Thursday, June 22, 2017

Powerful Places

I feel like I've been on the go constantly.  So much so that I was literally in the middle of blogging about being busy last week when I had to leave to go somewhere, and never even finished the blog!

We just got back on Sunday from our "honeymoon," which was really just a whirlwind weekend away to Wisconsin Dells and House on the Rock.  A "mini-moon," if you will.  (Which also either sounds like something entirely inappropriate, or a slightly momentous lunar event.)

I've wanted to take Mark there ever since I went with Jessica, Sandi, and Kim several years ago.  I thought it was the most magical place I'd ever been to, and still generally speak of it in a wistful, awed tone of voice.

Plus, we're watching American Gods (omg it's so good) right now, so it only seemed fitting to go (even if they didn't actually get to House on the Rock this season).  We also wanted to go somewhere we haven't been together, and somewhere we didn't know anyone.  Wisconsin fit the bill pretty well.

The thing about us is that was really suck at vacations.

We do.  We actually kindof dread going.  We're overbooked introverts, after all.  We pounce on things like "free time" and "staying home."  So the idea of taking that precious free time, getting in a car, and paying to stay somewhere that's not home?  It's not the most appealing, to be honest.

But, we pry ourselves away from our couch and our comfort zone anyway.  Because, well, adventure is out there, right?

In American Gods, Thursday explains to Shadow that tourist traps are "places of power."  They draw people in, without reason or explanation.  And that's exactly what House on the Rock is.  It's unexplainable, indefinable. My mom has asked me for years what House on the Rock is, and I still don't have a good answer for her. 

It's somewhere between a waking dream and a nightmare.  It's a hallucination.  It's a curated obsession.  It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. 

And, best of all, it doesn't try to.  There's nothing else in the world like it.  And that's why people go.  That's why we went.  It's why I've been twice, and why I would go again.

It was, in spite of our general trepidation about vacations, a very good trip.  We stayed in a kitschy motel in the Wisconsin Dells complete with a hot tub (and a shower that was probably from the 70s).  We ate at touristy places and did touristy things like take pictures and buy cheese and souvenirs and take an "old-timey" photo.

We spent the whole weekend alone together (which was a huge step up from my first honeymoon that we basically spent with friends) and did exactly as we pleased.

And we returned exhausted and with plans to go back in the future, Kaylee in tow.

Maybe vacations aren't so bad, particularly if you're with the right person.

Just don't expect us to go on another one anytime soon.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Angry Vintage Girl (Again)

I've gotten spoiled.  I really have.

Because I know that terrible male behavior exists.

I've experienced it, after all.

But I haven't experienced it much lately.

I blame my amazing group of friends (which includes countless awesome and feminist men).

I blame my introverted nature (which has led me into more and more fully being a homebody).

I blame my husband (who I actually love enough to want to spend my time with, therefore not being out on my own as much).

I blame my job and being a stepmom and our new life as homeowners (which means that we always have something to do and I don't go out as much).

Because it's all combined to make me a little oblivious to the world outside the pleasant and safe bubble I so often live in.

And I admit it, I can be a little oblivious all on my own.  Mark usually has to tell me that I've just been checked out, because I'm so often lost in my own little world.

So you know the situation has to be pretty drastic when I notice male attention directed towards me.

It can be the drunk guy at a wedding who told me I "didn't have to break his heart" when I turned him down for a dance (because, well, I was working the damn wedding, not to mention that I wouldn't want to dance with him anyway).

It can be the slightly too aggressive "compliment" from a stranger.

Or it can be walking through Walmart last Saturday night.

You guys.  It was bad.  I could actually feel the looks.  My skin crawled with them.  I could literally see the male gaze blatantly following me as I walked by.  And I did my best to ignore the guys who kept trying to catch my eye and talk to me when all I wanted to do was to be left alone to do my god damn shopping and get the hell back home.

It was more than annoying.  It was infuriating, so much so that I practically exploded when I got home and Mark asked me what was wrong.  (Kaylee told me I should have gone to Aldi, and the kid probably isn't wrong.)

I love dressing the way I do.  I love wearing vintage clothes.  I love wearing heels.  I love having bright red hair and looking different than most people.

But God, if I don't sometimes wish that I wanted to blend in.

No.  That's not true.

I don't want to blend in.

What I want, what I wish, is that all men could be like my friends, or like my husband.  I wish that all men could pay a compliment without a complementary leer.  I wish I didn't feel like I needed a male escort just to walk through a store without being harassed.  I wish that I didn't feel the need to carry around a TigerLady defense tool just in case I get followed to my car one day, or worse.  I wish that I didn't feel like the way I dress invites the wrong kind of attention.

Because the way I dress is nobody's business but my own.  If I want to wear heels through Walmart, that shouldn't mean that I should expect and accept the intruding stares.  If I want to wear a dress most days, then so what?

I don't know what the solution is, besides playing the long game of hoping that future generations of men will be better, will want to be better.

Because guys.  This is pathetic.

I know it's possible.  I've seen whole communities filled with men who can both enjoy and respect women.  I know that better is possible.

But I also know that worse is out there.

I'm holding out hope for better.  It's the only thing I know how to do.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

No Way Out

It's our two-month anniversary today, or, as Mark says, "Day 61 of the hostage situation."

People have asked me how married life is, and, really?


It's great.

I mean, come on.  I've got a mostly-willing hostage!  What could be wrong with that?

But, in all honesty, I love being married to my best friend.  I love it even on the days where everything feels off, or we have fights, or I cry, or everything goes wrong.  Married life is still, overall, really really great.  But our relationship and our life together was already great before we were married, so that helps.

Little known, shocking fact: marriage doesn't fix a relationship.  I should know.  It didn't fix my first relationship.

And, another shocking fact?  Marriage is work.  Really fucking hard work.  It's not all breakfasts in bed and making out in the kitchen and dinner on the table when you get home from work.

And it's even not the same as dating, even if you were already mostly living together.

Marriage requires daily maintenance.  It requires talking (which I'm not always very good at), and trust, and more vulnerability than you knew was possible.  It means someone is almost always there, for the bad days when you hate the world and everything in it, along with the good days.  You have to consider them, and you want to consider them (even when they tell you not to).

Marriage means you're going to get your feelings hurt, and you're going to find out that you unknowingly hurt theirs.

It means there is someone to willingly do the dishes for you, and someone you willingly rotate laundry for.

For me, it means waking up to coffee.  It means a partner-in-crime.  It means playing just one more game of Minion Trouble (or Chutes and Ladders, or Sorry) with Kaylee so that he can have a few minutes of down time.  It means he gives Kaylee a bath so that I can have a few minutes of down time.  It means someone who knows me better than anyone else possibly could.

It means planning a last-minute birthday party for Kaylee, joint-cleaning the whole house, and cooking dinner for 9 people.

It means eating Fazoli's and Imos on a fairly regular basis, even though I hate both.

It means we go see the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, because I have an endless love for Johnny Depp.


Two months into our marriage. (Plus fourteen years total of knowing each other.)  At this point of my first marriage, I'm pretty sure I already knew it was not going to be a good one.  He'd already "stopped trying" (key words for failure if there ever were any).  We were both depressed.  I couldn't see a way out, even though I desperately wanted to find one.

I don't want a way out this time.  I want a way to make it last forever.

And I'm doing my best to make sure that it does.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Uniquely Portable Magic

I know I said I was officially an Illinois resident two weeks ago... but now it's really, really official.

I unpacked my books.

(As Mark's dad said, "I guess that means she's staying, huh?"  And, well, yes.  It does.)

It was about time, right?  We moved my books over with the first load of boxes (okay, my 20+ boxes of books were the first load of boxes) back in February.

I've been without my books since February, guys.  I don't know how I did it.

Actually, that's a lie.  I know exactly how I did it.  I bought more books, obviously.

And I got a library card.  That helped.  If, by helped, you mean that I brought home a gigantic pile of books that I can't possiby read in three weeks.

But, over this past week, I methodically unpacked my books, put them back in order (alphabetical by author's last name, as God intended) and loaded up my bookshelves.

There are truly few things I find as purely and thoroughly satisfying as organizing my books.  I know, I'm a freak.  

I don't care.

Mark called it a "ceremony," and I suppose it is, a finely honed process that I've practiced throughout the years, with every move, with every life change (and with every major book purchase).  Book by book, shelf by shelf, until everything is just right.

Books are, quite possibly, my one true love.  They've been around longer than any of my other friends, certainly longer than any of my romantic relationships.  They've been a source of comfort, of escape, and of familiarity.  I bring books with me everywhere.  I carted them back and forth to college (well, not all of them, but more than I could possibly need).  I moved them to our campus apartment at seminary.  I moved them to the old apartment in South City (and then moved them within that apartment after my ex left).

I bring them along on vacation.  I always have at least one in my purse.  I've cried with them, laughed with them, and fallen asleep with them.  I horde them and loan them out and always, always want more of them.  I pick up books like abandoned pennies on the sidewalk, tucking them away for a rainy day.

There's a great Stephen King quote that says "books are a uniquely portable magic," and I very much believe it.  They have great power, as I said, to comfort and relax me.  When I had my back surgery at age ten, I constantly asked my parents to read to me, to take me away from the hospital bed and the IVs and the sterile cacophony of the hospital itself.  Together, we worked our way through the Chronicles of Narnia, and I drifted in and out of that make-believe world on a trippy ride of morphine-fueled imagination.

Not much has changed, minus the morphine.  I still rely on books, only now I don't need them to escape.

Now? My books feel like... well, like home.  

And, even better, they make our house feel that much more like home for me.  We're still struggling to move into a place that has still not been entirely moved out of (and, honestly, it's starting to stress me out), so every little bit helps.  Seeing my books, in my bookshelves, lined up along the wall?

That helps quite a bit.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Wicked Stepmothers Day

Is there such a thing as Wicked Stepmother's Day?  Because I think there should be.

I know, in theory, that Mother's Day is supposed to encompass mothers of all kinds: birth, step, adoptive, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, aunts, godmothers, etc.  And so, according to that theory, this past Sunday was my first Mother's Day (outside of the one year when one of my foster dogs "gave" me a hand mixer).

I even got a free meal and free cheesecake at Pasta House out of the deal.

But, honestly?  I felt like some kind of imposter.

I'm not a mom.  Not really.  I happened to marry the love of my life, who happened to have a kid.  That doesn't make me a mom.

I joined this kid's life like some people join the army midway through the war.  I haven't been down in the trenches since the beginning, slogging through the muck and dirty diapers.  No, I joined up once the tides had turned and potty training battles had already been won.  I got here just in time for games and adventures and crafts.  (And the occasional meltdown.)

I'm not the first line of defense.  I'm not even the second.  I'm back there in the reserves, just in case backup is needed.

But, you say, you're there, Ashley.  You took on a role that no one forced you to take.  You Google mom questions like, "how do you a get a kid to stop sucking their thumb?"  You stand in the middle of the living room while drinking a glass of wine with a kid wrapped around your leg.  You wake up to tiny feet against your back.  You eat Fazoli's even though you loathe it.  You play Chutes and Ladders ten times in a row.

And that's true.

It is.

All of it.

But, I don't know.  I still don't know if I feel like a "stepmom."  Maybe it's that I've already been around for a few years, just as "Ashley" and nothing more.  The transition into living in the same house on the weekends even happened before I was officially her stepmom.  So there's been very little major shifting of roles or expectations.  I'm still Ashley.  I just also happen to now be legally bound to her dad.

I want her to be happy.  I want her to enjoy our time together, and to like me, and to make good choices.  I want her to be as well-adjusted as humanly possible.  I want to figure out the best way to make all that happen (hence the Googling).

I also love that she writes notes for "Daddy Ashley," and draws us pictures, and wants to hang out with me and play games and read books.  I love that she loves when we match.  I love that she picks out what pin I'm wearing on the weekends.

I guess that's the important part.  It's not the name that matters, it's the intention and the actions.  I would tell anyone else that, except when it comes to myself.

So, I guess I am a stepmom.  If you insist.

And maybe, just maybe, I'm not that wicked of one.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Come On and Feel the Illinoise

It's completely official: I'm once again an Illinoisian.  An Illinioisan?  An Illinosan?

(Fun fact: all of those terms are technically correct, though I think my preference is Illinoisian, for the sheer fact that there are a ridiculous number of I's involved.)

To be fair, my citizenship transfer was mostly official a few weeks ago, when I got my new driver's license.  But now it's really really official, since my car is now an Illinoisian as well.

All this after a very unfortunate incident on Tuesday involving my getting pulled over in East St Louis, discovering my Missouri plates were actually expired, getting a ticket, and the police officer then driving off while still in possession of my drivers license and insurance card.

Yeah.  It was a great day.

... Not really.

So.  Yesterday I left early, went to the DMV, and got new Illinois license plates (for the low low cost of $200 plus that pesky expired plates ticket).  I even put them on my car myself.

I admit, it was a weird feeling.  After all, it's been ten years since I had Illinois plates.  The drivers license was one thing, but the license plates seem somehow more official.  I don't know if it's because I had to physically remove the very old and very battered plates and replace them with ones so new they practically sparkle.  The whole car looks different and unfamiliar with them on.

For years, I called myself an Illinois ex-pat.  Even though I was born in Germany, Illinois had always been my home.  I grew up in Collinsville (notable only for the World's Largest Catsup Bottle and a remarkable absence of anything interesting to do besides hang out at Denny's).  I went to college in Chicago.

I didn't grow up with dreams of leaving home for the great unknown.  I'm a solidly Midwestern girl.  I like the slower pace.  I like the smaller towns.  I like that traffic isn't a complete nightmare (at least... not all the time?).

Even though I've been all over the country, I've never once wanted to move outside of the Midwest.  I don't even want to move outside the St Louis area, which is, thus far, as far as I've wandered from home.

A lot of people seem to have a lot of disdain for St. Louis.  I've never understood that.  It's a great town, not too big and not too small, filled with tons of things to do.  It's not quite bustling, but certainly not pokey.  There are a multitude of different neighborhoods, ethnic food galore, and we even have an IKEA now (like anything else matters?).  There's a free zoo, free museums, festivals, great parks, an awesome baseball team, and highways that are continually under construction (and often all at the same time!).

Okay, maybe that last one isn't exactly a plus, but it is strangely endearing all the same.

It's all so very Midwestern-y, isn't it?  There's gooey butter cake and toasted ravioli (which I actually despise).  There's the World's Largest Catsup Bottle.  There's farmland and county fairs and random French names that no one pronounces correctly.  You can have every single season all in the same week.

It is, in a word, home.  For all it's quirks and annoyances (Why are there no left turns on Gravois?  Why are Illinois drivers so terrible?  When will Kingshighway reopen?), I've never wanted to be anywhere else for very long.

They say home is where the heart is, and if I'm being honest, mine has always been here.  It is most definitely here now, as the main reason why I moved back across the river to join the other Illinoisians in our ridiculously corrupt and broke state.

And so the ex-pat has come home.  It wasn't a long way to travel, even though it took me 10 years to get here.

Not surprised?  Neither am I.

After all, there's no place like home.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Pretty Vintage Nerd

I've been a nerd for most of my life.

I'm not sure if I could have helped it if I tried.  I grew up watching Star Trek and Star Wars with my dad (an equal-opportunity nerd, like myself).  We watched X-Files.  I read the Star Wars books that my dad owned and dragged home countless more from the library.  I had a Star Wars birthday party when Episode I came out.  I also wore a Padawan braid for part of that same year as well.  (I know, I know, it's positively shocking that I was single for so long.)  I wrote fanfiction.

Honestly, I think I was part of the last generation of kids where being a nerd wasn't cool.  And really, even if it had been cool, I probably still wouldn't have qualified.  Because... well, you read that last paragraph, right?

Along with being an introvert, being a fairly obsessive and fangirlish nerd is part of my very being.  It's practically in my blood.  When I like something, I really, really like it.  I write about it.  I watch it repeatedly.  I collect items from it.  I learn trivia about it.  

And I really like Star Wars.  I love everything about it, with the notable exceptions of Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christiansen, Jar Jar Binks, and most of George Lucas' poor decisions.  I love the lore of it.  I love the improbability of it.  I love the music and the characters (see above exceptions).  I love the books.  I love the (up-to-now) strictly maintained canon.  I love the pure nerdiness of it, and of all my fellow Star Wars nerds.  I love that rare fellowship when you recognize a fellow (probably equally awkward) nerd out in the wild.

I do appreciate that that being a nerd is "cool" now.  I'm not jealous of all the young nerds out there who essentially get a free pass to skip the uncool label.  I love that it's perfectly acceptable for us all to come out, blinking, into the sun (for short, well-sunscreened, periods of time) and to shyly complement each other's badges of nerd-dom.  It doesn't actually make me cool, by any means, but it's nice to have the nerdy company.

And lately, I've been more in touch with my nerdy roots.  I read a Star Wars book for the first time since high school.  And I haven't been content with merely buying geeky T-shirts for my equally geeky husband.  Instead, I've been incorporating my nerdiness into my vintage style.

As it turns out, "nerd" and "vintage" are not mutually exclusive.  And why should they be?  After all, many sub- and counter-cultures tend to find each other and band together for warmth.  As I've learned, dressing vintage is a way of expressing myself.  Expressing what I love with what what I wear is really just the next step.

My pin/jewelry obsession is to blame thank, really.  It's such a subtle, stylish way to declare to the world that yes, I am a huge geek because yes, that is an AT-AT necklace.  Thanks for noticing.

I also have a few nerdy T-shirts of my own when I really can't resist.

It's not just Star Wars, of course.  It's Harry Potter and Firefly and Doctor Who and Game of Thrones and Pirate of the Caribbean, and... I could go on, but I think you get the point.

The point is: it's a whole new world for nerds now.  We're popular.  We're cool.  We're stylish.  We're even (gasp!) attractive.  We're fetishized and idolized.

There are burlesque shows specifically catered to geeks. There are dresses covered in the TARDIS, or in Daleks.   There are conventions all over the country, for every imaginable fandom.

Yes, we geeks and nerds are still awkward as hell and can bore you in no time with obscure facts and fan theories, but gosh darn it, we can look good while we do it.

It's safe to say that I've grown up quite a bit from being the teenage girl skulking through the hallways with a Padawan braid.  I'm the slightly-self-proclaimed Pretty Vintage Girl, after all, and hopefully will be for the foreseeable future.

But fandoms were my first love, and you never forget your first love.

And because of that love I know I will always be a nerd, be it pretty, vintage, or otherwise.