Welcome to Elsewhere

For much of my life, in times of strife, my default response was, “I wish I were somewhere else.” Abuse, loneliness, danger, poverty, extreme heat or cold, even just a general feeling of being a misfit would cause me to feel this way. If only I were elsewhere, things would be so much better.

Dorothy may have decided that there was no place like home, but I always thought that Oz looked like a lot more fun than that dreary farm in Kansas.

But it’s a dangerous thing, assuming there is a geographical solution to all your problems. It often gives you an excuse to avoid solving them. Because Elsewhere is an elusive place. If your solution lies elsewhere, and elsewhere is just out of reach, well, then you’re just out of luck, aren’t you? You may as well hunker down and be miserable.

Wishing you were somewhere else also means that where you are right now is never going to feel quite good enough. How can anyplace compete with this fantasy world that lies just on the other side of the rainbow?

But on the other hand, I do honestly think that life is what you make it, and part of choosing your path in life is deciding what destination you want to strive for. If I hadn’t opted to pack all my stuff and move 3100 miles across the country, I’d probably still be miserable in Florida, dreaming about elsewhere.

Instead, I live in the Seattle area, with a job that pays well, an amazing man who loves me, and a home for which there is no place like.

Lucky me. I finally found elsewhere. May you find your perfect place, too, dear reader, and may it be a little closer than 3100 miles from where you are right now.

somewhere else

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Sugar and Spice? Not.

One of my regular readers, Linda, whom I now consider to be a friend, sent me a link to an article entitled “Stan Lee Taught Me How To Be Amazing” by John Pavlovitz. It is a great read, as is all of his writing.

But my friend made an excellent point. This article was definitely written from the male perspective. As Linda said, “I never once dreamed of being powerful like Spiderman. There weren’t even female superheroes back then, although they did add some later.”

That made me come at the article from a different angle entirely. I love that Pavlovitz could imagine that he was Spiderman when he was growing up. I’m sure that did wonders for his self-esteem. But what was I, and most of the girls of my generation, thinking about back then?

Being rescued.

We were Cinderella, or Rapunzel, or Snow White. I doubt many of us related to Wonder Woman, as she was hypersexualized to such a degree that she seemed way out of our leagues. I read Archie Comics. Betty and Veronica weren’t exactly something to aspire to.

There was a lot of damage done to the women of my generation. We weren’t given as much to dream about. It’s not nearly as bad now. Now, we have intelligent, spunky and brave characters, like Ariel and Elsa and Mulan, Elastagirl and her daughter Violet, Fiona, and Hermoine Granger, just to name a few.

And the little girls of today have more ability to connect and learn about some of the amazing kick-ass women in real life, such as Malala Yousafzai, Michelle Obama, and J.K. Rowling.

Lest we forget, there have always been amazing women out there. Anne Frank, Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Joan of Arc, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart… But my generation wasn’t taught much about them in school, except as afterthoughts and footnotes to the “real” heroes. And we didn’t have the computer access to allow us to track them down ourselves.

Now, at least, girls have more access. Now, at least, animation is catching up with our awesomeness. (Although the sexualization part still tends to rear its ugly head. There’s still a lot of work to do.)

If I were a kid today, I’d totally be out in that back alley, pretending to be Hermoine Granger. Wingardium Leviosa!

Hermione

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The Curse of Summer Vacations

Holy moly, it got up to 88 degrees here the other day. If I were back in Florida, I’d be thanking my lucky stars for that nice, cool respite. Here in Seattle, the land of no air conditioners, 88 degrees is pure, unadulterated hell. It’s really hard to sleep when it’s that hot. People start getting cranky and acting crazy. Welcome to summer.

When I was a kid, I used to long for summer. I’d daydream about summer vacation while sitting at my school desk. (I daydreamed quite a bit. I was usually about a dozen lessons ahead of my classmates.) School was tedious for me. I could have moved much faster along my academic path if I didn’t have to drag all that dead weight behind me.

So summer vacation, for me, meant freedom. It was a time of lightening my load. It was my idea of Shangri-la.

I have absolutely no idea why I felt that way. The reality of summer never fit with my fantasies. I came from a hard working, very poor family. It’s not like we summered in the Hamptons or something. My mother had to work. If we went anywhere, we rarely went far, and we didn’t stay for long.

The reality of summer for me was lots and lots and lots of horrible daytime television, interspersed with the escape of library books, and naps. Blessed naps to break up the suffocating boredom. Often by the end of summer I was sleeping all day and watching TV all night.

It’s a wonder I didn’t lose my mind. Maybe I did. Because as soon as school started back up again, I would revert back to counting the days until the next summer vacation. It took me years to stop looking forward with miserable longing. Now is where it’s at, baby.

summer vacation

When the Love Spell is Broken

Love is like a drug. When you’re deep in it, especially in the early stages, it’s hard to see flaws. Red flags just look like a pretty splash of color in your world. You want to bask in the fact that you seem to have found evidence of perfection, and that perfect person, against all odds, thinks that you’re pretty darned amazing, too. Such bliss.

It’s a heady feeling, that perfect love. The problem is, it’s pure fiction. Everyone has flaws. It’s a rare person who doesn’t have the scales fall from dazzled eyes at least once in his or her romantic life. It’s profoundly discouraging to discover that the prince you’ve been kissing has been a frog all along and you’ve just refused to see it.

I think the reason we try to cling to the fantasy for as long as we can is that we’ve been raised to believe that true success means we must be part of a couple. It’s as if those of us who don’t go around two-by-two have somehow failed at life, and should be ashamed. What a steaming pile of horse manure. In modern times, one can do quite well on one’s own.

Yes, it can be lonely. We are social animals. But it’s possible to be social without being joined at the hip. I think it would be easier for many of us if we didn’t have so much societal pressure to take paths in life that we are unable or unwilling to walk down.

But if you insist, know this: True and enduring love is not ignoring someone’s flaws. Neither is it settling for the intolerable. It’s finding someone whose flaws you can see clearly and live with and still maintain a modicum of self-respect as well as respect for the other person. I understand that that picture isn’t quite as pretty, but it’s a heck of a lot more realistic.

flawed

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My Own Personal Pleasantville

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the movie “Pleasantville”, I highly recommend it. A boy from the 1990’s is obsessed with a sitcom from the 1950’s called Pleasantville. It’s your typical show of that era, showing a world that never actually existed, in black and white, where the mother wears pearls and high heels to do housework, the father gives sage advice and is highly respected, and the children are well mannered and, well… pleasant. But when 1990’s boy suddenly finds himself in Pleasantville, he starts to realize that perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I seem to be living in Pleasantville since I recently bought my house. It’s in an isolated little valley where all the neighbors know each other, and everything feels safe and clean and drama-free. Everyone has a dog. I’m even on a first name basis with the mailman and the local convenience store clerk. It’s this oasis of calm, with each of us in our very own cute little houses.

At a time when the wider world seems ever more chaotic and scary, I love going home to my little valley. It’s like taking off shoes that are two sizes too small. Finally, a chance to wiggle my toes.

I love living in this fantasy land, and I’m going to do my best to maintain it for as long as I can. Are cracks forming in the façade? Well, yes. A few people in the neighborhood drink probably more than is warranted in certain situations. But so far, they’re happy when they drink, and I like them, and it’s really none of my business. One neighbor is passively aggressively critical of my benign neglect of my yard. Oh well. And I can’t get a decent cell phone signal to save my life.

But you know, in the overall scheme of things, those are problems I can live with. I love my little neighborhood. Just don’t expect me to wear high heels while I do housework. In fact, wouldn’t even count on me doing housework on a schedule that makes sense to anyone other than myself.

pleasantville

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Whistler

During my most recent trip to Canada, I had the opportunity to visit Whistler, which is the ski resort mecca of British Columbia. That was a surreal experience. Everything was clean and well-manicured. Even the concrete looked somehow artificial. It was like being in Disney World without the rides.

That is, if everyone who visited Disney had a six figure income. The second I stepped on the promenade, I felt extremely out of place. People kept looking at me as if they were outraged that I didn’t arrive through the service entrance. I swear that rich people can identify a poser by some pheromone or something. I definitely wasn’t supposed to be there.

I have no doubt that I could have eaten their overpriced food off the sidewalk and would not have caught a single disease. I also could have scotch-taped my money to my behind beneath a sign that said “steal me” and it would still have been there when I left. I stuck my head into a few shops, and quickly retreated. Everything was so outrageously priced that it seemed tacky to me. The whole place is a monument to crass consumerism.

I walked past several young men with chiseled jaws who were wearing watches that were worth more than I earn in a year. You couldn’t have slung a dead cat without hitting a designer label of some sort. One little blonde girl with very expensive hair extensions asked us where the “Olympic Ring thingy” was, and when we pointed her in the right direction, she ran off as if she was afraid her coach was about to turn into a pumpkin.

Is that what it’s like to be rich? Do you live your life in some sanitized bubble of a fantasy world, where everything is safe and predictable? Do you wander, care-free and entitled, from one vacuous place to the next, your only worry being the need to marry well?

I’ll pass. I’m glad I went to the rich people zoo once, just to say I’d done it, but I won’t be back. I prefer the real world.

Whistler,_8_juin_2008,_2.jpg

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Trying on Houses

I’m a writer (obviously) so I have a fertile imagination. I spend a great deal of time picturing what my life would be like if this or that person were in it, or if I lived in Paris or Milan, or if I had any number of different jobs. Like my blog description says, I have entirely too much time on my hands.

So you can guess what my brain has been doing lately. As I mentioned recently in my Plea to Seattle Home Sellers, I am house hunting. It’s kind of frustrating in this cutthroat market, but even more so when you are as prone to flights of fancy as I am.

The first step, naturally, is looking at houses on line. I read the descriptions. I look at the photographs. I check out the neighborhood on Google maps. And off I go.

I imagine how my furniture, such as it is, would look in each room. I picture the view I would have. I think about my commute. Most of all, I wonder if my dog will enjoy playing in that particular yard. Will I have to do a lot of yard work? Will I feel safe? Could my new neighbors possibly be as cool as the ones I have now? (Waving at Paula and Kevin and Jackson.) Will I enjoy peace and quiet or will I be shouting over the phone to drown out jet engines? Can I walk to the library? Before I know it, I have my entire life plotted out in my head.

And then I go to see the place. Often, it doesn’t look like the pictures. They’ve used a wide angle lens to make rooms look bigger. They’ve photoshopped the lawn to make it actually look green. They’ve neglected to mention the big blue tarp on the roof.

Bummer.

That, or it’s everything I’ve imagined, and apparently everything everyone else has imagined, too, because the bidding war has jacked the price up 60k beyond my means. And there you have it, another dream crushed. Ashes of a future in my mouth.

Sometimes being creative is a curse.

imagination

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Are We the Stories We Tell Ourselves?

It’s always rather disconcerting when someone else has a different version of a memory that I’ve been invested in my whole life long. Which version is correct? And if my version is wrong, how did it change over time?

This is particularly unsettling when I’ve told a story time and time again to explain why it is that I’ve come to be the way I am. Have I been molding myself out of pure fantasy? But it feels so real…

Memories, it seems, can take on lives of their own. That kind of makes me feel as though I have nothing on which to hang my hat. The solid foundation I thought I had, as poorly constructed as it may have been, now seems to be built on quicksand. Scary.

And here’s the kicker: the older you get, the more memories you have. And the more they tend to fade. And yet you’re still you. Aren’t you?

Or are you?

Quicksand

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Magical Thinking

Does anyone besides me remember Omni Magazine? I loved that publication. I used to wait for each month’s issue with great anticipation. Even just seeing photos of the cover still gives me butterflies.

Omni first came out in 1978, and it was all about science. It discussed the latest technological innovations, all of which I’m sure would seem quaint nowadays, but at the time they were very cutting edge. It also included a short science fiction or fantasy story every month that I would devour. In addition, they took on parapsychology, and I found this quite fascinating as a teenager.

I remember perusing the classifieds in the back of the magazine sometime around 1984 and I noticed that a university (somewhere in Texas, I think, but don’t hold me to that) was asking for volunteers for a parapsychology experiment. Sign me up!

For a year or so after that, I would periodically receive these exciting little packages in the mail. In them would be a cassette (remember those?) and a prepaid return envelope. The cassette would have what they said were randomly generated tones. I was to listen to those tones and concentrate on changing them with my mind, making them longer or shorter or higher or lower. Then I was to mail the cassette back to them for analysis.

Once I’d send the cassette back, they’d send me a new cassette, plus a report on how much I’d “changed” the last soundtrack. (And of course heat, humidity and travel damage had no impact. It was all me, me, me.) Needless to say, I won’t be bending spoons in Vegas any time soon, but it was still kind of fun to be involved.

I never knew how many people participated in that study, and I was never told what their conclusions were. For all I know, it was actually a study on how gullible teenagers could be. I’d love to find out, but since I can’t even remember the name of the institution, I’d have a hard time tracking it down.

I was heartbroken to learn that Omni Magazine ceased to exist in 1997. I owe a great deal to it, because it legitimized my geeky struggle to be myself as I rode the roller coaster of puberty. It felt good to have that validation. It made me feel less alone.

And for a brief shining moment, it allowed me to think I might just be able to control things with my mind. Everybody should have that feeling at least once in their lives.

mind-control

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Publishers Clearing House

As a child I remember a fat envelope arriving at our house every year. Full of magazine subscription pleas, it was also a way to enter a drawing for cash prizes beyond your wildest dreams. Publishers Clearing House made you jump through a ridiculous number of hoops before you could do so, though. It left you with a vague sense that if you had forgotten to add this sticker to that form, and fold it just so, you’d be disqualified. It was their way of making you read every single page of advertising in the hopes that it would entice you into buying magazines. It was really kind of annoying, and yet I’d enter every single year.

I knew that the odds of my winning and them showing up at my door with an enormous check and a bouquet of balloons were astronomical. (And what a cool job that would be! The Balloon Bearer for Publishers Clearing House!)

But for a brief shining moment I’d get to fantasize about what I’d do with all that money. What would it be like to lay down that daily burden of survival anxiety? How would I live my life if I could just focus on doing things that I love? It all seemed so out of reach. It still does. It’s a nice dream to have, though, if only for a split second.

Nowadays it’s much easier to enter their contest. You can go to their website and enter on line. I have absolutely no idea where their money comes from in these modern times. I haven’t seen anyone actually take out a magazine subscription in years. (Magazines are those things that you see in your doctor’s waiting room or in the checkout line at the grocery store. They just sit there. No one actually buys them or reads them.)

I tend to think of Publisher’s Clearing House as the purveyor of unattainable dreams. But as they say, you can’t win if you don’t play!

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