What’s On My Mind

“In the mountains, there you feel free.” (T.S. Eliot)

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We recently took a trip into the mountains in Colorado to see the fall colors. Here are some photos I took along the way. Enjoy!

On Not Getting It Right the First Time

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This post is dedicated to a couple of young people I know who struggle with the idea of having to get things right the first time.

file000947770525I’ve been taking a ceramics class for fun and to explore another creative outlet. For the last few weeks, we’ve been hand building different kinds of vessels and forms. But on Monday, we switched to throwing on a pottery wheel. My instructor made it look so easy, demonstrating how to center the clay and pull the sides up into a cylinder.

Then it was our turn.

We sat at our wheels and tried to coax cylinders out of our own lumps of clay.

And we tried.

And tried.

To be fair, a couple of people did quite well. But most of us…well, it took several attempts before we got anything not wobbly, let alone cylindrical.

It was frustrating. Humbling. More than once I thought, There’s no way I’m going to be able to do this.

But each time my walls grew too thin or my cylinder lost its center, I crumpled the clay back into a lump, scraped the excess from the wheel and started again.

It took a few tries, but finally, working slowly, I threw a cylinder.

Will I be able to do it again next time? I don’t know. But I’m willing to keep trying until I learn.

That’s what it’s like for starting any project. Writing a first draft of a story. Starting a new painting. Sculpting clay by hand or on the wheel.

You don’t have to get it right the first time. Few people do. The magic happens in the revisions and later attempts.

So go easy on yourself. Give yourself the freedom to try and grace when you fail.

And never, ever stop learning.

10 Tips for a Happier Life

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10 Tips 4Everyone has an opinion, right? Everyone has advice? Well, I’ve been on this planet for more than a few years, now and I’ve got an idea or ten for ways to make this life a more satisfying ride. Take ‘em or leave ‘em. They work for me. Maybe they’ll work for you.

Here we go.

10 Tips for a Happier Life

  1. Believe in something greater than yourself.
  2. Speak less. Listen more.
  3. There are givers and there are takers. Be a giver.
  4. Don’t believe those who tell you you can’t.
  5. That thing that lights you up? Do that.
  6. Stop making excuses.
  7. Be too busy for people who don’t treat you well.
  8. Forgive. For your sake as well as theirs.
  9. When you feel crummy, do something nice for someone you don’t know.
  10. Every now and then, stop staring at screens and stare at the stars. The universe is vast and deep. Consider your place in it and respond accordingly.

Peace out.

My Encounter with a Creeper at a Con

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creeper
This creeper is cute. The other kind is not.

I encountered a creeper at Phoenix Comicon this weekend. I wish it had been the cute, boxy green kind that goes, “Ssssss…BOOM!” But it wasn’t. It was the other kind.

Even as I type this I’m not sure I want to post this. But there has been a lot of talk recently about conventions and harassment policies, so I keep thinking maybe my story belongs in that dialogue somehow? I don’t know. I’m just going to keep typing and see what happens.

So, this weekend was Phoenix Comicon, which is an awesome convention that you should totally check out if you haven’t already. This year had an incredible lineup, record turnouts of attendees and was just overall a really amazing time.

Phoenix Comicon has an anti-harassment policy that is easy to find on its website. One of the items listed is “Unwanted touching without permission of the individual such as glomping, hugging, etc.” Which, when I think about it, is just common decency. Common sense. Or at least should be.

You have to take two escalators to get from the main floor of the Phoenix Convention Center downstairs to the exhibit hall. Sunday, the last day of the con, I stepped onto the first escalator and put my hand on the rail. The man behind me put his hand on the rail, too, in such a manner that it rested against my arm. My reaction (which all happened in a fraction of a second) went something like this:

“What the heck? Why is he doing that? Does he have freakishly long arms? Eww. He’s touching me.” And I took my hand off the rail. His stayed.

It felt a little like the wrestle over the armrest at the movie theater or protecting your leg space on a cramped subway seat.

When I came to the end of the first escalator and walked the few feet to the next escalator, I noticed the guy behind me do this sort of wide turn to try to position himself next to me. There was no way I was about to share a step with the guy, so I made myself bigger than I am and guarded my space. Problem solved.

Or so I thought.

He stood behind me, slightly to my right, and leaned against me. I looked down and saw that his feet were hanging–literally–half way over the step he was on.  

Now I was pissed.

I turned my face toward his direction (because of the incline I couldn’t see his face) and very loudly said, “Back. Up. NOW.”

I wish I could describe the giggly laugh noise he made. High pitched. Kind of squeaky.

He knew what he was doing. And he knew he’d been caught.

At the end of the escalator, I stepped off and got as much distance from him as I could. (I’m a ninja when it comes to crowd surfing.) Half a minute later, he couldn’t have caught up to me if he’d tried. I entered the exhibit hall and went on my way, albeit a little wiser.

This was the first time something like this had happened to me. Well, at a con. There have been other incidents in my life (that I’m not going to divulge here) that taught me early on that it’s almost disgustingly inevitable as a female to experience unwanted physical contact with creepers; and also that it can be very difficult to be taken seriously when you share what’s happened. That’s been my experience at least.

So I went into the exhibit hall. And I didn’t say anything.

To be honest, I didn’t really think to. I’d handled the situation pretty well, I thought. Given his position behind me and my recent training in karate, I could have done some damage to his nether regions with an outside block or an elbow jab. But instead I used my voice, and that–thankfully–did the trick.

Today I’ve been reliving all the incredible events from the con as I go about my re-entry into normal life. Meeting amazing people, having incredible conversations with some authors that I’ve long admired, all the sights and sounds that make a convention the thing we all love. But then the memory of the escalator creeper popped up and I realized again what had happened. It made me wonder if it had happened to other women over the course of those four days. I bet it did.

I wish now I’d said something to one of the security staff.

It would have been difficult, given the size of the crowd coming off that escalator and not having a really good idea what he looked like. (Light blue t-shirt, dark hair, maybe a mustache.)

Still. I should have tried.

So, I’m glad I’m posting this here at least. That I’m using my voice and sharing what happened. The thing about an encounter like that is it brings up all the ickiness from previous encounters and becomes a thing that you have to deal with again, even years later. And that SUCKS.

It makes me angry that I have to make myself bigger than I am and bark orders at someone to keep myself from having a full-body lean on by some strange guy.

Like, think about that for a second.

And my story is nothing compared to what some women go through.

So, #yesALLwomen because, while I love what I’m learning in karate, I hate that my motivation to learn it at all was because I need to know I can defend myself in any situation.

And #yesALLwomen because I have a daughter and I hate thinking of her having to go through some of the stuff I have in the past with unwanted encounters and domineering men.

And #yesALLwomen because damn it, I should able to go to a con in my home town and not have to deal with that kind of crap.

Next time, I’m using the well-placed elbow jab.

Saying Thanks to My English Teachers

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file2561244575713We’re wrapping up the school year here in the Nichols’ household, and it’s all got me a bit nostalgic. We decided to switch schools this year, and it turned out to be the best decision ever. My kiddos love their new school and are sad to see the year end. They’re especially sad to move on from their teachers, which is really awesome, and testimony that we made the right choice.

All of the end of the year festivities have me thinking about the teachers who impacted me over the years, so I decided to say thank you to them, just in case I was too self-absorbed to thank them when I was younger. While many of my teachers made an impact on me, the ones who stand out the most are the English teachers who instilled in me a love of literature and reading.

Thank you to my 7th (hmmm…might have been 8th) grade Reading teacher, who introduced me to Ray Bradbury when he assigned The Martian Chronicles. Blew my mind.

Thank you to my junior English teacher, who introduced me to some of my favorite short stories when we studied American Literature. Everything from Poe to Shirley Jackson. This was the class that really opened my eyes to the power of short stories and awakened in me the idea of writing.

Thank you to my senior English teacher, for leading me through Hamlet, Camus, Irving, Kafka. Lots of heavy topics in that class. Takes a gifted teacher to lead a bunch of moody high schoolers through Existentialism. One day I told her I wanted to be an English teacher. She laughed and said, “No, you don’t.”

Thank you to my English professor who not only guided me through my undergrad English Lit courses, but also taught my first creative writing class. I wrote poetry that groaned under the weight of sentimentality and adjectives. He was patient and encouraging.

Thank you to my graduate American Literature professor who introduced me to the works of Louise Erdrich. Wow. Just thinking about the book Love Medicine makes me want to go read it again right now.

Thank you to my graduate World Lit professor, who was a visiting prof from England, and introduced me to the poetry of Pablo Neruda. He read Neruda to us in the original language, with a Chilean accent mingled with his own Yorkshire dialect. Unforgettable.

Thank you to my graduate Medieval Lit professor who shared my love for Chaucer and introduced me to the fascinating subject of palaeography. “Whan that april with his shoures soote…”

I wouldn’t be the person I am today with having read these works, and I never would have found them on my own. Being in your classes impacted my life for the better.

Thank you.