What’s On My Mind

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.

Hello, my name is Amy, and I am a shmoopy book blubberer

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While at the Tucson Festival of Books, I participated in “A Book I Love”, a segment of Mark McLemore’s Arizona Spotlight. Basically, you choose a book you love and talk about it for a couple of minutes. Pretty cool, right?

I chose The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, one of my all time favorite books EVER.

The only thing is, I’m a weepy goober who can’t actually talk about The Book Thief without crying.

I should have known better. I mean, I could have talked about any number of books. There are so many incredible books out there. But whenever someone asks me, “What’s the best book you’ve read lately?” I always return to The Book Thief. So during my two minutes, I talked about The Book Thief…and I cried like a shmoopy blubberer.

Sigh.

Those who know me well are nodding their heads. They’re used to me getting verklempt.

There is an upside. When I played the segment for my daughter, she buried her face in her hands and said, “You are so embarrassing.” There are few things in life as satisfying as embarrassing your tween daughter.

Maybe there’s another upside as well. Perhaps my genuine, emotional reaction to this wonderful book will cause others out there to read it. I just hope they have their tissues ready. Especially if they’re weepy book goobers, too.

Click here to listen to A Book I Love (and me, blubbering). I’m the last speaker on the audio segment, located below the first video.

Saying Goodbye to My Sweet Girl

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Pretty girl
Pretty girl

It’s been a difficult couple of days around the Nichols’ household. On Tuesday, Hannah, our 9.5 year old McNab (and Holly’s younger sister), suddenly got very sick. Despite medications, tests, and emergency supportive care, she was too far gone and we had to say goodbye. The vets weren’t sure what caused her illness, but based on her lab results we wonder if she had sudden and severe  pancreatitis complicated by her Addison’s disease that resulted in multiple system failure.

The pain of losing her, and so quickly…it’s hard to put into words. The kids have so many questions. Hobbes, our 2-year old bordernese, is confused.

I wanted to post some pics of Hannah and share a few things about her.

She really was the sweetest dog, with big brown eyes that would melt your heart. She had this funny bark she’d make when she was excited. Imagine Scooby-Doo saying, “Bow-roo?!” Made us laugh every time. She always had a puppy-like quality about her, and loved prancing around the back yard. She obsessed on the lizards who live in the cracks in our yard walls and the ground squirrels who tunneled in our bushes. She was neurotic in a totally hilarious way. She hated the ice maker, the salad spinner, counting, singing, dancing. All of our videos from birthday parties, singing happy birthday, feature Hannah barking along. And counting…when we taught our kids how to count, we’d get to three or four, and she’d bark like crazy. Every morning she greeted me at my bedroom door. She would sit in front of me, put her paws up on my legs and bow her head down so I could scratch her neck. My husband would joke that she looked like she was worshipping me. “Oh great mom…” Every night I’d fluff up her blanket and tuck her in. She’d snuggle her head in my hands and I’d tell her, “Good night, sweet girl. Mama loves you.” The same words I said when she passed away.

It’s going to be difficult getting used to not having her around. Even as I type this, we’re trying to figure out the new morning routine. Hobbes keeps going in and out the back door, looking for her, I think. This is hard. I know time will help, but I miss my girl.

Last night at bedtime, my daughter was crying and questioning and angry. I told her the story about the fortune cookie I got after Holly died. It was good to remember, and I do believe we’ll see them again.

The Things People Say

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file000808611721Sometimes people say the meanest things. It’s like they don’t hear how they sound. Or maybe they do and don’t care.

I’ve been talking about this a lot with my kids lately. Teaching them that words are powerful. With their words, they have the ability to build up or destroy.

The little boy next door passed a note over the wall to my youngest the other day. In crude handwriting and awful spelling, the boy called my youngest a…well, an offensive term that starts with F and rhymes with duck. The word came out of nowhere. One minute they’re talking and playing, and the next, boom. His feelings were hurt, of course. Now whenever he interacts with that boy, it’s like he’s on heightened awareness, waiting for the kid to hurt his feelings again.

Now, I’m sure that boy had either been called that name, or had heard someone get called that, and was just trying the word out for himself. That’s how kids are, right? But man, that makes me sad.

I told my youngest that I love him, that I think he’s great, to let it go, that he didn’t have to play with that boy if he didn’t want to, but I know how words like that stick with you.

All of us do.

Hurtful words have a way of echoing in our minds long after they’ve been said. They’re like magnets, attracted and clinging to our insecurities, difficult to shake off.

When I was young, one of my friend’s mothers made a comment to my mom. “It’s nice to see Amy’s starting to get pretty.”

Ouch. All these years later, that one still echoes around up there.

The things people say affect us.

The things we say affect others.

Words can build up. Words can tear down. If only we were more conscious of how we use them, of when we use them, and of how they affect the hearer. Think of how we could change the world.