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 memento 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 has recently switched from writing science fiction short stories and novels to writing romance. 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.
[Photo credits: Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow pictures]
When you go to a school that worships football, creative writing can be a rebellious act.
When I was in high school, my friends and I started a literary magazine. Our sports-oriented, Catholic school didn’t have a literary magazine, and our principal didn’t want one, so my friends and I made one on our own time. It had our names on it, and was clearly an independent project.
There was nothing anti-school or anti-faculty or anti-religion in the magazine. It was all angsty teenage poems and one really cool science fiction story about a superhero who controls the weather.
We put a ridiculously low price on the cover, something like fifty cents. We weren’t trying to make money. We simply wanted to repay my friend’s dad, who had bought the paper for us and helped us with photocopying. We openly sold the magazine at school, the same way kids sold candy bars for their church trips or raffle tickets for YMCA fundraisers.
We were proud of our little magazine. And that pride is what got us in trouble. We put a copy into the mailbox of each of the English department faculty and gave one to our principal. We thought they’d like to see what their students had achieved.
The principal was livid. How dare we publish a literary magazine? How dare we do it without faculty approval? We were threatened with suspension. Our crime was selling a non school-sponsored magazine on school property. It was a flimsy excuse and he knew it, but he also knew he could make it stick. If he caught us trying to sell our magazine at school, he might have to kick us out.
For writing a literary magazine. On our own time. And selling it to our friends.
This was in the pre-internet era, otherwise our story would be all over social media. We’d probably have Facebook groups and IndieGoGo campaigns to raise money for our next issue and petitions calling for a public apology. But this was the digital dark ages. We had no voice. We had no power. The principal shut us down. We never published a second issue.
I spent the rest of high school—and many years after that—terrified that I’d be punished for writing.
I didn’t realize at the time that it was the principal who was truly terrified. We were writing, we were publishing, and other kids were paying for our words. We had better things to write about than our crappy redneck football school. We hadn’t mentioned it at all. But we could have. Oh, we could have.
We could have written about the drunk assistant principal or the abusive religion teacher or the inequitable funding between sports and the arts. We could have written about corruption and scandal. And we could have written reams about hypocrisy—about the ways Christianity was used against students on a daily basis.
It’s not often that I’d like to go back in time. Overall, I much prefer being a grown-up to being a kid. But if I could live one day of my life over, I might pick the day that my high school principal tried to bully me out of writing.
Because if I could go back to that day, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t apologize. I wouldn’t ask for forgiveness. And I certainly wouldn’t promise to never do it again.
I would tell the principal that he could have what he wanted. I would tell him that we were done selling our literary magazine at school.
I’d tell him that a second issue was coming, and this one would be distributed for free.
Because my words—and those of my friends—are priceless.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes near-future crime novels under the pen name M.H. Mead. She is always tempted to name a fictional villain after her high school principal.
Real estate signs in fancy neighborhoods promise “luxury living,” but I know better. True luxury is actually owning a house rather than being owned by one.
My family used to live in a fancy neighborhood.
It was a planned subdivision as flawless as a movie set. A hundred houses sat on wide, curving streets featuring cul-de-sac islands filled with trees and flowers. Houses were big. Yards were weed-free.
The neighborhood association cost $550 a year. Membership was mandatory.
For that price, we got private garbage pickup and the streets were plowed in winter. And we got rules. Lots of rules. The association told us what color we could paint our house and mailbox. It inspected our sidewalks for cracks and our trees for low-hanging branches. It didn’t allow basketball hoops or boats-on-trailers or RVs in the driveway, even for one night.
When the streets got potholes and the township wouldn’t repave, the neighborhood association charged each household in our subdivision three thousand dollars and hired a contractor to completely resurface the roads.
How the neighborhood looked was the most important thing.
And our house? It was freaking gorgeous. It was 3200 square feet with three bathrooms and a two-story great room and one of those curving staircases made for a girl to flounce down in her prom dress. It had a kitchen with endless counter space and a cooktop island and a white tile floor. It had a walk-in closet ten feet by twenty feet and a bathtub so big we could never fill it properly because our hot water heater didn’t hold that much.
Our beautiful house was also a shoddily constructed money pit.
The siding was glorified particleboard and the roof shingles were the thinnest kind made. The furnace was a builder’s special, meant to last five years or so. Ditto the hot water heater and the kitchen appliances. There were carpenter ants in the walls and mice in the attic. When we weren’t fixing things, we were cleaning. (Actually, I was the one doing the cleaning. Constantly. Did I mention the white floor?)
In the end, I didn’t care how my house looked. I cared how it felt. And it felt very, very bad. Our family could sprawl all over our huge house, but we could never fit in it. When my husband left me, he said, “I’ve never felt at home here.” Gee, me neither, hon. And even though he hated that damned house as much as I did, he urged me to stay in it anyway. I don’t know why. Some kind of punishment, maybe.
But I was done being punished by that house. I sold it at a loss and got out.
Now my kids and I live in town, in a neighborhood of tiny ranches. My street is a little less showy, a little less uniform. I no longer live in the sanitized Hollywood version of a neighborhood. I live in an authentic place. We don’t need a neighborhood association to tell us what to do. We all take great care of our homes because we live here.
My new house is the classic 1950s style with three small bedrooms and one bathroom. They don’t build them like they used to, but thank goodness they once did. My house is brick outside with plaster walls inside and a real wood floor. Every part of it was built to last. The previous owners did renovations with integrity, using high-quality finishes while matching the period style. My house might not be new, but it has more strength and character than houses half its age.
I can clean the entire thing, top to bottom, in half an hour. I’ve got a sixty year old maple tree in the front yard that drops an infinite number of leaves and yet my kids and I can rake them all up during the halftime break of a single football game.
I have less than a third of the physical space I had in my old house but my mental and emotional and spiritual space has increased a hundredfold. My kids and I love our new house, and a part of me thinks it loves having us live in it, too.
I call my new house Darling. When I walk in the door I always say, “Darling, I’m home!”
Because I am.
For the first time ever, I am home.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. Sometimes her characters get bombed out of their houses.