He was the best at being human.
As I watched today’s Google doodle, I cried happy tears remembering good things from childhood, sad tears that one of my heroes is no longer with us, and even sadder tears thinking how much the world of 2018 needs his voice.
I remember once—I must have been about four—when we were running late for preschool and my mom was super busy. I don’t remember why we were late, maybe one of my siblings was sick or something. But my mom, frazzled, handed me my clothes in the morning and told me I could get dressed while watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
I dressed behind the couch so Mister Rogers wouldn’t see my underwear.
That’s how real he was to me. His calm, measured voice, and the way he looked at the camera, made me certain he was talking just to me. So of course, I assumed he could see me too.
Have you seen the documentary about Mister Rogers?
I sobbed my way through that one too, along with the rest of the audience. It turns out that the Mister Rogers we saw every day on television really was the same in real life. He was the best of us. He was the human we all aspire to be—kind, understanding, smart, playful, and seemingly without ego. And he could play piano too.
Along with that intense hit of nostalgia right to my heart, Won’t You Be my Neighbor made me think. What would Mister Rogers say if he was alive today? What would he say about the Nazi rally in Charlottesville? About the shootings in Orlando, in Las Vegas, in Parkland? About refugee children taken from their parents and locked in cages?
Even in the hardest of times, Mister Rogers seemed to know the right words to comfort children—and adults, too. His “look for the helpers” quote got a lot of us through 9/11 and it seems to pop up on social media whenever there’s a tragedy.
I don’t know what Mister Rogers would say about our current world. But I know he would say it with kindness and empathy. He would teach us lessons about living in harmony with other people. He would acknowledge how important our emotions are. And he would never, ever let us forget that he liked us, just the way we are.
If you need me today, I’ll be watching some old episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on Netflix. You’ll probably find me behind the couch.
Getting away with it in plain sight.
(There are mild spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.)
I went to see Ocean’s 8 last weekend and it was a delight. It had everything I love in a movie: a tricky plot, fun dialogue, genuine female friendships, characters who are great at their jobs, and an underlying theme that makes you think.
And the men? Eh, they were there, and yeah, they added a thing or two, I guess. They were more plot devices than actual characters.
Oh, wait… Could that, maybe, have been the point?
The women of Ocean’s 8 aren’t love interests or motivating factors for men. They are the heroes. And they are so, so good at what they do. The heist at the center of the movie—set in the world of high fashion and a fancy ball—is specifically female coded. Men literally could not do it.
What I love most about Ocean’s 8 was the way the gang uses society’s assumptions about women as one of their weapons. When one of them asks why there are no men involved, Sandra Bullock’s character says, “A him is noticed, a her is ignored.” Middle-aged women, especially women of color, are invisible, allowing the gang to pull off the heist in plain sight. Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, and Awkwafina play the janitor, the dishwasher and the waitress. Time after time, people look right through them. Sandra Bullock gets to play the entitled, middle-aged white woman—another easily-dismissed stereotype. Even in the film’s final act, they use old women as fences. And they get away with it, of course. If middle-aged women are invisible, then old ones might as well not exist.
The only women who are ever noticed—ever seen—are the young and pretty, so why not use that fact as well? Anne Hathaway’s character becomes a magnificent distraction. Every eye in the room is on her while the brown and black and over-the-hill women get on with the job at hand.
And what do these women buy with all their ill-gotten millions? Surprisingly modest things. A business, a production company, a solo motorcycle trip, an apartment. But they all represent the same thing—a woman who is the boss of herself, where she’s in charge.
And maybe, for once, even seen.
[Photo credits: Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow pictures]
It’s my weekend with my people.
It’s time for one of my favorite events of the year–Penguicon! Michigan’s SF/Open Source/Maker con is happening in Detroit, and I’ll be there all weekend. There will be costumes and ice cream and movies and games as well as panels about literature and science. I have three days to nerd out with other nerds. You know, my people.
I usually do a few panels and a reading, but this year, I decided to mix it up and propose a writing workshop, and to my surprise and delight, the con committee said yes! On Saturday, I’ll be presenting a workshop for writers called “No Hero Wants to Save the World.”
My introvert friends are amazed that I’d want to do a solo workshop rather than rely on the safety of a four or five person panel, but to me, this is actually easier. I’ve been giving writing workshops at the Ann Arbor District Library for years, so this is in my wheelhouse.
I’m also doing SF/F MadLibs. Remember MadLibs from summer camp? One person has a story with blanks in it, and the other person has to fill in random nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Hilarity ensues. The Penguicon twist is that the panelists have written the MadLibs and the audience shouts out the words to fill them in. The words they shout are usually somewhat dirty. (Okay, they’re filthy.) I wrote several MadLibs based on my favorite movies and I can’t wait to see how my fellow con-goers wreck them!
My last panel is Self-Publishing in 2018. Things have changed a lot since I started publishing my own books in 2011. It will be interesting to discuss all the changes that our industry has undergone in such a short time.
In addition to panels and workshops, I hope to see old friends, make new ones, drink a beer, see amazing costumes, and at some point, stop and wonder how the geeks somehow turned into the cool kids, and wonder even more how I became one of them.
A pretty ring, quick thinking, and the best moment of my weekend.
I went to a great science fiction convention last weekend. I learned new things, got inspired, and hung out with friends old and new.
At one point, I wandered into the dealer’s room, which was filled with geeky things for sale. I admired the Firefly and Star Trek t-shirts, flipped through some awesome-looking books, and ended up at my favorite jeweler’s table, which was my ultimate destination all along. I was pretty sure I’d be bringing a new ring home with me.
As I tried on rings and chatted with the jeweler, a man sidled up to me and inserted himself into the conversation. This would usually be an okay thing to do. People are very friendly at cons and we enjoy the small talk. But this guy was interrupting a nice conversation between two women, and he was critiquing my choice of jewelry.
I ignored him. I ignored him hard. No eye contact. Shoulders turned away. I was going to buy myself something pretty, and I didn’t need him to tell me what that was.
Then the “conversation” took a weird turn, and my new “friend” told me that he was surprised that a woman would buy a ring for herself. That’s when I quickly paid for my selection, slipped the ring on my finger, and got out of there. I recognize negging when I hear it, and I didn’t want to give this guy the satisfaction of a response.
I sat on a nearby bench and took out my phone. A moment later, he was standing in front of me. “Well?” he said. “Let me see the ring you bought.”
I was wearing it on my middle finger and I should have flipped him the bird. But I held up my whole hand instead.
“Very nice!” he said. “I approve.”
And that’s when I had my best moment of the weekend.
Because usually things like this make me tongue-tied. I usually think of the right thing to say hours—or even days—later. Not this time. This time, the right words came immediately out of my mouth. I even nailed the tone of voice. Not mean, not defensive, just completely deadpan. Just telling it like it is.
I didn’t even look at him. I kept my eyes on my phone. “Don’t need your approval, buddy.”
There was a moment of surprised silence as he backed away a step. Then another. Then he turned tail and fled.
Honestly, I was not trying to be mean or put him in his place. I was simply stating a fact. But it got me thinking. Why do men do this?
Why do they assume their opinion is always welcomed and their approval always needed?
Why do they insert themselves into conversations and talk over women and mainsplain things to people who know more than they do?
Why do they think random women can be negged into interacting with them?
And could they just…you know…not?
“It’s like the Discovery Channel…with beer.”
Once a month, nerds gather at their favorite bars to see a trio of 20-minute talks about…well…everything. It’s called Nerd Nite and it happens in cities all across the country. Because I live in a college town, and our Nerd Nite is sponsored by our library, we get a wide range of topics. I’ve attended talks about the science of LED light bulbs, how to critique architecture, and why fruit flies love cake. You never know what you’re going to get at Nerd Nite. Sometimes it’s history, sometimes it’s physics, sometimes it’s…me.
In October, I was a featured speaker at Ann Arbor’s Nerd Nite talking about everyone’s favorite science fiction genre—cyberpunk!
Cyberpunk was everywhere in the 1980s. It started in science fiction, but it influenced fashion, movies, comics, games, advertising, and architecture. After a decade of high-tech, neon-colored, future-looking pop culture, cyberpunk just…went away. Or did it? Could cyberpunk stories still be with us, hiding in plain sight?
Our awesome Ann Arbor District Library taped the talk for their collection, and you can watch the video right on their site.
So if you want to see me nerd out about the genre I love best, here’s the video you never knew you needed.
[Photo: Lara Zielin]
Because I love this movie like Miracle Max loves a nice MLT.
The Princess Bride is a fairy tale that turns the cliches upside down and inside out, while at the same time, giving us every familiar theme we love. I’ve seen this movie an inconceivable number of times, but I’ll always happily watch it again. It’s a comfort movie, perfect to watch when I’ve been mostly dead all day.
The Princess Bride is both modern and timeless, with nifty life lessons in some of the most quotable dialog ever. So, what can we learn from a kid’s fairy tale—a (gasp) kissing book? Well, let’s just start with what we have. (It’s for posterity, so I’ll be honest.)
10. Kind of like when you mix up your and you’re on the internet.
9. …And if you haven’t got health insurance, you’ll soon have less than nothing.
8. There is such thing as a fatal amount of confidence.
7. Being right is no good if you’re also too late.
6. Every time you stand in line for something, you pay twice: once in money and once in time.
5. If Westley can survive the Pit of Despair, you can survive your Monday morning meeting.
4. You went to the grocery store on an empty stomach.
3. Those conspiracy theories your weird relatives spout off? Some of them are true.
2. Karma will always catch up to you in the end.
…and the best, most important thing to remember:
1. There is nothing better than sharing a book with someone you love.
[Photo credits: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Act 111 Communications]
This week is all about mingling with the science fiction community.
First, I’m over at SF Signal, participating in their “Mind Meld.” A group of authors was asked the same question: “What’s the best writing advice you ever received?” Visit SF Signal to find out my answer!
This weekend is Penguicon, Michigan’s SF/Open Source/Maker con. I’m on four panels in the literature track, and I’ll be doing a reading/signing. I’ll also be enjoying other events as an attendee, because that homemade ice cream thing looks amazing…
Here is my schedule:
Friday, 6:00 pm Social Media for Writers What social media trends are necessary for writers building a web footprint? What are some important things to do, and what should you not do? (with David Erik Nelson, Michael W. Lucas, Christopher Purrett, Mark Oshiro, and Mary Lynne Gibbs)
Saturday, 10:00 am First Things First: Story Titles How do you title your stories? Should the title make sense upfront, or only after the story is read? (with Jon David and Christine Daigle)
Saturday, 2:00 pm Reading (with Ferrett Steinmetz) Ferrett Steinmetz and I are sharing this reading block. Since Ferrett’s stuff is wacky and fun, I’ve decided to read the most fun chapter of LIVING ALL DAY, where my heroine’s high-tech surveillance goes hilariously wrong.
Saturday, 4:00 pm Writing Fast and Slow What’s the expected output for writers in today’s publishing world? Is more than a book a year the new norm? (with Jen Haeger, Jim Leach, Catherynne Valente, and Jeff Pryor)
Saturday, 9:00 pm SF MadLibs We create madlibs, the audience fills in the blanks, hilarity ensues. What could possibly go wrong? (with Andrea Johnson, Jackie Morgan, Jen Haeger, and Catherynne Valente)
Sunday 10:00 am Self-Publishing 2016 What’s new in self-publishing? (with Michael W. Lucas, Jen Haeger, Christopher Purrett, and Robert Kroese)
Is that a great con schedule or what? Cool people on interesting panels is exactly what I’m here for.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She loves meeting other people in her tribe almost as much as she loves writing.
(Image: Russell Murphy | License: Creative Commons Attribution)
Life lessons are everywhere, even in the Wasteland.
Mad Max Fury Road cleaned up at the Oscars on Sunday, winning six Academy Awards. So, of course, I had to watch the movie again. This time through, I thought beyond the plot, beyond the subtext, into the deeper meaning behind those iconic lines.
Here are ten life lessons that I learned from Mad Max Fury Road, that we can all use to make every day more shiny and chrome.
10. Get your rest. If you go to bed at 2:00, you’ll be wrecked for work the next day.
9. Someone’s always wrong on the internet. Don’t waste your time.
8. Know your goals. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never arrive.
7. Don’t settle.
6. Don’t waste your effort. If someone didn’t listen to you the first time, he won’t listen to you the second or third time, either.
5. Tell your friends about your achievements. They want to be happy for you!
4. Standing your ground isn’t always the best course. Sometimes, you gotta get the hell out.
3. Never leave your friends behind.
2. Everyone you meet is a human being, and worthy of respect.
1. There’s always something to be thankful for, even when you’re driving into a fire tornado.
[Photo credits: Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow pictures]
The less I care about how I look, the more I feel like myself.
I’ve had exactly one manicure in my life and that’s because someone gave me a gift certificate to a spa. I don’t color my hair. My favorite lipstick is chapstick. I’m always clean, well-groomed, and appropriately dressed, but everything else is optional, and I prefer not to opt in.
This is my current twitter picture.
No makeup, unfussy hair, black and white photo. It’s not really a flattering picture, is it? But it’s exactly how I look day-to-day and I want to be my authentic self online. My authentic self is a low-maintenance gal.
Being low-maintenance does not mean I’m lazy or I don’t like pretty things. Nor does it make me less of a lady. I smile a lot. I flirt. I love to hold babies and my favorite color is pink.
My style icon is Firefly’s Kaylee Frye.
She’s sweet, she’s feminine, but she’s just not interested in obsessing about her looks. Kaylee dresses up sometimes, but only when it’s fun to do so.
So in honor of Kaylee Frye, here are the top ten benefits of being a low-maintenance gal.
10. I don’t spend money on makeup. I slap some sunscreen on my face and I’m good to go.
9. My bathroom is tidy because I don’t have a zillion little jars all over the counter. There is always room on my countertops and in my vanity drawers.
8. I travel light. That TSA rule about 3 ounce bottles in a quart-sized ziplock? No problem.
7. I can walk for miles and miles in my very cute, very flat shoes.
6. I’m a good role model for my kids. I’m showing them what a healthy, confident woman looks like. I don’t criticize my own looks and I hope they never criticize theirs.
5. Getting dressed up can be fun sometimes. It’s even more fun when it’s outside my usual routine. And special occasions feel even more special because I’ve made an effort.
4. I have nice skin. Maybe it’s because I don’t put makeup on it. Or maybe it’s the other way around and I don’t have to put makeup on already good skin. Either way, I’m happy.
3. I can get ready to go at a moment’s notice. You want to go somewhere fabulous five minutes from now? Come pick me up. I’ll be ready.
2. I’m compassionate. With my own very low beauty standard, I’ve got no place to judge yours. I have never—not once—commented on someone’s weight, hairstyle, or clothes, not even in my own mind. Because I literally do not care. I notice what people wear and how they fix their hair. I enjoy their efforts. I don’t keep score.
1. I’m never going to be the prettiest or best dressed person in the room. It’s incredibly freeing. I’m the opposite of self-conscious. I’m okay with not being the pretty one or the cool one or the fashionable one. I can just be.
Other people like to go all-out with clothes and shoes and makeup and that is great. A chic hairstyle and flawless makeup is a joy to behold. Fashion is an art form. It truly is.
Like Kaylee, I appreciate all the pretties. I love that these women make our world a more beautiful place.
And I especially love that they never ask me to go to shopping with them.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes near-future thrillers under the pen name M.H. Mead. Her characters are usually too busy chasing (or running from) bad guys to put on lipstick.
[Photo credits: Fox Film Corporation / Mutant Enemy Productions]
Let’s abolish this phrase once and for all.
I always cringe when I hear the phrase guilty pleasure. I hate it most when it’s in a review of popular entertainment. Cultural critics apply it to catchy pop songs, big action movies, and engrossing books. As if the critics—whose job it is to tell us what’s entertaining—can’t admit they actually like something. Or can only admit it if they also claim to be above it.
But it’s not just critics. I hear this phrase everywhere. People use “guilty pleasure” as a shield, putting things down before others do it for them. I hear it a lot from fans of manga or romance novels or YA novels. Like they know they’re supposed to be reading Proust or Faulkner, but they just couldn’t help themselves.
But here’s what really bothers me. The phrase “guilty pleasure” is always, always applied to entertainment that appeals to the emotion rather than the intellect. It’s as if we’re afraid to have an emotional experience unless we kind of hate ourselves for doing so.
No, people. Just no.
Life is too short to worry about what your entertainment choices say about you as a person. And life is way too short to mock the things you love just because they bring you big laughs or big tears.
You know what I love? I love Pippin the musical. I love Star Trek, Mad Max, and any movie that has Jackie Chan in it. I love the Bernie Rhodenbarr books by Lawrence Block and the Goblin books by Jim C. Hines. And I will watch anything on HGTV. My favorite are those home makeover shows where the people cry at the end. Sometimes I cry too.
All these things are awesome. These stories feed my mind and my heart. and I refuse to label them guilty pleasures. I don’t have to justify the feelings I have toward them—or the feelings I get from experiencing them.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some friends coming over in a few minutes to watch Mad Max Fury Road. But first, I think I’ll queue up the Pippin soundtrack and dance around my house while singing “Corner of the Sky.”
And if my friends catch me doing it, I won’t be embarrassed.
I’ll invite them to sing along.