed to be jarring–it’s an apocalypse! But it sometimes felt like Roberts didn’t feel like really committing to the ick of the storyline, so she’d sort of zoom in and out to focus on the bits she cared about.

I also felt like the pregnancy plots would be really annoying to any pregnant woman or mother of infants. There’s a woman with three infants who never so much as blinks at having to keep them all fed in the middle of a disease-filled wasteland. There’s personal strength and then there’s that insanity.

A lot of the magic also tended toward the deus-ex-machina level; boom, magic fixed that problem, move on, let’s not stop to think about the fact that this woman just sprouted wings. And, as a fantasy reader who is used to “elf” and “fairy” being a literal race/species, it was a little weird for humans to start describing themselves as these without any explanation whatsoever (at the very least, I’d have liked a clarification: are we talking Christmas elf or Lord of the Rings elf here? It matters!).

Also, she spells magic “magick” the whole time and that drove me nuts.

But I liked the story, broadly speaking, and I hope it’s an entrypoint into fantasy and dystopian fiction for the romance-lovers out there. Unfortunately, the dissonance on some of the ideas was a little too much for me, so this is the last I plan on reading of this series.

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