Thirty years ago, I made a promise. I’ve kept it ever since.
I hate wearing a bike helmet. When I wheel my bike out of the garage, I always pause with the helmet in my hand, fantasizing about riding with a bare head, arriving at my destination without a sweaty neck and flat hair.
But every time I go somewhere on my bike, I plop the helmet on my head. Not because I think it will save my life. It probably won’t. Not because of peer pressure. In the college town where I live, hardly anyone wears a bike helmet. But still, I wear mine each and every time I ride my bike.
Because of this guy.
That’s my dad, holding me as a baby. I bet he’d still hold me that tenderly if he could.
When I was in college, we worked together one summer painting houses. I loved hanging out with him, working side by side, listening to the radio and chatting. One day, I mentioned that a few months earlier, while biking to class, I’d fallen off my bike and hurt my knee and elbow. Dad expressed sympathy, but didn’t say anything else about it until the next afternoon.
“You know, I’ve been thinking.” He dipped his brush into the can for more paint and expertly applied a line. “If I bought you a bike helmet, would you wear it?”
I could tell by his expression that this meant a lot to him.
“I’ll wear it every time,” I added. This was the late 80’s. Nobody on my college campus wore a bike helmet. I’d certainly never worn one growing up. I had no idea how hot and uncomfortable it would be.
I wore it anyway. And when I went back to college, I got teased for it. The girls mostly left me alone, but the guys always had something to say.
“Are you wearing that so your brains don’t fall out?”
“Do you just walk around with that on all day like a special ed kid?”
“Did you leave your motorcycle somewhere?”
My campus was ninety miles from home. My dad would never know if I rode without a helmet. I could take it off, ride bare-headed, be cool, fit in.
I didn’t. I kept it on. Every ride. Every time. I didn’t care what the other kids said. I wasn’t wearing the helmet for them.
I was wearing it for someone more important.
And I still do.
No matter what you got your mom for mother’s day, it’s not as cool as what my kids got me.
I have wanted a unicycle for years. I was always delighted to see one-wheel riders in parades and shows. Seeing a unicycle for sale made me sigh wistfully. I watched videos on YouTube and thought “someday…”
Then I came across this quote.
It made me think about what I was capable of. And then I realized why I’d never bought myself a unicycle and why I’d never tried to ride one.
For twenty-five years, I lived with a partner who didn’t think I was capable of anything. He didn’t think I could be a successful writer, or a good mother, or a skilled editor, or an inspiring teacher. Even when I clearly was all those things, he insisted I was not. He second-guessed every independent decision I made and never once told me he was proud of me. When we divorced, I told him I’d be fine. He snorted, “No, you won’t.”
But I am. I am more than fine. In the past few years, I’ve learned just how capable I am on my own. I sold my house and bought another. I dealt with evil realtors and surly bankers and the odd rules of court. My son needed surgery at a special clinic in another state, so I arranged it and financed it. I launched my oldest kid into college. I held my little family together.
Turns out my kids were watching the whole time. And they always knew what I was capable of. So when I asked for a unicycle for mother’s day, they didn’t try to talk me out of it. They didn’t undermine my confidence by asking, “are you sure?” Without any hesitation or debate, they pooled their money and bought me the exact model I wanted.
They gave me more than a unicycle. They gave me a symbol. Every time I ride it, I’ll know how much my kids believe in me. No matter how many times I fall off, they expect me to get right back on again.
I’ve been practicing twenty minutes a day, wobbling up and down the driveway, clinging to the garden wall. Losing my balance, falling off, getting on again. But I’m not giving up.
I’m going to learn to ride this unicycle.
Because I can do anything.
The world has changed, and so have my reading habits.
Until recently, the books I read looked like this.
I was a heavy science fiction reader. I think what I liked most about it was the challenge. Not that the books themselves were hard to read, but that the plots and themes always challenged my worldview. After all, the best science fiction shines a spotlight on today’s world. They’re either metaphors for current events, or asking a very specific question. And that question is always: “How would life be different if this one little thing was changed?”
I absolutely required this of my science fiction books. I wouldn’t finish a book that simply reinforced my preconceived notions. How the book made me feel was less important than how it made me think.
Now? Not so much.
In the last few months, we’ve all been bombarded with bad news upon bad news, and it’s getting worse. I’m worried about the future all the time. Books that once seemed like harmless thought experiments now read more like predictors of doom. Even light, funny science fiction has an edge I can’t deal with right now.
What I’m looking for in books these days is an intensity of feelings and a guaranteed happy ending. I think my mind wants to experience emotions in a safe way. I want to feel deeply without getting my heart broken.
So I wandered the library shelves, flipping through memoirs, reading the jackets of mysteries, looking at the covers of literary fiction, and avoiding the horror shelf completely, until I finally found what I was looking for.
A romance novel.
It isn’t just that I crave escape, because all novels offer that. Even my big idea science fiction novels are full of heroes and adventure and other worlds. But romance offers the specific kind of escape my heart needs right now. Romance novels are full of love and sacrifice and doing the right thing for the sake of another person. Every hero and heroine ends up a better person than when they started, and love really does trump hate. Every. Single. Time.
So now the books I read look like this.
The world is still crappy. I’m still fighting against the bad. But I’ve found a safe place for my emotions to go. Thanks to some wonderful authors who write about love, books have once again become my happy place.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. Her TBR pile is overflowing with love.
I don’t trust our country to do the right thing. I’m not buying it. Literally.
Things I’d planned on buying in the next six months:
A dining table
Gutters for my house
Service people I’d planned on employing:
A gutter installer
A landscape company
Things and services I’m actually going to buy in the next six months:
In fact, I might not buy any of that stuff for a year or more. I’m joining the protest economy.
People who look like me, people with the same privileges I have, elected a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic rapist as our President. And gave him lots of friends in congress to play with. They will hurt people who don’t look like me.
My peers claim they aren’t racist or sexist. They say this election was about “smaller government.” They say it was about “the economy.” That is a lie. They voted out of hate. And that hate has put me and my family in jeopardy in countless ways. I will probably lose my health insurance. My brown, queer children fear for their very lives.
My peers claim this election was about “bringing jobs back.” If jobs come back, it won’t be on my dime.
I’m not hiring anyone to fix my gutters or to deliver a new table or sell me a computer. I’m opting out of this economy as much as possible in the coming year. I won’t buy anything I don’t have to. This includes movies, restaurant meals, and even books. If my rake breaks, I’ll duct tape it together. If I lose my umbrella, I’ll get wet. I hope my family likes donations to charity for Christmas because that’s the only gift they’ll get from me.
This capitalist country is racist as hell, and I’m going to leave it the only way I can, by removing myself from it economically.
And the money I’m not putting into our broken system? That’s going to three places: Planned Parenthood , EMILY’s list , and the Sierra Club. They are doing the work I want to see done, and the only work I’m willing to pay for right now.
[Photo credit: © Ridiculousbroomstick | Dreamstime Stock Photos]
If you don’t vote, you’re giving away your power.
Vote for your favorite or vote against your least favorite.
Go in educated about the issues or go with your gut.
Carefully consider what you’re doing or decide at the last minute.
Do it as cheerful exercise of your citizenship or do it as an unhappy obligation.
But whatever you do,
Saying goodbye to my old computer…and the old me.
My computer died last week. I used to think “died” was a silly word for computers that had stopped working. It’s not like computers are alive. It’s not like they’re our friends.
Then I got Pinky, a fully functional Asus EEE pc. She had a ten inch screen, weighed less than three pounds, and had a white keyboard surrounded by a shell the color of bubblegum. Pink is my favorite color and cute is my favorite size, so it’s no wonder I chose this computer. But looks and function weren’t the most important things about Pinky. The most important thing is how I got her.
In 2009, I won the Ann Arbor Book Festival writing contest. The prize was $250. It was the first real money I’d made writing fiction, and I bought Pinky as soon as the check cleared. This was mostly symbolic. Our household budget could have covered the cost of a new computer, but so what? Writers deal in symbols every day. And this was huge. After years of striving, I’d finally earned money with my fiction and I spent it on something that would help me write even more. This computer symbolized my transformation from new writer to working writer.
I wrote three novels and a dozen short stories on little Pinky. And book reviews, and blog posts, and Twitter updates. My fingers touched her keys every single day. I loved having her at home, and I loved taking her to coffee shops. She not only fit in my backpack, she fit in my purse. People always asked what kind of computer I was using as they smirked at what looked like a toy. If they asked what I was working on, I’d tell them I was writing high-tech science fiction. Then I’d silently sip my coffee as they did a double take at me and my Barbie computer.
Even when she got slower and the battery was all but useless, I was never tempted by newer, shiner machines. I loved Pinky too much. But eventually her battery wore out and so did her processor. First, Pinky wouldn’t boot up if she wasn’t plugged in. Then, she wouldn’t boot up at all. The techs at Computer Medic couldn’t revive her. Pinky was dead.
I’m writing this post on a perfectly usable gray Dell, also bought with money I earned by writing, but it’s not the same. My new computer isn’t colorful. It’s not cute. It doesn’t even have a name.
And as for Pinky…well, she still sits on my desk. A couple of times, I absentmindedly put her in my backpack before I remembered that she doesn’t work. Eventually I will have to take her to the recycling center. She’ll be sent to China to be stripped for her metals.
As I finally say goodbye to the best writing buddy I’ve ever had, I will probably shed a few tears, because I will also be saying goodbye to the newbie writer I once was.
Rest in peace, Pinky.
About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories on a boring, gray computer that desperately needs a nickname.
Words to remember. Words to live by.
My dearest friend Chris bought me this bracelet. I love it (and her) so much that it finds its way onto my wrist nearly every day.
It’s a simple aluminum cuff stamped with the words “We Are Not Things,” which is one of the taglines from my favorite movie: Mad Max Fury Road.
“We Are Not Things” is a cry of liberation from desperate women fleeing across the wasteland in search of a better life. But truly, it applies to every character in the film, including Mad Max himself.
And it applies to me. And to you. And to everyone I meet.
We are not things.
I always wear it on my right wrist, with the words facing me.
I catch glimpses of it at odd times during the day. When I’m cooking. When I’m putting on chaptstick, and especially when I’m at the computer. I spend most of my time alone so usually I’m the only one who sees it.
But I’m the one who needs to see it. Because in this internet age, where wit is social currency, I sometimes forget that there’s another human being on the other end of the computer.
As a writer, I put a lot of stock in words. I know what words mean. I know how to use them. I know how to combine them to achieve exactly the effect I’m hoping for. The problem comes when I’m on social media, having fun with my snarky friends, trying to top one joke with another. On social media—especially Twitter—many times the effect I’m hoping for is “making myself look good at the expense of others.”
Most of the time this is okay. Even hilarious. Nobody is hurt when I mock Comcast for their poor service or make a joke about the latest political debate. But there have been times when I’ve let it get more personal, and more nasty, than that. Once, I trusted my words far too much.
I made some observations about a friend I’ll call Stephanie (not her real name). Then, I used those observations to talk about my own shortcomings. I thought it was okay to use Stephanie as a platform because ultimately, I was the butt of my own joke.
Just typing those words make me cringe. I thought it was okay to use my friend as a platform. I thought it would be funny.
It wasn’t funny. Stephanie didn’t care that the joke was on me. She cared that I’d used her to get a laugh. I’d treated her like a thing. She took me to task for it and has not yet forgiven me. Nor have I forgiven myself.
I never want that to happen again. So I wear my bracelet, and I remind myself that we are not things. And I stop and think before I tweet.
Chris has never met Stephanie. She didn’t know any of this when she gave me the bracelet. She simply wanted to give me a momento of a movie I love, a reminder of my own liberation, a token of our friendship, and a pretty piece of jewelry to wear.
But she also gave me a beautiful reminder to take care with my words, because I am not, you are not, and we are not things.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes near-future thrillers under the pen name M.H. Mead. Nowadays, she channels her snark into her characters instead of onto the internet.
I am between projects. I am miserable.
My newest novel, Living All Day, is done. The beta readers are reading it now. You’d think this would make me happy. It does.
It also makes me grumpy.
I wrote this novel by squeezing writing into a very full life. Both my kids are at important turning points and being a good mom to them takes a ton of time and energy. I finished this novel around their schedules. I also put in extra hours at my volunteer job. I kept up with my book reviews. I taught a workshop for beginning writers. I cared for my house. I cared for my yard. What I didn’t care for was myself. Exercise, reading, television, and pretty much anything fun was shoved aside for the sake of the novel.
Anyone who saw me during this period saw a busy woman with a huge smile on her face. I was happy because I was writing. I succeeded in doing it all and the book came together wonderfully. I decided that once Living All Day was put to bed, I’d take a week off, relax and have fun, go for walks, recharge my batteries, maybe see that movie that everyone’s talking about.
Now that I have the time to do these things, I find that I no longer want to do them. The air has gone out of them somehow. Books aren’t very interesting. Television all seems the same. And it’s too cold and dark to go outside.
But I should be doing these things. Writers call it “filling the well.” We can’t expect constant output with no input. I should be going to museums and coloring and seeing movies and people-watching in coffee shops and browsing in bookstores and having long chatty coffee dates with my friends.
Instead, I’m looking at stupid memes on Facebook and taking a lot of naps.
This isn’t depression. This isn’t burnout. This is just a writer not writing. It’s just me not doing the one thing that makes me happiest. I’m still putting words on paper, playing around, but nothing is falling into place. I need to work up a new outline with my co-author. I need to decide what I’m going to do with the super-secret book I wrote last year. I need to gather the courage to start a short story that’s completely unmarketable but is tugging at my heart anyway.
I need to start writing again.
Next time I’m immersed in a book, I’m going to take time out for relaxing activities while I’m writing. I’m also going to make sure I have the next project lined up, and the next. I will go directly from one to the other, because it isn’t lack of time that makes me stressed, but lack of writing.
And that’s something I can easily fix.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories under her own name and near-future thrillers under the pen name M.H. Mead. She has the best beta readers in the world—and she can’t wait to hear from them.
I’m new at blogging, and I haven’t connected with many other bloggers yet. Technically, I’m supposed to pass on the award, but I’m afraid I’m going to break the chain. (Sorry, Evan!) It’s the spirit of the thing that counts, right? So I’m still going to tell you five random things about me and post the award on my site.
5 random facts about Alex Kourvo.
1. I am the middle child of five siblings. We are sarcastic and obnoxious and competitive and I love those goofballs more than anything.
2. My decorating style is minimalist. Plain furniture, simple art, no knickknacks. Having too much stuff makes me feel frazzled, so I keep my space very calm, very Zen.
3. One of my favorite parts of being a writer is beta reading for my friends. Getting to read a new book before anyone else has read it is my secret thrill.
4. I like my handwriting.
5. I recently realized that I hadn’t sung a single song in about a decade. I didn’t sing along to the radio, I didn’t sing in the shower, I didn’t even hum. I still spoke and wrote as much as ever, but somewhere along the line, music went out of my life. I went through a difficult time where my family life was a mess, and even though I handled everything okay, I lost the joy of song and I never even noticed.
But in the last few weeks, I’ve been surprised to find myself singing, and even humming happy little songs for no reason.
I’m glad I found my voice again.
Everything you need to know about Mad Max Fury Road is found in its midpoint scene.
Fury Road basically explodes in your face, so you have to wait until the adrenaline wears off to poke around in the ashes for things like character and theme. I saw it in the theater multiple times and each viewing made the movie a richer experience. There’s a lot to unpack here. Is Fury Road a feminist movie? Of course it is. But feminism is just its starting point, because everything in this movie is over-the-top, including its theme.
This post is filled with spoilers, which is why I waited for the DVD release to write it. So watch the movie, then come back so we can talk about…
This scene. Everyone’s favorite.
It comes sixty-six minutes into a two hour movie. It’s the centerpiece of the film, not just in plot but in theme.
But to understand why it’s so important, we need to look at an earlier turning point. About a quarter of the way into the movie, Max and Furiosa are still enemies. Max has disarmed Furiosa’s party. He has all the guns. He’s holding Angharad as a hostage. And Furiosa says the strangest thing to him.
She doesn’t ask for his help. She doesn’t threaten him with her hidden knife. She doesn’t try to negotiate. She says four simple words that don’t make any sense at all.
“I need you here.”
Except they make perfect sense in the context of the entire movie. Because Fury Road’s central question, “Who killed the world?” does not lay the blame at the feet of all men. Nux and the other warboys are victims just as much as Immortan Joe’s wives are. So is Max “Bloodbag” Rockatansky, whose only mistake was trying to survive alone in the Wasteland. The problem isn’t men. It’s toxic masculinity—the pointless machismo that glorifies power for power’s sake and values battlefield prowess above all else. (The Citadel’s society is so toxic it has literally become cancerous.)
Which brings us to the midpoint scene. The Bullet Farmer is coming after them in the dark. Max takes a shot at him and misses. Toast shouts, “You’ve got two left!” Max misses again.
We know action movies. We know what’s supposed to happen next. The hero is supposed to smirk over his shoulder at the girl who dared to sass at him and then fire off the perfect shot. That’s what we’re conditioned to see on the screen.
Instead, Max thinks about it for a second, then hands the rifle to Furiosa. He knows she has a better chance of success. Remember, earlier that day, she killed two men on a moving motorcycle with one shot from a standing position.
Furiosa can probably make this shot, too.
But in the Wasteland, with one bullet left, probably isn’t good enough. She needs a tripod, and there’s nothing in the landscape but mud and a tree. Max, however, is solid and steady, exactly what she needs, and he knows weapons well enough to understand why it’s important. When Furiosa rests the rifle on Max’s shoulder, she’s telling him (in actions this time instead of words) “I need you here.”
And then they go to meet the Vuvalini, which is when things really get interesting.
Because everyone loves the Badass Biker Grannies of the Wasteland. Heck, many of us want to be Badass Biker Grannies someday. But nobody seems to notice that the matriarchy is every bit as dysfunctional as the patriarchy.
As bad as it was, the Citadel at least had water and plants and children. But the Vuvalini see all men as the enemy and their society is dying. The Green Place is gone. The Earth is too poisonous to grow anything. And in case the audience misses those clues, we also see one of the women trying to grow a seedling in an animal skull.
Gee, who else uses skulls for every possible purpose?
There is only one way to fix the broken world. There is only one way for Max and Furiosa—for all of us—to achieve redemption, and that’s by working together.
So when Furiosa wants to keep running across the salt, Max convinces her that becoming like the Vuvalini won’t help. You can’t escape the problems of the world. You have to face them. He insists they can go back to the Citadel and overthrow the old order. It will be a hard day, but if they work together, men and women can make a better world.
When Max holds out his hand, you see him alone, but when Furiosa clasps his hand in agreement, it’s from the reverse angle, showing everyone together—because Furiosa has waited for every single person to be on board before agreeing to this plan.
That’s the central message of Fury Road. Is it a feminist movie? Of course it is.
And it’s also so much more.