Tag Archives: free advice

in which history is amazing

Unless you’re new here, it will come as no surprise that one of my three great loves is history. I have a BA in history. I write historical fiction. My first job was as a blacksmith’s apprentice at an 1850s reenacenment park. My first boyfriend took me to a pioneer ball1.

However, it has come to my attention that some people out there think history is boring.

To which I say, BORING!? What is wrong with you!?

Oh, you’re probably thinking about all those dates your teacher made you memorize in high school. On this day, this bill was signed. On this day, so and so was elected president. This was the year a war was won.

And you would be right—that crap is boring. But history is not!

So here’s a PSA to remind you that history is not boring. It is, in fact, the single most interesting thing you can study, because people are fascinating and the things they do and the stories they live are sometimes so much better and crazier and stranger than fiction.

So if you ever think history is boring, just remember…

  • Lord Byron kept a trained bear in his college dorm room.
  • Tycho Brahe, Danish astronomer in the 1600s, had a gold nose (after he lost his actual nose in a duel) and a pet moose.
  • The English government exhumed Oliver Cromwell three years after his death, put him on trial, and executed his body.
  • Isadora Duncan was killed when her scarf got tangled in the wheel of the sports car she was driving and snapped her neck.
  • Josephine Baker, exotic dancer most famous for wearing nothing but bananas, was a French spy during WWII. And had an affair with Frida Kahlo.
  • So was Roald Dahl (the spy part, not the affair with Frida Kahlo). He served with Ian Fleming of James Bond fame.
  • The Theremin exists.
  • Andrew Jackson was so vulgar that his parrot, who learned every word he knew from his presidential owner, was ejected from his funeral for cussing.
  • William Walker, a private US citizen in the antebellum south, once took over Nicaragua with an army he mustered by himself, and was president there for a year before he was overthrown
  • Percy Shelley had a disease that caused calcium to build up in his heart, so when he died and was cremated, his heart was so bone-like it did not burn. It was pulled from the ashes of his funeral pyre and given to his wife Mary Shelley, who kept it in a drawer, wrapped in poetry, until she died and it was buried with her.
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine rose from relative obscurity to become queen of both France and England at different points in her life. She went on Crusade with one king, and led her sons in a revolution against the other.
  • The Dutch were once selling single tulip bulbs for the price of a house.
  • Daniel Sickels, a southern general in the Civil War, lost his leg in the battle of Gettysburg, then donated that severed leg to the Museum of Health and for the rest of his life would visit his leg each year on the anniversary of its amputation.
  • Pope Pius II had a career as an erotic novelist before becoming pope.
  • So did Louisa May Alcott. Though she wasn’t a pope.
  • One man died during the Boston Tea Party when he got whacked over the head very sharply by a rogue crate of tea. Rather than bury him, because they were sort of in a hurry, he was tossed into a barn and decided they’d come back for him later. When they returned the next day, he was gone. They found him drinking at the pub. LOL, JK, not dead, just knocked out.
  • Teddy Roosevelt was shot just before giving a speech, but the pages of his extremely large speech folded up inside his breast pocket slowed the bullet enough to keep it from doing major damage. He was still bleeding pretty seriously, but before consenting to receive any medical attention, he finished the damn speech.
  • Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle were friends, both obsessed with spiritualism (though had a falling out when Doyle faked a séance to impress Houdini).
  • In 1788, the Austrian army attacked itself and lost ten thousand men.

And that’s just the stuff I could think of off the top of my  head.

Do you have a favorite unbelievable historical fact? Leave it in comments—I eat this stuff up!

 

  1. And then left me behind when he went to fight the Yankees in the War of Northern Aggression

 

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in which I discuss the thoroughly modern woman

Allow me a moment to muse on female heroines. I am not a bra-burning feminist and my opinions here are pretty mild, so I hope no one runs away.

This past weekend, I went with some friends to see Thoroughly Modern Millie, one of my favorite campy Broadway musicals. I saw this show once when I was around twelve and loved it. The dancing, the flappers, the 20s music—but the thing I really remembered loving was Millie. Twelve year old me loved Millie as a character. Even at twelve, before I understood what sexism felt like, I recognized that Millie was different from most of the women that populated musicals. She was sassy, smart, and brave, and I carried Millie with me for years as a heroine with something to hold onto.

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Millie as played by Sutton Foster on Broadway
Is she not the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen!?

So then I saw Thoroughly Modern Millie again this weekend, and it was exactly the same delightful show I remembered. But about halfway through, II found myself thinking, “I don’t remember this show being so much about marriage.” Little me had not registered that Millie, brave and driven as she is, was all the time driving towards finding herself a husband. But as I watched the show, I realized that her goal in no way destroyed my image of her as the feminist icon that I had carried from my tweens. Millie was still, in a lot of ways, everything I wanted to be, despite the fact that marriage is pretty low on my priorities list and I don’t usually associate feminist icons with a strong desire to settle down with a man.

Which got me thinking.

I read a really great article last week called “Why I Hate Strong Female Characters” by Sophia McDougal. Though I don’t agree with everything she says, I liked the main take away, which is that the idea of a Strong Female Character is a damaging one. First because it creates a differentiation between the genders that we are trying to fight. No one every praises a book for having a strong male character, but we say it all the time about women.

The article also pushed back against the idea that a strong female character is one who wears trousers, cuts her hair short, and knows how to fight. So many books and movies today say, “Look! Woman fires a gun! Woman punches snarky man in face! She is strong! She is independent! She is sexy! Aspire to be her!” In my experience, these are the women that usually come off as violent and volatile, but they lack their own drive in life. And when the moment comes for them to actually take a stand and take care of themselves, they fall apart.

Millie doesn’t throw any punches. She doesn’t go into battle. She doesn’t hold a gun. She does bob her hair, but that’s all in pursuit of fashion. What she does do is set her sights on what she wants, move actively towards it, roll with the setbacks that come along the way, and adjust her plan to fit them. And in the end, she recognizes and lets go of her flaws. Which are all things I want to emulate in my own life.

It didn’t matter that she wanted to get married and I don’t. I’ve been laboring for a while under an incorrect idea that a desire to fall in love and get married is a defect in a woman’s character, and I’m trying to let go of that. Millie showed me otherwise. She is an example of a woman who is fine on her own but better with someone else. It doesn’t make her weak. It doesn’t mean she needs a man to complete her. It just means she knows what she wants, and she goes, and she finds it and she gets it. And I freaking love that.

To me, what makes a compelling heroine is a woman who is actively in pursuit of what she wants. Whether that is marriage or a career or a perfect cup of tea, that is what I want in my heroines. A woman who is active in her own life rather than acted upon. Wanting love and marriage does not make a woman weak any more than kicking ass and taking names makes her strong.

That is what I want in my friends, male and female, and in my own life: people who find what they want and they go for it.

And that is about as opinionated as I get. Carry on, and happy Monday.

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in which I fight to stay focused

I don’t know if you’ve ever written a novel, but in my experience, the process of writing a first draft for any novel always goes down about the same way.

Stage 1: The Brilliant Idea
It can come at anytime, anywhere. On the bus to work. In the shower. In the middle of the night via a dream. But when it comes, it hits you hard, and you become jump-up-and-down excited about it1.

Stage 2: Wild excitement
You are in overdrive. Envisioning scenes. Shaping characters. Perfecting witty dialogue in your head. It is all you think about, and the more you think about it, the more sure you are that you have the next Harry Potter on your hands.

Stage 3: Frenzied writing
You begin, and it is glorious. The words flow like something that flows really fast and awesomely2. You’d rather be writing than doing anything else. You forgo social situations to write. You stay up late into the night working. You think, ‘Writing is easy!’

Stage 4: The sagging middle
This generally happens for me when I hit the places in my outline that I filled in with phrases like “and then stuff happens.” You encounter plot holes. Questions. You get stuck. Things start to move a little slower. You find yourself compulsively checking facebook in the middle of every other sentence, and you find you’re tweeting more about writing than you are actually writing. Things are getting hard, and so much less fun, and you will basically do anything to avoid writing3.

Stage 5: Totally stuck/abject despair
Needs no explanation

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this pie chart, while slightly off topic, is depressingly accurate.

Stage 4 is usually where something enters the picture that Laini Taylor calls “The Slutty New Idea.” That’s technical writer talk.

The SNI is a brand-new idea that calls to you from the dark corners of your mind and says, “Come write me, I’m so much easier.” And because it is currently occupying stage one, it is bright and shiny and looks just so pretty that you cannot resist its siren song, which is why most novels are never finished—they are abandoned in favor of other projects that, from a distance, look easier and better.

The problem with the SNI is that as soon as you start working on it, it becomes your work in progress, and the whole darn thing starts over again.

Right now, I am in the throws of stage 4, the least fun stage of writing. I have hit the sagging middle, the place where I start to see all the holes in my current work in progress and use them as an excuse not to press onward. And from the dark recesses of my imagination, the SNI is calling to me. Come write me, I’m so much easier.

The last two novel-length items I have written did not make it past first draft4 and in all likelihood, never will. I don’t regret writing them, because I believe in a habit of completion, but after two projects dying as infants, I’m ready to finish something and do something with it. Writing first drafts is too hard to just let it die afterwards. So the SNI is looking particularly appealing of late. It looks easier to finish. Easier to revise.

But I am resisting! I am trying really, really hard to not only to finish the current first draft, but to finish it as something that can be revised and later actually finished5.

Any writers out there have any ideas about how to get over the hump and resist switching projects? Because right now, it’s harder than giving up diet coke6.

On a separate note, my blogging is going to be sporadic and infrequent over the next month, because finals are making me want to Sherlock-style throw myself off a building. I shall return to normal programing once April is over. I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel7.

 

  1. If you are not jump-up-and-down excited about any idea, it’s not worth writing a novel about. Because writing a novel is too hard.
  2. I am clearly not in this stage at the moment.
  3. This is why our kitchen is really, really clean right now, and why I’ve been doing an uncharacteristic amount of cooking lately.
  4. You may remember the famed Mormon hook handed zombie killer novel. While still awesome, it is inherently flawed, and whipping it into anything usable would require basically starting over.
  5. Those of you who think writing a novel involves one burst of brilliance and then instant publication are incorrect.
  6. Which I am doing. And it is a lot easier than I expected it to be. Though the constant exhaustion and caffeine-withdrawal head is less fun.
  7. And that light looks like the new Star Trek movie, and the Great Gatsby movie, and the new season of Arrested Development. So close…and yet so far away…
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in which I try to conquer a mental block

So it’s been two weeks since I blogged. Not too much has happened in those two weeks. I did stuff. I went places. I wrote stuff. That’s actually what I want to talk about. Writing stuff.

This past week, I turned in my thesis proposal. My thesis is going to be a young adult novel. It will also probably be awesome. Here’s hoping for that, anyways. But this past week, when I’ve talked to friends and relatives about what’s going on in my life, I’ve said, “Oh, I’ve been working on my thesis proposal.” To which everyone immediately asks, “Oh, what’s your thesis about?” And I panic and say, “Nothing,” and then I go hide until they go away.

Because I really, really hate talking about my writing. This is a terrible thing for a writer just starting out, when you are basically the only person who talks up your own work. But I have some mental block against talking about it.

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I think this is a two-pronged problem. First of all, telling people about my writing freaks me out, because it’s like putting the concoctions from the weirdest corners of your brain on display for everyone to judge you by. Can you imagine if fifteen years ago you met a woman in a Scottish coffee shop and said, “What are you writing about?” And she said, “A kid who goes to wizard school who kills this bad guy when he’s a baby, and there’s earwax flavored jellybeans and owls deliver the mail!” You would have said, “Okay crazy,” and left. My point is that out of context, all books sound like insane ravings. And I won’t have you judging me based on my insane ravings1.

The other reason I hate talking about my writing is because I don’t really feel like I’m actually a writer. Anyone with a blank word document can call themselves a writer. So what sets those people apart from the actual writers? In my mind, it’s always been publication. I don’t like telling people I’m a writer, and I like even less telling people that I’m trying to get published. Because then I feel some sort of accountability to them. I don’t want anyone coming back to me in a year and saying “What happened to that thing you wrote you were trying to get published?” And I have to say, “Yeah, about that…I’m a failure.”

But then it was pointed out to me last weekend that saying you’re not a writer until you get something published is like saying you’re not a parent until your child moves out. And that made a lot of weird sense. I want to talk about my writing. I want to be proud of the thing I do. So my spring/summer goal is to be better at talking about my writing. This does not mean that I am going to start blogging about it in any sort of detail. And if you ask me about it, I’ll probably still run away. But here I am acknowledging that I am writing something of novel length. And I will someday maybe try and publish it. And I am hoping it won’t suck.

  1. Seriously, sometimes I say them out loud and even I think I sound insane.
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in which I make the case for Young Adult

Today, I got to have lunch with one of my most favorite authors of all time, Nova Ren Suma. Nova is the author of three beautiful books, Dani Noir, the forthcoming 17 & Gone1, and Imaginary Girls, which is one of two novels that made me say, “Yes. I want to be a young adult writer2.”

I spend a lot of time with writers who are trying to make it, which can start to feel sort of like a race where we are all tripping over each other to get to that hardcover debut first. So it was refreshing to talk to Nova, someone who is already there, and has already done it. She was a light at the end of the tunnel, that I can look at and see that yes, this can work out! It can be done3!

Nova and I talked about many wonderful things, but the thing that made the biggest impact was talking about the stigma attached to YA. I spend so much time around people who understand the appeal of YA that I sometimes forget that there is a judgment attached to it. When I tell people, “I’m studying creative writing.” They say something like, “That’s really cool! What do you write?” Then I say, “Children’s lit.” And they look sort of disappointed. And they say one of three things:

1. Like Twilight? (Or Hunger Games, which is slightly more flattering, but usually Twilight).
2. Well, maybe someday you can write real books.
3. I’ve heard there’s a lot of money in that.

To which, I would like to respond as follows:

1. No, not like Twilight. Or Hunger Games, for that matter. Just because these books have sort of become the face of YA, doesn’t mean they are the only ones. Vampire books and dystopians are such a small part of the industry4. And some of those books are magnificent5. Just because Twilight isn’t per say the greatest piece of literature, does not mean that all young adult books are like that, in the same way that 50 Shades of Grey, though it is the best-selling book of all time, is not the great American novel. Twilight, though popular, is not the pinnacle or the standard or the norm of YA.

2. News flash—young adult books are real books. In fact, sometimes they are more real than so-called adult novels6. In saying that YA books are less than adult books, you are saying that a teenager’s experience in the world is somehow less valid than an adult’s, and so the books about them are less important.

3. Oh, right, because that’s why I’m doing this. Thank you for reminding me.

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YA books are some of the most poignant and real books on the shelves. They mirror the teenage experience, where everything is so new and raw and close to the surface and you are so busy creating yourself that you don’t have time to hide behind fancy prose, issues, or inflated sense of self. YA is story, and it is emotion, and in so many cases, it is raw and sharp and brilliant, and it hits you right where you live. YA is comprised of coming of age stories, and anyone can read those and relate to them, because we never stop coming of age.

But, you might say, “Isn’t YA lit written for a younger audience? I think it’s below my reading level.” First of all, reading level is a scam created by school districts to make kids feel bad about themselves. And second of all, contrary to popular belief, YA writers don’t write down to their audience. They don’t dumb down their stories or their prose, because teenagers don’t need that. YA is not a reading level, it’s a genre, and you can read about teenagers even if you’re not one.

If you are a new comer to YA, or if you carry some of the stigmas described above, might I humbly suggest a few not scary YA titles to start with, and some comp adult titles so they are less intimidating. No vampires, or werewolves, or fight to the death arenas. These are the kind of books that will not just change your perspective on YA: they will change your life.

If you liked….
…The DaVinci Code you might like Tokyo Heist by Diana Renn
…The Time Traveler’s Wife you might like Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone
…The Night Circus you might like A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
…Game of Thrones you might like Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
…My Sister’s Keeper you might like The Fault in our Stars by John Green
…Water for Elephants you might like Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
…Girl with the Dragon Tattoo you might like Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein  
…The Kite Runner you might like Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
…Gone Girl you might like I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
…Something Borrowed you might like Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

  1. Which I have already read. Because I’m awesome. And other reasons.  
  2. Seriously guys. Imaginary Girls. Read it, and love it, and slobber over the prose like I did.
  3. Asdflkj. I hope.
  4. Has anybody written a dystopian about vampires? That feels like a missed opportunity.
  5. May I introduce you to Feed by MT Anderson?
  6. I hate calling them adult books because then it sounds like porn.
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in which writing kidlit is hard

Why Writing Kidlit is Hard – A half formed thought by Mackenzi Lee

Today I had a job interview. In the middle of it, I had a brainwave. I did not share this brainwave with the interviewer, because it’s still sort of half formed in my head, and I didn’t want to look like a totally inarticulate moron1 if it didn’t pan out.

So here’s what I was thinking about writing for kids, and why it is so hard. Because it is. For those of you who read picture books and think, “I could do that!” Try it sometime. I dare you2.

As adults writing for children, we are looking back on our childhood and remembering what it was like to be a kid. But kids have never been anything but kids. They don’t have to look backward, they just look around.

So when adults write, we3 bring with us our insights and baggage from both childhood and adulthood, and the perspective that comes with it. But kids don’t have this reflective vision. That’s why writing for kids is so hard, because kids don’t have that ‘extra perspective’ that comes through in your writing, so it becomes really easy for them to spot people who are faking it. As a kidlit writer, you have to find a way to take yourself back to a time when you weren’t looking backwards at yourself.

But I think that’s also why so many adults are drawn to kidlit. It’s very appealing to be able to go back to a time when you didn’t have adult worries. We can go back to a time when things made more sense, or experience the problems that we felt at the time were so earth changing, but in the end really weren’t. Or sometimes, in certain YA books, they are earth changing. We don’t want to have to look back at our youth, so we can experience it all over again through kidlit. .

Wow, yes, really good I didn’t bust this one out in the middle of my interview. This might not have gone over that well.  I will stop now.

  1. In other news, Microsoft Word just autocorrected moron to Mormon.
  2. Okay, it’s hard to write a good kids book.
  3. We…Oh no. Guys, am I an adult?
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in which I live passionately

Last night on the train, I overheard a girl talking to her friend about a first date with a guy and the impossibility of a second one with him. I heard her say the following:

“He was really sweet and really cute, but he was just too into Star Wars.”

First of all…no. There’s no such thing as being “too into Star Wars.” Give me a guy who can identify a clone trooper based on the color of helmet any day2.

Second of all, I understand that there is a line where obsession stops being endearing and instead can be dangerous and consuming, but I want to know when we started making fun of people for being passionate about things. When did that become a deal breaker? I don’t think there’s anything more attractive than someone who is passionate about something—anything—even Star Wars—and then uses that obsession to elevate their own life and the lives of those around them. That’s something I love about the communities I am a part of, both the young adult community and the wider world of being a total nerd2. I love being part of communities who value passion and knowledge and excitement, and who let me be unironically giddy over the fact that I got an advanced copy of Robin LaFever’s new book, and that the set designer for Sherlock has been sending cryptic tweets about their season 3 shooting locations.

I am grateful to be part of groups that understand when I stay up all night writing this weird little steampunk novel that may never see the light of a bookstore but man, I am enjoying myself. Sometimes I get so caught up in the race to get published3 I forget that I am here in Boston at Simmons because I passionately love writing. It’s fun. And I am passionately enthusiastic about it.

To quote, as I so often do, John Green, “When people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.”

So I would encourage you to go out into the world and strive to live passionately and work towards something that moves you. This world was not shaped by those who were kind of interested in things. Jump up and down on your chair and scream about how much you love whatever it is you love. People will listen.

  1. I was really close to leaning over to this girl who did not know how good she had it and asking, “Sorry, but if you’re not going to call this guy who is too into Star Wars, mind if I take a crack? He may have met his match.”
  2. Let’s call it nerdfighteria.
  3. Which sometimes feels second only to the Space Race in importance.
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in which I offer unsolicited advice to fictional characters

This weekend, while in blizzard-induced lockdown, I read Frankenstein, which I somehow made it out of high school without ever being assigned. Frankenstein has reminded me of something that I often forget when reading so much young adult lit: reading can be hard and slow. I can rip through most YA books really fast. I sit with Frankenstein for what feels like hours and only get through fifteen pages.

Frankenstein has been a surprising and huge hit. I have loved every word of it, even the parts where the remarkably articulate monster waxes poetic. But, as with many books, I have frequently found myself shouting at Victor Frankenstein because he is a total moron, the same way you shout at people in horror movies not to go in that closet.

It got me thinking about the other fictional characters I would like to give a good talking to. And since Valentine’s Day is coming up and everybody’s writing cards anyway, I thought I’d send a few of my own.

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Dear Jay Gatsby

No. You cannot repeat the past. And you are playing jump rope with the line between romantic and restraining order. Ask yourself this question: did I buy a million dollar house to impress a girl I am now too scared to talk to? If the answer is yes (and it is), you need to stop. Maybe friend Daisy on facebook. Friending an ex is universal language for wanting to get back together. Also, you do not have to go swimming just because you haven’t used the pool all fall and you feel like you need to. DO NOT GO SWIMMING, JAY!

Love, M

 

Dear Elizabeth Bennet,

Oh my lanta, YOU LIKE HIM! You are TOTALLY IN LOVE WITH HIM! How are you the ONLY PERSON WHO DOES NOT KNOW THIS?!

Love, M

 

Dear Mr. Rochester,

First you have a kid with a random opera singer. Then you have been stringing along Blanche Ingram to make the girl you actually like jealous, you drove your wife crazy and then locked her in an attic, and you have been mentally abusing Jane since you met her. You are basically a terrible person. And oh man, I love you for it you beautiful bastard.

Love, M

 

Dear Hamlet,

Just man up and kill him. It has been like three and a half hours.

Love, M

 

Dear Amy March,

Sweetheart, I know you are feeling left out, but burning Jo’s manuscript is not a proportional response. A little part of me dies every time I read this bit. I really cannot imagine anything worse a person could do. With like major exceptions like genocide and becoming a politician.

Love, M

 

Dear Holden Caufield

…oh buddy.

Love, M

 

Dear Victor Frankenstein

So you’ve been working for like six years to reanimate this corpse. Do not be so surprised when it actually works. You should have been prepared for this, instead of totally losing it and running away when he comes alive. Because frankly, that was a terrible response. Also, if you were so freaked out by the way he looks, maybe you shouldn’t have made him so freaky looking to begin with.

Love, M

 

Feel free to leave your own letters to fictional characters in comments!

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in which I experience feelings of love

Last night, I was on the home stretch of two-hour viewing of The Bachelor1 when I noticed that there had been an excess of diamond ring and Hallmark card commercials all night, each more nauseating than the last2. Then I realized why: it’s almost Valentine’s Day.

I’m not a Valentine’s Day hater. I’m not actually a Valentine’s Day lover, either. I’m pretty neutral in my feelings towards V-Day. I generally use it as an excuse to buy myself a book and eat chocolate. However, there is something in direct relationship to Valentine’s Day that I would like to discuss.

Valentine’s Day is a day that celebrates love in all its many splendored forms. But if the commercials and window displays are to be believed, the only love worth celebrating this February 14 is the romantic, hand-holding, face-sucking kind. Which—NEWS FLASH—is not the only kind of love.

So today, I’d like to talk about friendship—that kind of love.

When we tell someone of the opposite gender3 that you are not interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with them, we say that we want to be “just friends.” Which is ridiculous. When did “friends” become a “just”? When we stacked the pyramid of worthwhile relationships, who put friendship a tier below monogamous, lip-sucking partners? When did dating someone become the whole game? Friendship should never be a “just”.

Since I’ve done a lot of starting over in the past four years, I’ve done a lot of making new friends, and it never stops being hard. Too often, when I’m alone in a new city, I tend to jump into friendships with people that are convenient to be friends with, or who I share one thing in common with, but nothing else. “Oh you also like turkey sandwiches? So, should I just go ahead and pencil us in for spending Thanksgiving together?” While I would never enter into a romantic partnership with such a shaky foundation, I do it all the time with friendships. I try to force a friendship out of something that isn’t there because I just want to know people. I just want to have someone to vent about school to and go see a movie with4.

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I stole this from Elizabeth Wein and a tumblr user named Kelly.

But the truth is, we should screen our friends just as closely as we do our romantic partners. Just because someone is convenient or willing, does not make them suitable friend material. Just like you aren’t going to be attracted to every person you meet, you can’t expect to have friendship chemistry with every person you meet either. And in the end, when you’re left crying on a street corner in the rain after that boy dumps you5, you want the people on speed dial in your phone to actually pick up.

With all the changing my life is done in the past few years, I have started to value my friendships more than ever. When I was younger, friendship was such a given thing. I moved within the same circles of people for most of my young life, and I took for granted how well I knew my peers and how easy it was to judge our compatibility. When thrust into an unfamiliar situation with new people, I am much more impulsive about my decisions, and have ended up perusing a lot of relationships that were doomed from the start just because I missed having friends. So when the new, sparkly-ness of a place falls away, or when distance and space comes between us, those people that are left standing with me have become so very important to me.

I think we as a society tend to romanticize6 romantic love. We act as though the only thing that gives us value in this world is being in a romantic partnership with someone7, when really, that sort of love is only half of it. Life isn’t just about forming relationships with people you are attracted to. It’s about valuing and finding strength in people who you don’t want to exchange saliva with.

This is not to say that I am a man-hater, or a relationship-hater. I am neither. But when I think of my life, and the relationships that have lasted and mattered, I don’t think of the boyfriends I left behind. I think of the friends who are still here with me.

So on this Valentine’s Day, I will not just be celebrating the ghosts of boyfriends past or lamenting my singleness, because there’s nothing lamentable in it. I’m not alone, and I’m not lonely. Instead, I would like to celebrate the people who inhabit my life in a non-hand holding, non-face licking capacity8.

  1. Don’t judge.
  2. I noticed this because every time one came on, I made a very loud and very dramatic groan, and by the time the Bachelor was half done, my throat was starting to hurt from the exertion.
  3. Or same gender, depending on what team you bat for.
  4. Trick question, because I go to 90% of movies alone. And I like it, because no one judges me for sneaking a diet coke in in my purse, and I do not have to share the popcorn.
  5. Everything I know about breakups I learned from Lifetime movies
  6. WORDPLAY!
  7. Which is why I am all the time told, “Oh, you have lots of friends and important people in your life and you’re happy and fulfilled, but you have no boyfriend? Don’t worry darling, you’ll find a good man soon.”
  8. I kind of hate myself for writing this post, because even as I’m reading over it now, I’m so painfully aware of how much it sounds like the sort of thing girls say around Valentine’s Day to hide behind really desperately wanting a significant other. Which is not me. This is an honest opinion that has nothing to do with my current dating situation. I also want to say that this is not a post to discredit anyone who is in a romantic relationship—that’s awesome, and I get finding strength in your partner and being two halves of a whole and that whole Dove chocolate wrapper nonsense. But for me, right now, in my life, this is how I feel about love, and this is where I find my strength. This is my life, as honestly as I know how to explain it.
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in which I give a guy my number.

I am not what you would call a brave person. I am also not what you would call a romantic person. So when the need arises for me to be brave in a romantic situation, I generally run the other way.

I have three times in my life gone way out of my comfort zone and attempted to initiate romantic contact with a stranger to which I bore some form of physical attraction. And generally, I have crashed and burned. Hard core.

Allow me to expand on these three times.

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“I would have stolen you a whole orchestra.” -Ted Mosby

One: The Accordion Player

The Scene: A young Mackenzi Lee, with her improbably red hair and a poorly-put together outfit1, has returned home from her first year of college. She sits in the audience of the MT’s middle school choir concert. The choir is accompanied by a band of college-aged looking gentlemen, including a very handsome accordion player. Mackenzi Lee, in her misguided, naïve, just broke up with her college boyfriend way, watches the accordion player more than she watches the actual show, and gives him what she thinks is a coy, flirtatious smile. He never meets her eyes, so that goes unrewarded. Thank god.

After the show, as she greets the MT:

The MT: Did you like the show.

Mackenzi Lee: Yeah, great—hey, what do you know about the hot accordion player? I mean, the normal accordion player?

The MT: He’s in college, and all the girls in choir have a crush on him.

Mackenzi Lee: I must have him!

The MT: I’m out.

Mackenzi Lee writes a note to the Accordion Player on the back of a piece of the MT’s sheet music. It contains several borderline cheeseball phrases she probably stole from the one Nicholas Sparks novel she ever read, and concludes with the invitation to phone her sometime for a date. She also draws copious smiley faces, because nothing says true love like a well placed emoticon. She leaves the note on the Accordion Player’s accordion, then walks out to the car with the MT.

Upon arriving at the car, she is struck with a terrible realization:

Mackenzi Lee: I DID NOT WRITE MY PHONE NUMBER ON THE NOTE!!!!!!

Mackenzi Lee rushes back into the auditorium, muttering “idiot, idiot, idiot” under her breath and vowing to destroy the note, since this folly is certainly a sign of the fruitlessness of her quest. She rushes up to the accordion, reaches for the note…and finds herself face to face with The Accordion Player.

Mackenzi Lee: Hi.

The Accordion Player: Hi.

Mackenzi Lee: (Looks at note, still lying folded on the accordion. Then decides to screw her courage to the sticking place and go for it) So…you play good accordion.

The Accordion Player: Thanks.

Mackenzi Lee: And you’re…really cute.

The Accordion Player: …

Mackenzi Lee: And I left you this note to tell you I think you’re cute and you should call me sometime so we can go out.

The Accordion Player: (eyes shift to the exits, as though plotting his escape route, as he reaches for his rape whistle)

Mackenzi Lee: But I forgot to write my number on the note, so…I came back to write my number on the note so you can call me and we can go out.

The Accordion Player: I’m going on a mission.

Mackenzi Lee: …Great. (stares awkwardly at the Accordion Player, then, without breaking eye contact, picks up the note, scrawls her phone number on it, and replaces it on top of the accordion.) Well…just in case.

Mackenzi Lee flees.

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“I was wondering…if you’d like to have coffee.”
“Black, two sugars, I’ll be upstairs.”
-Molly Hooper/Sherlock

Two: British Boston Burberry Boy

The Scene: Mackenzi Lee, a few years later in a Boston bus station, hardened by her failed romantic exploits several years previous with the Accordion Player has sworn never to give her number to strangers again. It is nightfall, and she reads on a bench, certain the bus will never come and just about ready to get a taxi. A young man appears, seemingly out of nowhere, and approaches her.

British Boston Burberry Boy: Excuse me?

Mackenzi Lee: (internally curses stranger for interrupting her reading, and also reaches for the hairspray in her bag, since she doesn’t have mace) Uh, what?

British Boston Burberry Boy: Have you got the time?

Mackenzi Lee: (aside) He is British. And also handsome. I shall answer him. (To British Boston Burberry Boy) 8:45. (Panics, and returns to book)

British Boston Burberry Boy: Any idea what time the bus will be coming? Only, I’ve just moved here, and I don’t know how the buses work.

Mackenzi Lee: (aside) Ah! Frustration over busses! Common ground! I shall bond with him!

Mackenzi Lee and British Boston Burberry Boy discuss the atrocious Boston bus system until a bus comes, which they both board, and sit by each other. They spend the entirety of the bus ride discussing England, the Wars of the Roses, Shakespeare, and their shared love of Burberry, where British Boston Burberry Boy works. Mackenzi Lee watches two, then three, then four stops past her own fly by outside the window, but says nothing, because she thinks she is flirting successfully for the first time in her entire adult life.

Finally, knowing she will be walking an extra mile home in the dark at this point, she speaks up.

Mackenzi Lee: Sorry, but this is my stop.

British Boston Burberry Boy: Oh, I’ve got some friends going out for a drink this weekend. Would you like to come?

Mackenzi Lee: Obviously.

British Boston Burberry Boy: What?

Mackenzi Lee: Yes. (scrawls phone number down for him) Give me a call.

British Boston Burberry Boy: I will.

He never called.

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“Cyrano, you’re awesome….at delivering love letters to Christian for me”
-Roxanne

14 once pointed out that you really have nothing to lose by giving a stranger your number. Best case scenario—they call, you date, fall in love, marry, live happily ever after. The worst that could happen is he says no, and you say okay, and you never see each other again. So this is how I’ve always tried to think of it, but she’s kind of wrong. Because seriously, if he says no, or doesn’t call, it is SO MUCH WORSE THAN THAT. It is pain, agony, self-loathing, humiliation, wanting to bury yourself in the sand and die a virgin.

And so, after these two missed connections, plus another slew of failed love affairs that resulted from situations where I did not have to be brave, I was leagues away from being inclined to solicit dates from strange men.

And then, last weekend, I met someone that I really hit it off with. We talked, shared mutual love of Star Wars and Sherlock, and parted ways. I wasn’t sure we’d speak again, but I wanted to. And I only had seven days before I flew back to Boston.

And so, in an entirely out of character move, I gave a stranger my number.

And he called. And we met. And we had dinner. And I had a nice time.

And then we parted. And Monday, I go back to Boston, and he stays in Salt Lake, and it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t the start of some passionate, romantic love story, because for once, when I was brave, it paid off. Everything worked out roughly the way it was supposed to2.

Moral of this story is that sometimes you don’t learn anything—you just fail.

And other times….well, other times, you don’t.

 

  1. This story takes place before she had anything resembling fashion sense.
  2. I could have done without the flu and catastrophic snowstorms, but hey, life isn’t perfect.
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