Art And The Engineering Student

So, once upon a time, I had a boyfriend.

(Shut up.)

And somehow… (you’ve gotta supervise those devils every moment) …he wound up finding my art portfolios. I had two of those at the time, enormous, Weimaraner sized manila envelopes that held vast sheets of newsprint on which I’d drawn various and sundry highly educational subjects.

One of them was labeled “Clean.”

And the other was labeled “Dirty.”

As in…

Boyfriend dove head first into an assortment of charcoal drawings of landscapes and vases.

(Did I mention they have to be supervised constantly?)

These were charcoal drawings… I know I said that, but what I mean is, they were intended to make the student (in this case, me) look at both light and shadow with intent and purpose. You start out with a blank sheet of paper. Then, you cover every last inch in charcoal to make the whole thing a smooth middle gray. (Read “mess.”) And after that, if you want something to be white, you have to use your eraser. If you want things to be black, you have to use your charcoal. You can’t ignore light, shadow, or line.

And no matter how much fixative you spray on them, the charcoal comes off. On your hands… your clothes… your carpet.

In the sense of… for one semester, I had “art clothes.” The charcoal never really came out of them, although, after a while, they did get back to where you could sorta tell what color they used to be.

Well, you know we weren’t going out that night.

Well, he wasn’t, anyway. No place nice was going to let him in looking like that. (We do not open our girlfriend’s “dirty” portfolio while wearing a white shirt.)

The look of horror was still fresh on his face when I came up behind him and said, “So what do you think?”

Valentine’s Day: A Brief History of Disaster

One of the benefits of being a writer is that you wind up looking at your own culture through the eyes of your characters, and you start to see the things that are… well, a little bit weird. Valentine’s Day is… well, let’s be honest… about as weird as they come. It’s a holiday dedicated to romantic love which adults celebrate with booze and lingerie, and which is simultaneously celebrated by grade school children. This, despite very clear cultural taboos against combining romantic love of any kind with children.

Humans are weird.

Valentine’s Day has never been my holiday of choice. As an adult, it’s hard to celebrate, if I’m single, and it always gets me in trouble, if I’m not.  And as a child, mostly, I remember the general stress of finding just the right card to say “The school rules say I have to get you a card, so here.”

Actually… if I could find a card that says “The rules of dating say I have to get you a card… so here,” that would still be appreciated.

So, in honor of a weird holiday, weirdly celebrated, an overview:

  • Second Grade: First Valentine’s Day, and BEST VALENTINE’S DAY EVER: I came down with chickenpox and missed school. Missed the party. Missed the handing out of cards. When I got back, the teacher handed me an enormous bag of candy and cards from my classmates. Also, by then, most of them had already eaten their candy, so whatever I brought was really, really cool.
  • Fifth Grade: First real valentine from a real boy. It opened and closed, and had an envelope and everything. Also two sticks of gum taped very neatly inside the card. Admittedly, he was the kind of boy who got thrown out of movie theaters, and who was later seen bungee jumping his(?) bicycle off a railroad bridge, but he was a boy, and that counts, and I win.
  • Seventh Grade: First invitation to actual dance. He was a geeky friend of mine. (Yes, I do have a few friends who aren’t geeky. Not close friends, but still.) This one had all the makings of a teen movie, except that 1.) I wasn’t allowed to date until I was thirty-two, and 2.) He asked in front of a classmate who looked at him and asked “Why the hell would she want to go out with you?” Boy sinks into the ground. I assume they let him up for air and meals, but maybe they just make him eat earth worms.
  • High School: Let’s be honest… guys loved me for my mind. Yes, I know that’s supposed to be a good thing, but do you have any idea how annoying it is in real life? Most of the phone calls to my house begin with the phrase: “Hey, what did you get for problem 43?”
  • College: Oh, great. We’re moving into that phase where “Marry me and have my babies” is not just an option, it’s encouraged. Me: I got you a Hallmark Card. Him: Marry me and have my babies. Me: It’s a funny card.

So, even though there’s nowhere left to go but up, I’ll be spending this Valentine’s Day locked in a convent, with ballistic missiles aimed at the local florist. One inch closer to those carnations, and it’s mutually assured destruction, baby.

Don’t think I’m serious? The last one actually mentioned his and hers matching cemetery plots. However old you have to be for that to be romantic, I’m not there, yet. Not even close.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all the brave souls who are willing to risk it. To everybody else… see you when we all crawl out of our bunkers after Armageddon.

If I didn’t Want You To Be Happy, I Would Have Married You.

So, today is one of my ex’s birthdays.

I haven’t seen him in years, but he was my first real, serious, this-could-end-in-actual-marriage-and-eventual-death boyfriend. Obviously, I was terrified.

He, on the other hand, was not terrified. He was full-speed ahead, I have a schedule to keep, and it is time to get married ready.

He’s the perfect person to think of once or twice a year… uhm… From another state.  He deserves to be happy, and that’s the way I picture him. Wife and kids. A dog, maybe two. Baseball games and camping.

Apart from the kids, the dogs, the baseball, and the camping, it’s not a bad life.

I had the chance to ask a while back. Ran into his father.

I didn’t ask.

I think I know. There’s just enough overlap in our social groups that now and then, I get a whiff of something through a friend, or a newsletter from a shared organization. The most recent update said North Dakota. And a career. It didn’t mention the wife or kids. And it probably would have, if they were there.

He was not cut out to be in a relationship with a creative.

He found my art-folders, once. You know, those big manila things with the plastic handles? No, not really polished enough to call a portfolio. I had two, and naturally, he had to see the one that was labeled “dirty.”

Charcoal dust everywhere.

I’m smiling, but I’m not going back.

And I’m wondering… If he saw me, now. Neck-deep in a day-job, still chasing dreams I’m not even I ever told him I had… revising the novel, collecting the rejections… You know… Would he perceive me as happy?

Writing as Real Life

Someone asked me if I was married, the other day… if I have kids… the usual small talk from someone I’d just met. She showed me pictures of her husband, her kid (he was pretending to be a Box Troll. I still haven’t looked up Box Trolls.) And I told her that I’m not much of anything. Not married. No kids.

Maybe someday? she prodded, optimistically.

I nodded. Maybe someday.

Truth be told, I was always more the loaner children type. Something about the idea that I can send them home appeals to me. Lots of fun, and very little commitment.

I could do marriage. In fact, there are times I’ve barely escaped with my life. **ahem** Thought about it.

And then, after you get through the small talk, there’s the real me. I’m writing a book. No, it’s not my first book. It’s…what? About two years old, now.

This was the kind of conversation that reminds me how close to the surface I really am. Not a lot of small talk, here. Other people–sometimes it seems like their whole lives are small talk. They’re perfectly willing to tell a complete stranger about their kids, or their remodeling job, or the husband who refuses to smile right in pictures.

Maybe it’s something off the introvert/extrovert scale.

Maybe it’s just that writing a book is so far off the beaten path that it almost takes another writer to hold up the other end of the chat.

There’s a lot of insecurity in that silence. I find myself comparing my art–my writing, my painting, my dance–to their lives. Their very real, real lives, with the spouse and kids, and the Box Trolls on TV, and feeling… inadequate.

I have a lot to show for my work. Honestly, I do. And objectively, I know that.

But I don’t want to show it to every coworker I can find. And the ideas of not having anything I’m willing to show them and not having anything at all get mixed up, sometimes. Goodbye confidence. Hello, what ifs.

What if I should have gotten married, had kids, raised radishes on the terrace? What if my projects never add up to anything, and I never have anything to show the coworkers or the family? What if… what if… what if…

Messages From the Bathroom Stall Door

I used a public restroom, today, and I snapped a picture of the stall door. Someone has written the words Suicide Club on the stainless steel in electric youth pink. I don’t know if it’s a plea for help, or a bid for attention, or just graffiti referencing a movie or manga. And I don’t know who wrote it. The response–also anonymous–reads, “Please get help. This, too will pass.”

Do you care? 

Yes, I care.

Women use bathroom stall doors as bulletin boards to communicate the things they wouldn’t or couldn’t say in real life to a person with a face. They talk to each other. Two way communication. Private. Anonymous. Deniable. No, I didn’t ask about that. I was just taking a dump.

The first real message I remember reading scrawled across a stall door was in high school. I must have been fourteen or so, and fairly sheltered. I was still getting used to **profanity** and sex was just something kids who smoked and drank did. That first message–in its entirety–read, “Someone in this school eats pussy, and it’s not a guy.”

Word for word. Cunnilingus, Lesbianism, and… someone actually wrote the phrase “eats pussy” in a public place.

At the time, I thought of it as graffiti written for the shock value.  Maybe… maybe I believed what it said was possible. And maybe I did look around and wonder for a second or two which girl it was.

But that message wasn’t meant for me. I read it as a piece of mindless gossip. Someone else might have recognized it as a confession, or an ecstatic shout of connection. And someone might have shouted back, or given a quiet sigh of relief.

I saw the same message (different words) in college, and by then, I did recognize it. The very last stall in the university’s “historical” women’s restroom was the “Lesbian Stall” (Labeled on the inside, black sharpie) and maintenance sanded the stall door down twice a year to remove the accumulated conversations.

I had something to write, then, and I didn’t write it, but the idea that I could have, and that someone would have answered… it mattered.

I’m afraid my bisexual boyfriend is only with me because he wants children, and because he doesn’t have to come out to his father, if he marries a woman.

I hit the ground hard with that one. I’m shaking, a little, and if I think about it long enough, there’s no doubt I’ll cry. Question for the stall door.

And there have been a lot of stall door questions from a lot of women, since then. A lot of topics, and a lot of secrets.

The stall door a safe place. A strangely self-moderating place. The “community” routinely scratches out unacceptable responses. And there’s almost always an answer.Whole threads of conversation, back and forth. Or solitary encouragement. Yes, I care.

Nontraditional Relationships in Books


A poll flickered by on Twitter, today. I clicked my answer and left a brief comment, and then, I realized, Hey, that’s my blog topic for today!

I don’t write YA, but I do have a lot of non-traditional relationships in my books.

Some of them, like the Unilateral marriage in my science fiction, would be absurd, or even psychotic in real life. The day some guy shows up outside my house and announces that he has married me, I’m going to call the cops. And I’m pretty sure that most people in my culture agree with me on that.

Some of them are more realistic, like the domestic triad in one of my thrillers. I mean…that could happen. On this planet. Without anybody freaking out and calling the cops.

Once upon a time, (or so I’m told) through the magic of societal pressure, and the need for sturdy sons to work the family farm, there was a default in relationships. You married a member of the opposite sex (whether you wanted to, or not) and produced new cogs in the system (whether you wanted to, or not.)

And maybe some dreamy nostalgia has worked its way into that default. You got married. AND you were certainly not “visiting around” on the side. You LOVED each other.

Don’t ask me. My longest relationship is with an unpublished book. And… it’s not even a healthy relationship. (But I can fix it!)

But now, we have options.

And we need communication.

A while back, a couple I knew moved in together. And then, they moved back out. All within the course of a month. Why? Because one of them thought “move in with me” meant I love you, want to be monogamous, and am looking toward marriage in the future. The other one was pretty sure it meant Hey, wanna split the rent?

You can’t communicate, unless you know there’s something to talk about.

Not everybody is looking for “the one.” Some people are looking for “the two” or the “right now” or the “let’s split the rent.”

Sometimes, communication can mean figuring out what it takes to make things work. Sometimes, communication means figuring out what you both want, saying “no thanks” quickly, and moving on.

Does polyamory belong in YA literature?  As in…Team Jacob, Team Edward… or Team Both?

Or do you mean as in somebody’s boring old set of three or five parents, who all hate the teenager’s boyfriend?

Either way, I think it’s just as important–in terms of communication–for a kid to be able to look at a potential partner and tell them, in advance, that he isn’t looking for monogamy as it is for him to be able to say “not without the ring, big boy.”

I believe in informed choices.


Well, I never!

So, after all the time and effort I’ve spent lobbying for Man-Cards to be revoked on a 12 point system, I was accused of being judgmental! Well, that’s gratitude for you.

I am judgmental. That’s the honest truth. And frankly, I think I have damn good judgment, too. Admittedly, I usually say “instincts,” instead of judgement, but po-tay-to.

I was grousing at strangers on the internet, again. Twitter. Whatever self-censoring mechanism I had… whatever impulse control… Well, Twitter! The picture was of one of those stick-family bumper stickers. Three kids. A dog. Dad. And a gap where Mom apparently used to be.

Taking up most of the S.U.V’s rear window was a hand-scrawled statement: position available. With an arrow pointing to the “Mom Gap.”

I have to feel for those poor kids. Even assuming their mother ran away with the neighbor’s German Shepherd, never to be heard from again, the kids deserve better than this. Some privacy. Some shelter from the shit-storm of divorce. And that’s without mentioning the issue of “Position available,” as if a wife and mother were something you hire… like a waitress… or a servant.

Yup. Right about there… or 14o characters later, is where I got called judgmental.

And then… He might be a nice guy.

I’m already simmering in an absolute hatred of the “nice guy” motif. “Nice guys” come in last. Of course, every single guy in that race was “nice.”

Let’s put it this way: there are the things I mention when I talk about the ideal date, and then, there are the things I’m never going to say because they’re  just… that… obvious.

“Nice” is just… that… obvious.

I want nice. Everybody wants nice. I don’t know a single person, male, female, or other, who deliberately goes out to find somebody who isn’t nice.

It’s on the same list as “doesn’t smell like rancid track star,” and “has a pulse.” “Breathes oxygen” is up there, too. Goes without saying.

If you want to start racking up the points, you’re going to have to be more than nice and non-smelly with a pulse. I’ve got standards.

Don’t tell me you’re a nice guy. That’s like telling me you have a pulse. Tell me why you think you might be my nice guy. Smart. Creative. Loves paso doble and weird foods. Or tell the truth: I don’t have the faintest idea what we have in common, but I want to find out.

And just a hint… if you hear a girl saying she’s looking for a “nice guy,” run.