It was a long, hard, necessary journey.
Last weekend I wore my pink hat and joined 500,000 of my new best friends at the Women’s March on Washington.
It wasn’t easy to even get there. At the very last minute, our bus company canceled some of the contracted buses. They left eighty people behind. Our bus seats were the narrowest ones I’ve ever seen, and the bus lacked things like power outlets and temperature control. The door wouldn’t fully close, so we froze up front, while the back of the bus quickly warmed to ninety degrees. Nobody complained, since we considered ourselves lucky to get on a bus at all. We left Ann Arbor at 10:00 Friday, planning to drive through the night and arrive in DC early the next day.
At 3:30 in the morning, our driver pulled to the side of the road and we glided to a soft stop. “I don’t want to scare you,” she said. “But we don’t have any brakes.” We were somewhere in Pennsylvania and the GPS showed no towns for miles. The fog was so thick we couldn’t see the next mile marker.
I called our bus company and spoke to someone who sounded like a college intern on her first day. She didn’t know where we were and didn’t know how to help. Luckily, our bus driver was a miracle worker and somehow found a mechanic to drive to our location in the middle of the night to fix our bus right there by the side of the road. We got going again, but we were two hours behind. So we took a vote: stop for breakfast, or drive straight through to DC? We overwhelmingly chose to drive straight through. We gave up sleep, food, and coffee in order to get there on time. This is how much we wanted our voices heard.
As hungry and tired as we were, just being in DC lifted our spirits. Everyone we talked to had a story. We met two senior citizens who’d been protesting since the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam war. They’d each had three hip replacements, and yet were willing to be on their feet all day for this. We gave our granola bars to a trio of college kids from North Carolina who’d decided to drive up at the very last minute, not stopping to pack food. We met someone who’d come from Colorado and was at the march alone.
We were all different, and all united by one thing—the determination to grab our country back. Our bus driver gritted her teeth and guided our rickety bus through the DC traffic. “If you’re on my bus, I’m going to get you there,” she said. The women with the artificial hips knew they would be in incredible pain the next day, but endured the trip anyway. The person from Colorado, with no support from family or friends, still made the trip.
Husbands marched with wives. Sometimes three generations marched together. Moms brought their kids.
Cell towers were overloaded and none of us were getting news or social media. We had no idea how big our march was, or that demonstrations were happening across the country and around the world. We didn’t get the scope of it until later. Cheers broke out on the bus ride home as people pulled up aerial photos of DC, Chicago and Denver. We all looked up our hometowns. “They had six thousand in Ann Arbor,” someone said, passing around a cell phone. “They marched in Copper Harbor!” someone else cried, showing us the picture.
Back in Michigan, I removed my shoes and peeled my sticky socks off my feet. I napped and showered and went out to get groceries. My pink “pussyhat” had become a natural part of my wardrobe by then, and I wanted to keep wearing it. As I filled my cart, five people stopped me in the store to tell me they loved my hat. I couldn’t stop smiling. For the first time in two months, I felt proud of my country.
As I was checking out, the cashier asked me about my hat. “I saw them on the news,” she said. “But where did you all get them?” I told her that my best friend had knit mine. I explained that the hats were all homemade. Every single one.
“That’s amazing!” The cashier held out her arm. “Look! I have goosebumps.”
I knew the feeling. I got goosebumps several times at the Women’s March. I’m not kidding myself into thinking it was perfect. It wasn’t. It was very white and very straight. Parts of it were amateurish since this kind of political action is new to most of us. Some people will pat themselves on the back and not do anything else to fight this dangerous administration.
So what? It didn’t have to be perfect. It had to be done. This isn’t the end. This is the beginning. And with a new pair of socks on my feet, a bright pink hat on my head, and goosebumps on my arms, I’m ready to march again.
Writing 2017 new pages this year? Why not?
A few weeks ago, my brother asked me what my 2017 goals were. When I said I didn’t have any, he asked me, “Could you do two thousand seventeen of something?” The question intrigued me. It seems like such a huge number. But spread through an entire year, it comes to just over five and a half per day. But five and a half of what?
My sister joked that she wanted to nag her children 2017 times, but was afraid she’d go through her allotment in a single month. A friend I spoke to later said he wanted to pet 2017 dogs.
They didn’t take this challenge seriously, but my brother did. He’s committed to running 2017 kilometers this year. As for me, I immediately saw how it could be applied to writing, and right there, on the spot, I committed to writing 2017 pages this year.
Then I did the math. Let’s assume 250 words per page. In order to write 2017 pages, I’d have to write 504,250 words. Okay, huge number.
But is it so huge? Really? 40,020 words a month. About 1400 words a day.
And you know what else is huge? My ambition. Lately, I have been coming up with idea after idea, with no clue how I’m going to write everything. I don’t just have three novels I want to write, I have three series in my head. They’re all pulling at me saying “write me now, now, now.” I’m also working on a set of linked short stories and I want to try my hand at a new genre and suddenly, writing half a million words this year doesn’t sound like a challenge so much as what I simply must do.
Of course, that’s half a million words of rough draft. Those words will have to be edited, and if I want to publish them, I’ll have to either send them out to publishers or format them for indie pub, which is time-consuming either way. I’ve taken on two part-time jobs, and I volunteer at my kid’s school. I’m also going to be involved in some political campaigns, since Michigan desperately needs a new governor. Fitting all this writing into a busy life? That’s the true challenge.
Does anyone want to join me? Not just writer friends! Anyone can do this. If you’re trying to eat healthier, how about 2017 servings of vegetables and fruits? Or 2017 glasses of water? If you’re trying to be more positive, how about giving 2017 compliments? Could a seamstress sew 2017 seams? Could a photographer take 2017 pictures?
What I love about this is that it focuses on the positive. It’s not about giving up a bad habit or trying to lose weight or save money. It’s about doing.
Let’s do this.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. She’s glad she’s not running 2017 kilometers this year.
[Photo: Ilya Lobanov | Dreamstime Stock Photos]
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,
I ate squeaky clean for thirty days. I’m never doing it again.
I first heard of Whole30 on the internet. It seems like everyone loves this eating plan, with people posting before and after pictures and Instagramming their meat-and-veggie lunches. Whole30 isn’t a diet. It’s more like pushing the “reset” button on your eating habits. By cutting out sugar, grains, dairy, alcohol, beans, soy and peanuts for a month, you’re supposed to change your relationship to food, and eat more mindfully ever after.
The testimonials sound too good to be true. By eating like this for just thirty days, people report effortless weight loss, clear skin, sound sleep, boundless energy, and an end to all food cravings, forever. Some people say that Whole30 cured their high blood pressure, asthma, or diabetes. Who wouldn’t want to be in on that? I filled my grocery cart with delicious, whole foods and for thirty days, ate nothing but meat, eggs and vegetables, with a small amount of fruits and tree nuts for a treat.
For people who eat a lot of restaurant meals or packaged food, Whole30 is a huge lifestyle change. But I was already cooking my own meals from scratch. I was already eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. I never ate fast food or instant ramen or sweet cereal. My big indulgences were granola bars and dark chocolate. Still, I thought that surely cutting out cheese, oatmeal, popcorn and wine, not to mention noodles and bread would give me some of those miracle benefits the internet was raving about. Everyone who does Whole30 says “It changed my life.”
Let me tell you what Whole30 did for me.
My skin looks the same. My energy levels didn’t improve. I didn’t lose a single pound. And if anything, my insomnia got worse.
And I missed out on so much.
I’m not talking about sandwiches or stupid store-bought cookies, because who cares about those? I’m talking about meaningful treats that people put real effort into. My friend opened an ice cream store, which was his dream come true. I attended the celebration without tasting a single one of his homemade creations. I went to a birthday party and didn’t eat any of the cake. I told my writer’s group that I wouldn’t bring muffins this week.
But the worst was when I had a spat with a family member and after we made up, he went out of his way to bring me my favorite dessert and I didn’t eat it. He was nice about it and said he admired my dedication to my goal, but I could tell he was hurt. I should have said “screw Whole30” and eaten every last bite, because no eating plan is worth harming a relationship with a loved one.
Whole30 wasn’t all bad. I learned a some new recipes. I made a couple of new Instagram friends. I learned that my diet was already quite healthy. The reason I didn’t receive huge benefits is because I didn’t make huge changes.
It took eating super clean for thirty to days to learn that while my normal diet isn’t perfect, it is good enough. Now that I know that, I never, never, never have to do Whole30 ever again.
Women make minute-by-minute calculations about their own safety all day every day. And sometimes we get it wrong.
I was waiting to cross the street. Waiting through two light cycles. The crosswalk signal changed from “stop” to “walk” for the second time, and still I hesitated. Because like all women, I’m constantly scanning my surroundings, and I could see what was waiting for me on the other side.
I don’t know if he was dangerous or not. It was hard to tell, and I didn’t want to risk finding out. All I know is the guy standing on the other side of the street scared me. He was underweight, unwashed, wearing lounge pants and a t-shirt and a camouflage necktie as a headband. He was yelling incoherently at the top of his lungs. He stood on the balls of his feet, his entire upper body leaning forward in an aggressive way that said he was going to take a swing at the next person who got too close.
This was in broad daylight, about 11:30 in the morning on a Thursday, downtown Ann Arbor on the corner of Main and Ann, across from the courthouse. There were other people around, but not enough people. Nobody else seemed to be going my way.
I couldn’t cross on the other side of the street. Sidewalk repairs. Street closed. I’d either have to walk a two-block circle or take my chances with yelling guy.
I was about to take the detour when I saw him. A man of about thirty, in a dress shirt and pants, walking in my same direction down Main Street. He wasn’t huge, but he was big enough. More importantly, he looked confident. He sized up the situation and maneuvered himself to stand on the other side of me, so that he’d be between me and yelling guy when we passed him. We crossed the street together.
“Thanks,” I said when we’d put half a block between us and yelling guy. “I really didn’t want to walk past him by myself.”
“No problem,” he said. He held out his hand. “My name is Christopher.”
“I’m Alex.” I shook his hand. “Thanks again, Christopher. Have a great day.” I kept walking.
Christopher kept pace. “Are you single?” he asked. “Can we be friends?”
I stopped walking. My jaw dropped. “Are you serious right now?”
“What?” he asked. “We can’t be friends?”
“Don’t be that guy,” I half-whispered. “Please, don’t be that guy.”
“Yeah, all right.” He smiled as he sauntered off. “Have a nice day…Alex.” He added that special little lilt at the end, the one that says, “I know something about you.”
I had at least ten years on Christopher. Maybe fifteen. My hair is going gray. I was wearing what I describe as “mom shoes.”
None of that mattered. Christopher had walked me across the street. He had bought my attention.
I should have taken my chances with yelling guy.
And that’s what I hate most about this whole thing. Of the two men, Christopher looked like the safer bet. Women make these moment-by-moment calculations all day every day, and sometimes we get it wrong.
It was a small encounter, more annoying than dangerous, but it might not have been. What happens when a man like Christopher walks a woman to her car, in the dark? What happens when he insists on being more than friends?
I told this story to some girlfriends and they sympathized with me. They understood it because they’d all been through some version of this. But my guy friends all said, “Oh no! What a tool. I would never do that.” And I believe them. They wouldn’t.
But guys, here’s what you have to understand. For every one of you, there is at least one Christopher out there.
And he’s ruining it for the rest of you.
[Image: Google maps]
Don’t believe the coffee cups, t-shirts, and internet memes.
“I can’t adult today” is one of the internet’s favorite sayings.
And I honestly don’t get it.
I’ve wanted to be a grown-up since I was five years old. That’s when I realized adults don’t have a bedtime and can say “no thank you” to green beans. Now that I’m actually grown up, it’s even better than I thought it would be and I don’t understand why everyone else doesn’t love it, too.
Of course, I’m not talking about people who have depression or anxiety. Sometimes those issues can deplete someone’s daily store of energy before they even get out of bed. And I get that. I do. Self-care is important. In fact, self-care is part of being an adult. You get to do that now.
And you get to do so much more. Here are ten great reasons being all grown up is the best thing ever.
10. You’re in charge of you. You can choose your own bedtime, what to wear, how to color your hair, and your own music in the car. You can eat your dessert without finishing your vegetables and you will never, ever be grounded, no matter how sassy you are.
9. Coffee. Wine. Sex. Swearing. Would you really want to trade in these adult pleasures for fewer responsibilities and a daily nap?
8. You can choose your own friends. Heck, you can choose your own family if you want.
7. No one asks you what you want to be when you grow up, because they can clearly see you already are. You get to have your own identity. You’re not just “so and so’s child,” you’re you.
6. Knowing how to do things feels really, really good. Grown-ups can drive a car, cook a meal, program the DVR, vote, and write in cursive. Or at least do some of these things. And these things are awesome.
5. Paychecks > allowance.
4. Your parents get smarter every year.
3. You can watch all the scary movies you want. And read books with sex scenes in them. And see TV shows with lots of blood and maybe naked butts.
2. You don’t have to sing with your classmates, exercise with a group, deal with mean girls, or fill out a bubble form with a #2 pencil ever again. If you want to learn something, you get a book and learn it at your own pace. :::Wipes away a tear of joy:::
1. You can have children if you wish, and spend time with them feeling like a kid all over again.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend the afternoon building a blanket fort and then I’m going to sit inside it eating graham crackers while reading books. Because I’m an adult, which means I get to spend my free time any way I want.
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.
What’s the purpose of a memoir?
I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately. These books occupy an odd space between fiction and nonfiction. They’re true stories, but they’re marketed like novels and the audience is mostly the same. I used to think of them as simply novels-plus. All the drama and entertainment of a made-up story, with the added emotional thrill of knowing that this really happened.
But why do people write them? Is it all just narcissism? Cheaper than therapy? And why do readers love memoirs so much?
Then it hit me. We read fiction to be entertained and we read nonfiction to be informed, but we read memoirs to be inspired. The unspoken subtitle for every single memoir is “the inspiring true story of…”
Wild by Cheryl Strayed is a memoir about loneliness. Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest trail by herself, while dealing with a divorce and the death of her mother and also kicking a drug habit. Reading about the way she dealt with her loneliness made me feel like I could also cope with feeling alone.
Heather Sellers has face blindness. She can’t recognize faces, not even of the people she loves, and the condition has no cure. Reading You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know was heartbreaking, but watching Sellers handle one deeply awkward situation after another made me see my own social blunders as no big deal.
Chris Gardner went from homelessness to running a successful brokerage firm, never losing sight of his dream, no matter how bleak things got. He never felt sorry for himself, nor did he let others feel sorry for him. Reading The Pursuit of Happyness showed me how to be strong, no matter what life throws at me.
My own life has been full of ups and downs. I’ve lived in interesting places, met a wacky bunch of characters, and dealt with some tough challenges. But I never had the urge to put my own life on paper. Memoir writing is not my thing. But I will continue to read memoirs, because finding that rush of inspiration between the covers of a book is like no other feeling in the world.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She finds other people fascinating.
Humans are infinitely varied creatures. Why not celebrate that?
My family has this game we call “Weird Visual of the Day.” Whenever we’re out and about, we look for people and things that are ever-so-slightly out of the ordinary. We’re not looking for the kind of full-on strangeness that’s sad or dangerous. We’re not looking for spectacle. We’re not looking for people whose hobby is looking outlandish. We’re looking for the kind of everyday oddballs that you find in any medium-sized city, especially in a college town like ours.
It’s not competitive. My family doesn’t keep score. It’s just a way to remind ourselves to keep our eyes open, because humans are such wonderfully varied creatures.
Like the woman and her dog wearing matching coats…and shoes. Or the couple wearing deer costumes and glittery masks doing a slow-motion dance in the middle of Maynard street, accompanied by a tambourine. Or the guy sporting a hairstyle I can only describe as “Elvis Mohawk.”
Or the people who put a tiny volcano in their front yard.
Or the time we were at a high school football game and the woman two rows ahead of us took it upon herself to turn around and teach our entire section the words to the school song. Patiently. Loudly. Out of tune. Her companions were embarrassed for her. I was delighted.
I was shopping with a friend when we saw this in the mall parking lot.
My friend was horrified. “Who would do something like that?” she asked.
“Someone way more fun than us,” I answered, reaching for my camera. Seriously, how can you not love this stuff?
Weird Visual of the Day is my favorite thing because I love quirky people. Happily, this weekend, I’ll be surrounded by them.
I’m going to a science fiction convention called “Life, the Universe, and ConFusion.” I’m sitting on four panels. When I’m not paneling, I’ll be mingling with scientists, gamers, authors, and artists.
At ConFusion, I don’t expect to see the weird visual of the day. I expect to see the weird visual of the hour.
I know my fellow con-goers will not let me down.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories under her own name and near-future thrillers under the pen name M.H. Mead. She is sure that at some point, she has been someone else’s Weird Visual of the Day.