February 27, 2011

Life on the Couch: The terror of grocery shopping.

One of the aspects of my particular brand of anxiety is the conviction that I don't know how to do certain things unless given explicit instructions. One of the Great Mystery Skills I'm positive I don't have is cooking. And mixed up with this lack of cooking confidence is the terror of grocery shopping.

Not that I break into a cold sweat whenever I walk into my local Cub Foods... what happens instead is a sort of mental block as I wander through the aisles. I stare at all the food, all the varieties and brands and options, and I have absolutely no idea what to buy.

A typical shopping trip takes around twenty minutes. I don't even bother trying to make sense of what I'm looking at; I just zero in on the familiar stuff and load up my cart. I wander straight past the produce and meat aisles without a second glance and stock up on frozen dinners and Doritos, Pizza Rolls and lunch meat.

Then there are times when I'm motivated to eat healthier, to consume fresh vegetables and meals I can't microwave; when I decide I'm going to try buying Real Food. This is when the trips are much longer, becoming a two-hour odyssey. Instead of angling straight for the freezer section, I push my cart resolutely up and down every aisle. I stare at all the items I normally pass by and I wonder how I can take these things and make them into the kind of meals that average people make every day.

At the end of the two hours, my cart is always filled with frozen dinners, and lunch meat, and Pizza Rolls, and maybe a bag of baby carrots. I'm exhausted and dejected and can only hope I've managed to put together enough meals to last me to my next paycheck.

So! I've decided to try something new. Something so radical and innovative that it may just shock me into shopping like a proper grown up: I'm going to try meal planning.

I made my first weekly meal plan today. It took me three hours. I'll be putting together a shopping list once I've gone through the cupboards in search of any supplies I already have. I think the way for me to keep from being completely overwhelmed when I enter the grocery store is to have a plan, and a list. If I can do it that way for a while, maybe I can start looking at those rows and rows of food and start getting ideas instead of just... well, staring at them.

Baby steps. Or, you know, baby carrots.

There is one more hurdle I'll have to overcome to make this work, which is actually using the food I get by cooking. I made a point to find recipes that are simple enough for a seven-year-old to manage on their own... so I'm hopeful. And if I don't do it exactly right, it'll be ok. It'll have to be.

Let the grocery shopping commence!

I plan to post an update on this in the near future. If I don't, please do get on me to do so.

February 25, 2011

Geek Weekly: Gay Fandom, or That German Soap.

This is a day late due to surprise nap attack unforeseen circumstances. Apologies!

Fandom can be a murky and terrifying place for the uninitiated. It can also be one of the most rewarding and amazing things you can be a part of, if you find the right one. I've dipped my toe into a number of fandoms over the years; my first experience was in 1996, when I stumbled on an email list for the USA show “La Femme Nikita.” A few years later I joined a Yahoo!Group for fans of a book series by Laurell K. Hamilton. And just a couple of years ago I became involved in an online campaign focusing on the BBC series “Torchwood.”

My most recent and intense foray into fandom is for a German soap opera called “Alles Was Zählt.”

I can see that perplexed look you're trying to hide. Don't worry, I'm used to it.

So how in the world did I end up involved in a fandom for a foreign-language soap? Well, it all started with “Queer As Folk.”

Yep, there's that look again.

What I discovered while watching watching QAF (the US version, for those In The Know) was that I got a certain enjoyment out of watching relationships between two men. Not just the sex scenes, but the romances and the friendships as well. Something about watching men be so comfortable with one another on a physical level is very appealing to me. (And yes, the sex scenes are hot.)

I've read a lot of differing opinions on the internets about why it is that straight women enjoy watching gay drama. I've always thought of the sexual aspect as similar to the straight male obsession with lesbian sex. As a friend of mine once put it, it's fun to watch two people you're attracted to smooshed together.

Makes sense to me.

Also, why is “smooshed” not in my spell-check? That's totally a real word.

Anyway, I've also read that for some, it's more fun to take themselves out of identifying with one of the characters and simply enjoy the relationship; others like identifying with a character of the opposite gender. I personally find gay men sexually non-threatening, which can be an important factor.

Whatever your reason or flavor, there is an increasing presence of gay fandoms out there, and the majority of their participants are straight or bisexual women, with a smattering of gay men. I personally identify as bisexual, and am what's known as a fag hag, or a fruit fly, or a homo honey. Here's an explanation from Wiki.

As you may have guessed by now, there is a gay element in AWZ. The show itself is a “typical” (meaning “straight”) show, which started with one gay character who was essentially window dressing. About a year in, the show added another gay character, this one a teenager struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. The resulting coming out story remains one of the most realistic and lovingly acted I've ever seen. The romance that followed between the two gay characters was what sucked me into the show, and the lovely folks who translated and subtitled their storyline in English to be posted on YouTube were what brought me into the fandom.

It's sort of amusing sometimes, how difficult it is to explain fandom (and particularly such an unusual one as this). Those rare occasions I do try enlightening the unaware, I'm generally greeted with the slightly blank smile-and-nod of someone who would like to get out of the conversation as quickly as possible. Since I've long given up getting non-geeks to understand me, this can be an endless source of entertainment.

To check out the gay storyline on “Alles Was Zählt” with English subtitles, visit the EskimoKissProject channel on YouTube.

February 20, 2011

Life on the Couch: So, this is really happening.

I just got a letter from the University of Minnesota. I've been accepted to their School of Liberal Arts.

I've been in a state of high-tension anxiety since I submitted my application about three weeks ago. (Yes, I know. Poor me. Three whole weeks. THREE TERRIFYING, ULCER-INDUCING WEEKS.) As a “non-traditional” student (older, already holding an Associate's degree) I was relatively confident I would be accepted... except when I wasn't confident, which was pretty much all the time. I mean, honestly. What was I thinking, applying to a Real University? Obviously I'm just some idiot trying to pretend I'm world-wise and intellectual and will fit in with all the young, artistic types who will doubtless be filling the classes I'll be in. I went from desperately hoping for an acceptance letter to wishing I could take the application back to being completely convinced there was no way I would get in. Approximately six times a minute.

Now that I've hoodwinked them- er, I mean, I'm in and the self-confidence flail is done (related to acceptance in the program anyway), I can start to focus on exactly what the hell I've gotten myself into. Which boils down to: quitting my job and going to University full-time at the age of thirty-three.




One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was getting my Associate's degree (in Sign Language Interpreting) was being in way too much of a hurry. I didn't really care about what I was learning or experiencing; I only cared about getting that paper in my hands as quickly as possible, so I could start working. I firmly affixed my blinders about the reality of the field, and never really found my love of the work. I never excelled, and although I spent a couple of years working in the field, I never succeeded. I did the minimum I had to do to get by, and in the end it wasn't enough.

It's something I've beat myself up over a lot in the past year or so. It took a long time for me to come to terms with the reality of the situation: that interpreting is not for me.

It took even longer to realize that what I should be doing is what I've always wanted to do: to write, to act, to create, to dream.

I turned cynical at a very young age, for a variety of reasons. I gave up on being a writer or an actor or an artist by the time I graduated from high school. Even then, I was already looking for that elusive thing that I could do whether I really loved it or not, with the goal of supporting myself in a hard, cruel world. So I tossed my dreams aside and spent the next ten years bouncing from place to place, from job to job, finding things that captured my fancy for a while but never anything that was really true. And all along I knew that art and expression were what really turned me on... but I was convinced that it was simply not realistic to attempt such flighty pursuits. Not when there were bills to be paid.

I still have bills and obligations and the realistic fear that I won't be able to support myself. Or that I'll try this and I'll still end up working as an office assistant somewhere. The thing is, somewhere along the way everything changed. I realized that the only thing standing in my way is these fears. And the thing is, I can't let that stop me anymore. Scary as it may be, I have to take a leap. I have to follow my dreams and see where they take me. I think I'm finally ready to do that.

I'm about to start a great adventure...

February 17, 2011

Geek Weekly: Television – “The Walking Dead”

Much like my first-Thursday-of-the-month movie reviews, I'm going to be doing a third-Thursday-of-the-month review of television shows. It'll be more of an overall series review, rather than something specific to an episode. Got it? Good. Enough formalities, on to the brain-eaters.

Here's the thing about zombies:

They're slow. They're stupid. They spend most of their time moaning and reaching and stumbling around.

Here's the other thing about zombies:

They scare the hell out of me.

Ever since I first watched a zombie moan its way towards a mouthful of brain matter during an HBO free preview viewing of Return of the Living Dead 3, I've been completely terrified by their shambling relentlessness. Which naturally means I sought out every zombie flick I could find. I would watch with cringing horror as the walking dead slowly but inevitably cornered their prey, nearly impossible to kill and utterly single-minded in their pursuit of BRAAAAAAAAINS. I even fell in love with the new “fast zombies” introduced primarily in Danny Boyle's brilliant 28 Days Later... after all, what's scarier than a horde of nearly unstoppable walking corpses intent on nothing in the world besides cracking your skull open and gobbling your gray matter? Answer: a horde of rage-fueled speed-demons intent on nothing more than killing you in the most violent manner possible.

When I heard there was going to be a television series taking place in the midst of a zombie apocalypse... well, needless to say, I was a tad bit excited.

“The Walking Dead” does not disappoint.

It opens on a deserted road. We are introduced to the main character, a uniformed cop in a police cruiser, as he searches for gas. Within moments, we've also met our first zombie: a little girl with half her face eaten away, keening and snarling as she runs at the hero... who is forced to shoot her in the head. Best first five minutes of television ever.

The iconic hero wakes up and realizes the world has ended scene is delightfully creepy and disturbing, as he stumbles on half-eaten corpses, moaning and bendy-fingered things barricaded behind doors, and carefully-stacked piles of dead bodies. That's before he even finds the still-smoking rubble surrounded by abandoned military vehicles and equipment. Even after all that, the crowning glory of the scene was the zombie who crawls desperately after him, gone below the waist.

And that was just the first episode.

There is nothing particularly original in the storytelling... the characters are fairly standard, but they nonetheless manage to surprise you at times. The show manages gives us just enough lightness and humor to cut the trauma and horror, which is as relentless as the title characters. The fascinating thing about zombie apocalypse movies is watching the haggard survivors fight to stay alive, and sane, and how they waver between ugliness and grace.

My only real complaint about the show is the truncated length of the season at only six episodes. This show is way too good to limit to six hours.

Now please excuse me, I have to make sure the shotgun under my bed is loaded before I go to sleep.

February 13, 2011

Life on the Couch: Valentine's Day, single-girl style.

So, you ask, how should I, as a single person, spend this ridiculous day?

Enjoy the fact that you're unencumbered and have no one to impress. Don't shave. Leave the expensive perfume in the medicine cabinet. Wear sweats. Order a double-onion pizza, and follow it up with an entire bag of those delicious pink and white M&M's. Fart as loud as you can. (Just, you know, be careful... you don't want to gamble and lose.) Marathon your favorite bad show. Hog the remote. Cuddle your pets. Go out and see a movie by yourself. Indulge in some self-loving. Wallow in it.

In case you're wondering what I mean by that, it's exactly what you think. Knock one out. Have a wank. Masturbate. Watch your favorite porn, fire up your favorite battery-powered toy, or just light some candles and run a bath. However you enjoy it most, do it. I bet you'll have a better orgasm than most of the couples out there. 'Cause you have nothing to prove to anyone.

Whatever you do, don't be hard on yourself. Don't feel bad because you're single.

If I sound cynical, it's because I am. Valentine's Day is unfair. It's an insidious thing, and you shouldn't let it get you down just because you don't have a significant other. You're not worth any less because you're not half of a pair. You're a whole, beautiful person all on your own. The gross truth about Valentine's Day is that it is a celebration in exclusion, an arbitrary day on the calendar that gives the false impression that you're more important if you're coupled off. After all, you don't see any days devoted to celebrating single people.

Just as bad, it puts pointless pressure on couples to prove their worth as a pair by having them exchange flowers and candy hearts. Even on those rare occasions when I have been part of a couple on Valentine's Day, it felt totally false and forced. The little gestures people feel they have to make on this one specific day would have so much more meaning if they were spontaneous, driven by love rather than obligation.

Celebrate the day however you like. I'm going to spend it being proud that I can exist as a singular entity, that I don't need another person to complete me. Mostly, I'm not going to do anything at all.

February 10, 2011

Geek Weekly: Celebrities I've been five feet (or less) from.

My very first interactive blog post! I want to hear from you on this one, people...

Here's the rules: it can be anyone you consider a celebrity. I'll go ahead and let you decide who fits the criteria, but a good rule of thumb for me is if I've ever thought “Wow, they're a lot shorter in person.” You must have been within comfortable talking distance of this person. Physical contact is a plus (i.e. a handshake (you pervs)) but not necessary. If they are on a stage and you are not, it doesn't count... even if you were in the front row, inches away, getting sweat/spittle showered on you. If you got your boobs signed after the concert, that would count. Got it? Good.

Me first!

Bruce Campbell broke my celebrity cherry when he did a signing for his first book, “If Chins Could Kill,” at a small bookstore in the D.C. area. He was ridiculously smart and charming, and totally tolerant when I sweatily blurted a request to have my picture taken kissing his cheek. I may still have the picture framed somewhere nearby.

The next I can remember was Taylor Hanson. Yes, that Taylor Hanson. (WARNING: do not click that link unless you want icepick-to-eardrum inducing earworm. You're welcome.) We passed each other as he was entering a restaurant and I was leaving. There was total eye-sparkage, I am not kidding you at all.

I had about a ten-year dry spell in which I met no celebrities at all. It was very sad indeed. Then suddenly, in the past year, I've met a whole slew of famous folk. Mostly at conventions of some sort (because yes, convention meets count. If they didn't, my turn would already be over and this is my blog and that is not on. So yes, convention meets totally count).

Last February I went to the SFX Weekender in southern England, where I met James Marsters, Gareth David-Lloyd, Tom Baker, and Elisabeth Sladen. If it all seems a bit Who-centric, that's because it was a science fiction convention, in England. James was probably the most fun, as he regaled me with a story about how his girlfriend was watching the filming of the scene in “Torchwood” when he makes out with John Barrowman (who was totally supposed to be there too, and therefore would have been on my meet-list, except he has a career or summat so he's not on my list, which is LAME). Also, Elisabeth is ridiculously gorgeous in person (not that she isn't on-screen as well, but in person... woof).

Then in March I went to a much smaller convention called Gays of Our Lives, the focus of which was gay characters and storylines in soap operas. At the time there happened to be only two soaps in the U.S. that had gay storylines (both of which are gone now), and three in Germany. Which means that out of the eight celebrity guests, five flew in from Germany to meet their fans. The American guests were Scott Evans (from “One Life to Live”), Gregory Michael (from “Dante's Cove” and “Greek”), and Hal Sparks (from the American version of “Queer as Folk”). The German guests were Igor Dolgatschew and Dennis Grabosch (from “Alles Was Zählt”), Jo Weil and Thore Schölermann (from "Verboten Liebe”), and Felix Isenbügel (from “Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten”). Having become a rabid AWZ fan, I was most excited to meet Dennis and Igor, and I was not disappointed. They were completely lovely. Everyone was, really, but those two definitely stand out as my favorites. The smallness of the event (there were only 80 fans there) was great since we spent time actually interacting with the celebrities, rather than waiting in line for an hour to get something signed. It was truly one of the most memorable weekends of my life.

Then in July I interpreted for Paul Cornell, who is a writer for Doctor Who and other BBC shows, at a local science fiction convention called CONvergence. I've seen a few famous folk at that convention over the years, but I'm only counting Paul because he's the only one I can count under the proximity rule. One of the perks of being the sign language interpreter.

By far the most random celebrity meet was just a few months ago, when I accidentally snuck into a horror convention at a local hotel. (As you do.) I was wandering about with no idea what I was going to see, and ended up in what I thought was a typical dealer's room (essentially a room full of kiosks where you can buy books and magazines and crocheted Cthulhus. The usual stuff). It turned out there were some autograph sessions going on as well, and I suddenly found myself face-to-face with Dee Wallace (best known as E.T.'s mom), Brian Krause of “Charmed” fame, and legendary That Guy! Jeffrey Combs, who's been in, like, everything. Ever. I think I might have actually cackled in delight at one point, but it's all kind of a blur.

And that ends my turn. Who's next?

February 6, 2011

Life on the Couch: Anxiety? *twitch* Who, me?

I've had problems all my life. Welcome to the club, right?

Hold on. I'm going to stop myself for a minute. Because that thing I just did, where I tried to play off like my problems are somehow less important than other people's? Is so unfair. I have issues, they're painful and difficult, and that's valid. Dammit.

Ok, I'm done talking myself out of downplaying my issues. For the moment.

To give you a very truncated history, I was born to an unmarried mother who was about as good with money as I am. When I was three years old I was molested by a neighbor. I don't know how long it went on (I don't actually remember it at all, which is probably a blessing). As I grew up I was ostracized by my peers, first for being the only kid without a dad, then for being the new kid at school when we moved, then for not having designer clothes, and for being overweight, and for being awkward, and for having bad hair... you get the idea. By junior high I had started entertaining thoughts of suicide, and had I known what goth was (or had emo even existed), I would have been one. I went to prom during both my junior and senior years, although my date was platonic in both cases. I switched schools between my sophomore and junior years, and succeeded in leaving my old self behind just enough to make some friends and finish high school.

It's been almost fifteen years since I graduated high school, and I've continued to struggle with my various issues all along. I've seen therapists off and on throughout, with diagnoses from depression to ADD to bi-polar disorder. It wasn't until I started seeing my current therapist that the anxiety diagnosis came up. And finally it all started to make sense.

My particular brand of anxiety works mostly through denial. When a problem becomes too overwhelming, I set it aside and forget about it. When something becomes too painful or scary, I push it down and refuse to deal with it. If something disrupts my calm, I bury my head in the sand and ignore it and hope it goes away. I hide, or I pretend it's not so bad, and when it all catches up to me I get depressed and start wondering why I bother at all.

Another aspect of my anxiety (or perhaps it's connected more to my absolute lack of self-confidence) is the belief that I don't know how to do things and someone needs to teach me how. Simple things like cooking, and exercising, and finances. I'm positive that I can't do these things right, and that to even try is pointless. So I eat microwavable food and live on my couch and quail helplessly when I can't pay my bills. Or I research how to do these things, but can only find instructions that seem far too complicated to me.

Learning to trust myself is one of my greatest challenges. It's getting better, now that I know what the problem really is. But it's a daily battle, one that I still lose more often than win. But it's not all loss now, and that's heartening.

So why am I sharing this on my public blog? Because I've seen other people share their stories, and been inspired to work harder to get better. Maybe telling my story will help me too, and even help someone else. Or maybe I can find a support system somewhere in this wide world. Or maybe it will just exist as a record for me, to look back on years from now, when I'm better. To remember how far I've come. Because I do believe I'll get better. Somehow. Someday.

February 3, 2011

Geek Weekly: movie review - Black Swan

At some point I decided it would be cool to do a monthly movie review here on Geek Thursdays, so this is the first of many. At least twelve a year. NICE. Of course, that's going to require that I actually get out of the house and see a movie at least once a month. Which, considering the last three movies I saw were Black Swan, Half-Blood Prince, and Avatar(the first release) is going to be quite an interesting challenge. If all goes as planned, next month's review will be The Rite. (Yes, I know I'm not trying very hard to be SUPER CURRENT but at least I'm reviewing while they're still in the theater...)


After eleventy Oscar nominations and so much hype, I was a little worried that Black Swan wouldn't live up to expectations. In a way, it didn't... it blasted my expectations right out of the water.

What impressed me the most about this movie was how scary it was. I really wasn't expecting to spend so much time hiding behind my scarf. The slow build of tension was effective every time, but the movie also startled the crap out of me more than once when I was not expecting it. And as a veteran horror movie watcher, I'm usually pretty good at anticipating a scare. Nearly a week later, I'm still getting creeped out in the dark. Unlike, say, The Grudge, it isn't a specific image that haunts me but just a feeling. Like something's waiting for me in the dark. As far as I'm concerned, that's the sign of a great horror movie.

One of the things that made this movie so difficult to watch at times was the truly under-your-skin visceral feel of some scenes. The scratching, the focus on the damage these dancers can suffer to their feet, the vomiting... all added up to give the movie a distinctly squirmy feel. The worst was a scene which takes place in the bathroom (really, a lot of scenes take place in bathrooms)... Nina (Portman) is picking at a hangnail and ends up pulling up a long strip of skin, a bone-deep chunk halfway up to her elbow. It turns out to be a hallucination, but even so it left me feeling nauseous. Which I would rarely consider a compliment, but for this movie, it works. This visceral element pays off beautifully in her eerie transformation into the Black Swan near the end of the movie.

Of course I can't say enough about Natalie Portman's performance. She portrays the trembling, on-the-edge fragility of Nina so perfectly that I expected her to shatter into a million pieces at any moment. She does a beautiful job of making Nina's slow dissolution very understandable as she wilts under her mother's clinging attention, quails under the show director's gruff instruction, and boggles as Lucy (Mila Kunis), her self-proclaimed rival, does so easily what she cannot, despite throwing every ounce of herself into her craft. Mila Kunis is also wonderful in her role, as she effortlessly flips between the dark temptress of Nina's delusions and her friendly, laid back opposite.

And I'd be remiss as a bisexual woman if I didn't mention the love scene between Nina and Lucy after their night of drinking and standing up to Nina's mother. It's really startling and beautiful and terrifying, not to mention HAWT. And although both characters are clearly heterosexual, it was very natural and organic. It made perfect sense somehow that things would turn sexual between them in that moment. So much so that the revelation that it happened only in Nina's mind was a complete surprise to me.

Black Swan is a haunting and beautiful movie that gets under your skin and stays there. Do yourself a favor and go see it if you haven't already. You'll never look at ballerinas the same way again.