Dear LJ

Dear LJ,

I hate to tell you in a letter like this, but I'm leaving you for WordPress.

It's not me, it's you. Not that it hasn't been fun and all. We've have some great times, but you're just not flexible enough. I need a blogging software that doesn't ask me to take its name, a software that doesn't accost me with ads and newsletters I don't want. WordPress understands my need for freedom. It knows when to offer me technical support and when to let me do my own thing.

Money can't buy that kind of relationship.

I'll never forget you. You'll always be the website where my blog got started. WordPress made it easy for me to bring my archives with me, so I know I'll look back at the memories we built together and smile.

I hope we can still be friends. Come visit me anytime you want. My new address is

Be Well,

To Slay a Dangerous Discourse

I do not remember for the life of me how this conversation started this morning, but one way or another, John and I got talking about the fairly recent marches in Maine that were set up to draw attention to the social inequality between men and women when it comes to being bare-chested in public. Constitutionally, women have the equal legal right as men to be bare-chested in public, but the pragmatic reality is that women who want to be topless in public are seen as acting in a socially unacceptable way, while men are not.


This is a tough issue to wrap my head around. As John pointed out, what women would really want to walk around topless in a society where breasts are seriously highlighted as objects of desire? As I woman, I wouldn't.


But last night I was watching a very upsetting episode of Angel which touched on issues of domestic abuse, as the show actually does with some frequency. Quick plot summary—a human with some demon in his blood has the ability to bring out the abusive side in men, and in the course of tracking him down, one of the good guys turns against one of the girls and threatens to do her serious bodily harm because she's too much of a temptress and a slut (which she is absolutely not). It was an ugly episode before they managed to track the bad guy down, and I think it's ugliness was so dark because it rang true.


A common idea that you hear about coming up in rape cases, words that a victim has to learn not to believe is, “Well, she was dressed like a slut, so she was asking for it.” And you read about domestic abuse where a jealous man can't stand the way other men look at his wife, so he beats her for dressing like a whore, regardless of how she actually dresses. While these words won't stand up in a court of law, you read about the women who stay in bad situations because they believe them.


It occurred to me as John and I were having this discussion that the inequality in the taboo of toplessness across genders is a reflection of a culture that quietly condones abuse of women for being sexual creatures. We live in a society that in subtle ways still puts the blame on Eve for bringing death to the human race, that reads the words out of Genesis, “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you” or the words of Paul to the church at Ephesus, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord,” and whispers to our subconscious minds that there's wisdom in them, regardless of the abusive context. It may not be overt, and it's undoubtedly not intended to do harm to innocent women, but it is there and it does do damage.


Men, let me tell you something. If you're fit and attractive, then walking around without your shirt on does make you more an object of sexual desire. The men on the covers of romance novels are not depicted topless or with tantalizingly open shirts without reason. But men can walk around topless in public without causing much of a stir because their power as humans has not been systematically reduced to their sexual appeal for which they have then been punished. The only difference between men and women being topless in public is the social perception that women's breasts have such a powerful sex appeal that they will drive men into a violent, uncontrollable sexual frenzy that will disturb the public peace.


No one would make that claim on a legal basis, perhaps, but that's the subversive social discourse behind the discomfort women are made to feel for being shirtless in public. It's a mentality that encourages both abuse and submission to abuse, and, forgive my language, but it's a crock of shit. Men are not that weak and stupid, for one thing, and if certain individuals are, it is they who are the criminals. Not the women.


The answer to this problematic attitude could go one of two ways. It could go liberally into the territory of universal comfort with toplessness in certain situations (like the beach) or it could go to a mentality that finds male toplessness equally inappropriate. The real point is to not see female sexual appeal as more criminal than male sexual appeal. I know individuals who have this balance in their own views of the world, but I haven't been one of them. On a knee-jerk level, I'm still not. I am far too much of a chicken to join a topless march given current social attitudes, yet I have no issue with shirtless men at the beach. It takes time to change your mind.


I guess the only point I'm trying to make is that, in trying to wrap my head around the point of these marches, I'm starting to realize that even such a seemingly innocuous social more like unequal comfort with topless men and topless women feeds into a much darker and pernicious social discourse that condones abuse of the innocent and will not be stopped unless we're willing to face it and talk about it. For that reason, I'm grateful to the gutsy gals that bared their bosoms in Farmington and Portland in order to get us talking about the problem. And I'm grateful that we live in a democratic society where they are free to make a stir in the first place.

So Much Time, So Little To Do

So, um...what day of the week is it? We're still in June, right? 2010? Oh, good. I haven't missed too much. Not having to be anywhere at any specified time or place for (more or less) over a month is taking its toll on my awareness of the outside world. Not that I don't adore certain aspects of having an extended vacation, but I really, really need the structure of my summer job soon to keep me from going crazy. Or possibly driving John off the deep end.


The floating timelessness actually isn't the problem. Sad to say, but I'm fairly content to be drifting in state of oblivion to time for it's own sake. Having an entire day to watch stupid shows on Netflix, practice my guitar, work on my book, and devour my summer reading books is a delight. The real problem is that we're moving in August.


My sense of time isn't really so far gone that I don't know our moving date is still over two months away, but here's the thing: I can't wait to be out of this apartment. I am sick to death of having to climb over the bed to get to where my clothes are stored in plastic bins underneath it or, alternatively, stubbing my inevitably bare toes on the immovable base of the enormous office chair that is entirely too big for the space. I am tired of almost knocking pans off the stove with my rump every time I try to turn around in our spaghetti-style kitchen and injuring myself when boiling liquids or deadly knives slide off our absurdly sloped counters. I am disgusted by the indefatigable plague of mice and annoyed by the dripping faucets that the facilities management guy failed to fix. Twice.


Taking all these petty grievances with good humor has been an adventure this year, and in all honesty, I really can't do anything but laugh at my frustration with the apartment. Or at least, I couldn't, until we signed papers for a new place. Now I can see an end in sight, and whenever that happens, I get hit with “Mouse and Cookie” syndrome. It goes like this...


If you give Melissa a vision of a pretty new apartment to decorate, she will start thinking about how the furniture should be arranged. And then, when she realizes she could get rid of a worn out desk if she used the little table for her computer, she'll have to try it out. And if that works, she'll have to put the old desk on Craigslist, which will make her wonder: “What other things are bulky, annoying to move, and entirely superfluous to our contentment?” So then she'll pull out the garbage bags and start organizing things to be sold or to donate to Goodwill...


You get the idea. Yesterday I bought CD wallets so I could pull all of John's 100+ game disks out of the jewel cases, store them in a more attractive, space-efficient manner, and organize them alphabetically. (With his permission. Don't sound so horrified—I'm not that nuts. Yet.) That freed up space on the DVD rack, and as we were watching Watchmen (2 hrs. 43 mins. = too long for a dark comic world I'm unfamiliar with on a tiny screen when I'm in MCS mode), I realized that I could use that shelf for all our card games, which were cluttering up space on top of John's desk. It took all my willpower to wait until the credits started rolling to get up and carry out my thought.


I am an organizational monster right now. Thinking about how best to consolidate and organize our stuff for a painless move is literally keeping me up at night.


I did have a bit of comic relief and amusing human interaction spring from this insanity, so I suppose it's not all bad. That desk which I put up on Craigslist sold in the first half hour. When I called the number given in the email, I got a man who didn't speak a lot of English. From what I heard of the his conversation with people in the background, I think they were speaking Haitian Creole, which I don't speak at all. This made for an interesting challenge trying to give directions. We eventually agreed that I should email him the address, and the family made it to my apartment a while later.


When my buzzer rang, I answered and told them to come on up to the fourth floor. I wasn't sure if they definitely wanted the desk or if they wanted it in one piece, so it made more sense to have them come up. I carried the desk close to the door, opened it, and waited to flag them down. And waited. I was puzzling over how long it took to climb three flights of stairs when my buzzer rang again.


The intercoms have pretty poor sound quality, even if we hadn't been dealing with a language barrier, but I got the drift that they had thought I was coming down. So down I went. On the second exchange, they caught the idea that I thought they were coming up, so up they came. We managed to meet in the middle, and I brought them up to look at the desk.


The desk goes together and comes apart pretty easily, but it's light and small enough that I had really been hoping they would just take it in one piece. Sadly, that didn't work for them, so I popped the desk upside-down in the hallway and put the Allen wrench to work. Slowly. I'm not particularly swift with the disassembling of particle board furniture, especially in bad light with three people watching me. I tried to make small talk to lighten the awkwardness, but again...the language thing. I smiled a lot and said nice things, and they smiled back at me uncertainly.


A couple of the screws weren't biting into the wood enough to come out easily, so the man took over helping me with the keyboard tray. This made me nervous, because experience has taught me that keyboard trays are massively irritating to put back together if they come apart the wrong way. I tried to steady the mechanism, but I honestly don't really know quite how these things go together...somewhere in the process, something fell apart, and the twelve tiny metal balls that keep the tray rolling smoothly went flying all down the gray and dingy hallway.


It took half an hour, John's super strong magnets, and four pairs of eyes scouring the hall to find eleven of the balls. We scattered some of them twice more before we managed to discover the trick of putting the tray back together, with some of my neighbors passing by and looking at us like we were out of our minds for wandering around the hall with our rumps in the air and our eyes to the ground, but we did manage to get the roller reassembled.


At this point, I was feeling thoroughly embarrassed at how inept I was at taking apart a very simple desk that I've assembled twice, and I was also not sure how I should handle the question of the money. We had agreed to $40 on the phone, but I didn't wanted to be pushy, especially given how much of a hassle the desk had turned out to be. I offered to help them carry to pieces out to their car, thinking maybe I should just let them have the desk if they didn't offer the money.


When we got down to the first floor, I was behind them. They hadn't said anything to each other going down the stairs, but they all paused inside the doors, not looking at me. One of the women started digging around in her purse, and I realized she was probably looking for her money. I looked away to be polite, letting my gaze wander around the ceiling, the stairs, the odd patch of missing tile...


I know awkward situations always feel like they're taking longer than they do, but five minutes in a small space trying not to watch someone dig through their purse while you're waiting to carry something out for them feels like approximately three lifetimes when you can't make small talk. I have no particular love of chatting for chatting's sake, but I became very keenly aware of its value as a tool for moderating social awkwardness when I suddenly couldn't use it.


She did eventually find the money, and we parted ways with polite smiles and a sincere conviction on my part that they thought I was a little nuts. Given the fact that I went upstairs to pack a box or two for a move that's still two months away, however, that assessment would be fair enough.

Thank You, Mr. Ford

I'm going to go out on a limb now and share something with you that I don't really share with anyone. Come a little closer so I can whisper it...Closer...Okay, ready? I'm a writer.


I usually keep this bit of information close to the chest because people who run around claiming to be writers without ever really writing anything make me a little crazy, and I don't want to be like that. I'm not published in any sense other than the “post my own stories online” sense, so I'm not going to run around pretending to be a professional. I'm an amateur hack, but gosh darn it, I do write.


The book project I've had simmering in the back of my mind for five or six years started making it's way out of my head and onto the page almost two years ago. Just a bit of sci-fi nonsense, but writing anything worth reading around full-time work or classes is harder than I would have imagined. Since handing my finals in, however, I've been a free woman (apart from the whole search for a “real” job), and this free woman has spent some time cracking down on her dream ticket out of the rat race.


Being a dream, my visions of what it's like to be a best-selling sci-fi author are very distinctly colored with delusions of grandeur. I was thinking about my book yesterday as I tidied up the apartment, playing the game of imagining who I'd like to cast in the starring roles if my book ever got made into a movie. I imagined sweeping Brad Pitt (too pretty boy), Hugh Jackman (too edgy), and Harrison Ford (sadly, too old) aside and asking the director to try to bring in Brendan Frasier. Ha. As if any of that would ever happen.


Of course, when John heard I would want to cast Brendan Frasier, he gave me a funny look and said, “Really? That's not how I pictured Haven at all. Brendan Frasier is so goofy.” Well, yes. Yes, he is. But you write what you know, and as such, my main character has a lot in common with my husband. If that's not saying enough, take another look at the video projects John and I made together. I happen to think that sexiness moderated by goofiness is ubersexy.


But this is completely beside the point. The real point in sharing this story was to tell you about my imaginary conversation with Harrison Ford. He looked so crushed when I told him that I would have snatched him up for the role in a heartbeat twenty years ago that I said, “Well, there is this one role...It's minor, but I could beef it up for you.” Of course, he looked so happy in my little world of make-believe that I started to play around with how I actually might beef this character up...and realized very quickly that doing so would fix two or three major problems I'd been puzzling over how to solve.


And the point in sharing that point is to say that being a writer is odd. I spend a lot of time in my own head, having conversations with people who I will, in all likelihood, never have any reason to meet and then using these improbable interactions as tools for looking at my work in a different light. Not that I'm crazy for fame and fortune (though I wouldn't turn down the fortune bit, if anyone's offering :), but if you're going to have an unbelievable conversation, you might as well make it good, right?


Today I think I will pay a visit on the Dalai Lama.

Lady Slippers & Lightning Bugs

I have a vivid memory of seeing a lady slipper for the first time. I was probably five or six at the time, and my family was out at our camp, which to this day retains its rustic camp-ness, even as many of the other homes on the lake are being wired for electricity and satellite t.v. The flower was tucked up against the back wall of the dark red camp, a tiny, pale, fragile life bravely eking a living out of those swampy woods where my father and his brothers habitually broke limbs as boys proving they were manly men.


It struck me as a strangely delicate thing to exist in such a rugged place, even then, and I thought it was the loveliest thing I had ever seen. I reached out to pluck it, but fortunately my grandmother was with me. She stopped me and explained to me that it was an endangered flower, which meant that it was illegal to pick them. That only gave the little flower a more magical quality in my mind. We didn’t get them every year, and if we did, I never saw more than one or two hanging on tenaciously in the woods by the swamp. Every time I have found one since then, I’ve felt like I’ve been given a precious gift, like being granted a wish by a good fairy.


Fireflies are another thing that have an almost mystical quality in my mind. To see fireflies, you have to be willing to look into the dark woods at night, and generally speaking, I’m not. My imagination has always taken a little too much liberty with my uncles’ already gruesomely fictitious stories of Hatchet Harry, fisher cats, and orangutans. Everyone knows, of course, that the best way to not be eaten by such creatures emerging from the woods is to stare very intently  at the campfire, avoiding eye contact with any potential threat in the trees beyond. Making sure that there are plenty of relatives between you and the woods is unnecessary…just a reasonable measure of caution that makes you feel better about not watching your back. The real trick is the not looking into the shadows beneath the trees.


So, spending all of my time focused on the warmth of the fire and avoiding eye contact with imaginary fiends, I never saw fireflies as a kid. In my mind, they were this piece of summer lore that was fascinating, but touched with a hint of sidhe impossibility. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I have a single memory of looking into the dark long enough to notice the sporadic signals of fireflies calling out to each other in the blackness. When I did see them, they touched something in me that lives in the same part of my brain that is still moved by lady slippers. The something that sees infinite beauty in the ways life can thrive in unlikely places.


I had the opportunity to go out to camp this weekend with John, with many of our friends and family members coming to join us for a few hours here and there, and it was one of those weekends that was rich with moments that give you reason to appreciate the loveliness of life. One of the first things my sister pointed out to me when we got to camp was a forest of lady slippers in the swamp. They’ve been coming up in more strength over the past few years, but never have I ever seen nearly two dozen growing together in one place in a single year. It was incredible.


The pleasure of decent weather, good food, and excellent company we enjoyed at camp this weekend was bracketed with another incredible moment. On Sunday evening, everyone but John and I had gone home, so we were enjoying one last lazy campfire together to cook our dinner and burn the remnants of earlier fires down to ash. John had thoroughly indulged my taste for campfire music by singing along with the Irish folk tunes I’ve been learning, and we were huddled close to the fire as it burned lower and lower when I noticed something flashing in the woods.


My first thought was “Aliens!” because, let’s face it, you can’t take the irrational dreamer out of the academic. I breathed deeply until the reaction passed, and as I continued watching the woods, I realized that I was just seeing fireflies. John was as surprised as I was—it was a cool weekend, and we thought fireflies wouldn’t be out so soon. We started looking more closely into the dark trees, and we realized quickly that there were dozens of fireflies going courting in the late May evening.


It really was one of those weekends that makes you wonder if there’s a good fairy drifting around, just out of sight.

Pomp & Paradox

I felt old, just now. A friend of mine from junior high sent me a message, and it occurred to me that I am now more than twice the age I was when we met, more than a decade ago. Which is weird, because that was just a few days ago, I swear. I still remember the horrible awkwardness of walking into a room where I knew no one and where I had no idea what the rules of fashion and social behavior were. Fortunately, I had the good luck to be dragged into a group of people who didn't particularly care what the rules of fashion or social behavior were, and I was encouraged to be my own odd self.


I remember, back then, thinking that it would be nice to be a grown-up. I had it in my mind that grown-ups were automatically freed from this thing called “peer pressure” that teens were warned so strongly against. How great would it be if everyone could be free to be his or her own odd self? Wouldn't the world be marvelously strange?


I'm still waiting to grow up enough to enter that world. Sure, I'm perfectly comfortable being the strange duck that I am as a human being, and I know plenty of people who are as well. But more than ever, it seems like there's some game being played by most of the world that no one quite knows the rules to. Trying to be a part of the working world is something like being a spy who doesn't quite know what's happening. Do “they” want confidence and experience? Fresh enthusiastic innocence? Cynicism that suggests immunity to burnout? Or do “they” want to steal your soul?


Yes, yes, I know. Melodramatic much? The trouble with graduating is that it's bit of a crossroads, another test of how good I am at being my own odd self, and a test for determining what that self is made of. I'm not great at that kind of test. It involves a lot of waiting and imagining the future. Could I be happy in a publishing house where I am well-qualified to work but disagree with the commercializing of a child-centric process like education? Or would I be better off beating my head against the wall to get an entry-level teaching job where it is entirely possible that I will be eaten alive thirty seconds after the kids find out I have no idea how to manage a classroom?


Anyway...there's the burning question that's weighing down my thoughts at the moment. Fortunately, it's not weighing nearly as heavily as the heat. My mind is in this humid, boggy place that is making me feel detached from almost every concern except that of how heavy my robes are for the ceremony tomorrow (answer: too). Impending pomp and circumstance is a strange torture ritual that is somehow highlighting for me the paradox of being able to feel both old and yet not grown up all at the same time.


Mahna Mahna (Doo Doo Do Do Do)

I have no memory of the first time I saw a Muppet, with pretty good reason. Whether it was Sesame Street or Fraggle Rock or even the more adult-targeted Muppet Show, Muppets have always been a part of my life. And not just a passive presence in the background: I love Muppets. I wanted to name my first kitten after Red Fraggle. Mom complained that Red was a girl and the little ginger kitten was not, so I named him after Gobo Fraggle instead. The pun-heavy hamming around of Kermit and Fozzie set the stage for my sense of humor (much to my father's amusement and my mother's chagrin, I think).


Naturally, when I stumbled across a listing for a display on Jim Henson's work at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, I had to go. A friend of mine was kind enough to go with me to make the hefty trek on the MBTA into an area where return buses are long in coming, which made the trip better—I have always found that Muppets are even more when delightful appreciated with a friend.


I think I can die happy now, because I've met Kermit (did you know the original Kermit was made out of an old spring coat that belonged the Henson's mother?), Rowlf, Mahna Mahna (apparently that was his name, not just random scatting), Gobo, and Cantus the Minstrel in person. More or less. They were a little on the quiet side, but I imagine I would be too if I had to spend my day in a glass box... (Wocka, wocka, wocka!)


Most of the display consisted of storyboards and sketches of Henson's early commercial work that doesn't receive a lot of attention these days, such as his hilariously “offer you can't refuse” advertisements for Wilkins Coffee. As you walk in, the first section of the exhibit showcases sketches and posters from Henson's days in high school drama. Among these was a little pencil sketch of a mobile with a bunch of eyes and mouths, with notes beside it suggesting a bit of kinetic art that creating various expressions as the eyes and mouths rotated.


This little sketch presented a piece of inspiration to fantastic to ignore, so yesterday John and I spent several hours crafting our own little art piece inspired by (but fairly different from) that sketch. It's hard to explain in words,'s a multimedia treat for you to puzzle at.




It's just a bit of silliness, but somehow, I like to think Jim Henson would have appreciated that his legacy still inspires people to indulge themselves in a little nonsense now and then.

Iron "E"

Somethings never change. The post-semester, all-consuming laziness that grips me, for one, and fills me with a dread of my computer (unless it's streaming video). My complete inability to keep track of the days without having commitments on my time, for another. It is Wednesday, right? Don't even ask me the date today. I think it's May, but I would not be surprised if that turned out to be incorrect.


I was reminded of another constant in my life last Friday (I think...) when I was visiting my grandmother on my dad's side of the family. We spent a day just drinking tea and chatting, which was a wonderful luxury. I discovered that my grandparents have traveled a great deal further than I had realized, and picked up some fantastic stories along the way. It's a treat to hear them.


One way or another, the conversation wandered around to the idea of reincarnation. My grandmother joked, “Next time around, I'm coming back as a Smith or a Jones,” and I had to laugh. I knew exactly what she meant. When John and I were dating, something once prompted him to say that he would never expect a woman to take his last name when they got married. I very quickly said, “if we ever get married, I am definitely taking your name. No question.”


My maiden name (my grandmother's married name) is a pain in the butt, to put it nicely. Anyone out there with a St. Something surname can probably sympathize. No one can pronounce it (St. is an abbreviation for Saint, how hard is that to figure out, people?), no one can alphabetize it (saint whatever, St. Andrew comes before St. Paul), and no one can ever find it in a computer database (St period? St space? Just look me up by phone number, okay?). It's a grand old French name with history and character, but when I got married, I couldn't wait to have a last name that wouldn't bring a screeching halt to computer operations every time I ordered a set of transcripts.


There's another funny quirk about my maiden name, which is that everyone expects it to be spelled with an “e” on the end, which it's not. For some reason, of all the headaches I had dealing with my maiden name, this one and most easily forgiven blunder always irked me the most. I think it was just always the final mistake to confront, that last drop in a very full glass of water that breaks the surface tension and makes the contents spill. Also, I'm a dorky word person, and the orthography of my name is a very salient expression of my identity in my mind. I also tend to be irritable at people who misspell Melissa (no one will ever understand how loathsome I found the short-lived nickname “double-ell Mel” springing from a misspelled certificate, but that's another story). It's one of those weird things about how I'm wired. Seeing my name misspelled make my teeth ache, like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard.


So getting rid of my maiden name felt like a great bookkeeping relief. Finally, I thought, people will be able to handle my one-syllable, common, Irish married name. Walshe. And it is easier in immense ways that I often find myself grateful for, but you know what's funny about it? No one expects it to have an “e” on the end.


Some battles in life may reverse direction, but they never change.


Saturday was one of the longest days of my life. The legislation that makes a demand for highly qualified teachers means that teachers have to pass a good number of standardized tests: number two pencils and draconian policies about water bottles included. Since I'm thinking of taking my shiny new education degree for a spin in the classroom (if anyone will hire me), I got to undergo this quaint American tradition of cruel and unreasonable reward for wanting to enter the sphere of public service.


I'm whining too much about it, really. The morning test on basic reading and writing skills was a piece of cake, as I had been promised it was by friends who have gone through it. I even felt good enough after finishing that test early that I spent another hour taking a pilot test and earning a gift certificate for books. What killed me was that, after four hours of hand-cramping bubble-filling, I had to sit through another several hours, but this time in math.


I am fairly certain the results of that test will forever bar me from teaching anything higher than kindergarten math. I can't really talk about the specific problems on the test, for fear the scary copyright ninjas from Pearson will snatch me away in the dead of night, but I will say that I have forgotten far more about numbers than they expected me to know. I might have remembered more if I had had the option of taking the math test before parboiling my brain with the morning test, but then again, I might not have. Numbers are not my strength.


In more pleasant news, I turned in my last paper yesterday. My final final. Barring any truly disastrous grades in the eleventh hour, I have earned my master's degree. Hooray! Now I just have to find some job for which I am not completely unqualified and repay my loans.


Hm. Maybe the more appropriate response would be, “Oy vey.”