One week left to buy your copy of “The Wheel Diver”

You can buy The Wheel Diver here.

Writing The Wheel Diver took nearly a year. Illustrating and designing The Wheel Diver took another six months. Planning the Kickstarter campaign has been a year-long process. All for three weeks to somehow communicate just how special this book is. As of today, there are about eight days left of this campaign, eight days left to purchase your hardcover copy of The Wheel Diver, and pick up some pretty awesome book-themed swag as well.

Let’s start with the concept. I was inspired by Joss Whedon’s magical ability to build worlds out of two seemingly incongruous themes (space and the wild west for Firefly, my favorite show of all time, and bubbly high school cheerleader meets monsters and vampires in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, another favorite of mine). For The Wheel Diver, those two incongruous worlds were the Amazon and a punk rock roller derby aesthetic. Marry the two and you have matriarchal roller derby warrior tribes, which was ridiculously fun to write. If you’re curious about the writing, you can download a free copy of Chapter 1 here.

Of course, there’s a lot more to creating a beautiful book than the writing. The artwork above are nine of the twenty-one original illustrations produced by Portland-based artist Michael Arras for the book. In fact, there’s one illustration for each chapter, and graphic designer, art director, author, and all-around art genius Mignon Khargie used these illustrations as a kickoff point for the first page of each new chapter.

I happen to be a really huge fan of original, modern book design. One of the greatest disappointments about print publishing, to me, is that the financial challenges facing the industry tend to result in an overly simplistic approach to content, design, and production. The beauty of being an independent author is that I don’t have to justify any imaginative excess. The images below are eight of the first chapter pages designed by Mignon Khargie. When was the last time you picked up a book with design this beautiful?

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Undeniably I am biased. This book is my baby, the product of so many countless thousands of hours of effort. And now three weeks will determine its fate. Copies cost $25, and will be available until April 6.

Purchase “The Wheel Diver” on Kickstarter!

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The hardest part of being an author isn’t writing books. It isn’t even editing the books, although there’s a long list of things I’d rather do than edit my books, and it might actually include cleaning the bathroom. The hardest part is marketing them. Most of the writers I know are extremely passionate people—brutally honest, thoughtful, socially conscious, and highly awkward. The very last thing they should be doing is marketing anything, much less their own work.

But that is exactly what we are called upon to do, the publishing industry being what it is. Also, print is dead. Long live print.

Three and a half years ago, I self-published my first book, Scourge of the Righteous Haddock. It was professionally edited, featured original artwork on the cover, and the book release party was nothing short of epic. On that night, with my friends drinking themed cocktails inspired by the book and lining up for me to sign their copies, I just didn’t think that life as an indie author could possibly get better.

I guess I’ve gotten braver since then because I realized there were a few things I wanted to do that I hadn’t tried the first time around:

    1. I wanted to produce a book trailer for one of my books. In December of 2016, I flew my boyfriend’s brother up from Los Angeles for the weekend. Why? Ryan makes movie trailers for a living. Who better to make my book trailer on a nonexistent budget? We spent two days filming in three different locations. Which was followed by three more months of video editing. This is what we came up with:
    2. I wanted to produce a hardcover edition of one of my novels, something that would rival Barnes & Noble’s leatherbound classics series for beauty.

In order to accomplish the second task, I found a printer in Iceland that makes beautiful books—Oddi Printing. I found an illustrator in Portland who makes beautiful images—Michael Arras. And, thankfully and as always, I have one of the best graphic designers in the world on my team—Mignon Khargie.

But what about the swag? A key aspect of any crowdfunding campaign is the rewards for backers. Besides pre-purchasing the hardcover edition of The Wheel Diver, rewards include a T-shirt with original artwork, bookmarks, original jewelry inspired by the book from The Fox and Stone jewelry designer, art prints, copies of my previous works, and handwritten thank you letters from my cats.

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So I’m ready. I guess. Maybe. The night before the campaign began, I vacillated between feeling like a little kid on Christmas Eve and a little kid in The Hunger Games the night before the reaping. I don’t know what to expect, whether a hardcover edition of an independent fantasy novel will have any appeal whatsoever to contemporary audiences. But I have to believe that there is an audience for this whimsical, feminist, punk rock roller derby world set on the Amazon River. Because I want to live in a world where indie authors—hell, any indie artist—proves the publishers wrong, shows that there is a market for people willing to say something new and especially to produce something beautiful and provocative.

And I’ve got 20 days and 23 hours to prove it.

Deep Dive: The Wheel Diver is well on its way

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In a little over a month, I’m going to be launching the Kickstarter campaign for my third book, The Wheel Diver. The purpose of the campaign is to generate funds to print a hardcover, fully illustrated edition of the novel. Backers can pre-purchase the novel in addition to having access to book-themed swag like tote bags, jewelry, original art, and thank you notes from my cats.

Getting this book published, and doing it well, has been my major project over the course of the last year. To say that this would be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream is an understatement. In preparation for this campaign, I filmed a book trailer (with a lot of help from friends and even strangers), invested my own money, relied on the kindness and genius of friends, and sweated over every decision however seemingly minor. I also wrote a book I’m exceedingly proud of, and which I consider my best work to date (an assessment those most familiar with my work agree with).

Last week I launched a website specifically dedicated to The Wheel Diver and releasing information about the Kickstarter campaign. If you have a weakness for fantasy novels, the Amazon, roller derby, chinchillas, or are just curious to watch this particular indie author’s dream play out, I highly recommend a visit.

That time I was a featured guest on a podcast

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Writer, foodie, rocker babe, all-around Renaissance woman, and now podcast host Hayley Cain just released her first episode of Sparkle and Destroy: A podcast for girls who make noisy, vibrant art, and I was ridiculously honored to be her guest. I haven’t said much about my third book, The Wheel Diver, which has been a major project of late. This is an opportunity to hear me talk about it a little bit in advance of its release, which is just around the corner.

The entire mission behind Sparkle and Destroy is to encourage creativity, to offer advice and inspiration to anyone stuck in the creative mire or just plain afraid to get started in the first place. We discussed our personal approaches to starting big projects, the challenge of silencing those ever-present and ever-pesky self-doubts, and the incredible rewards of being an artist. I could go on but, well, wouldn’t you rather listen?

Winter, spring, summer, and fall

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The writers life for me.

WARNING: CONTAINS GILMORE GIRLS SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN THE NEW SEASON OF GILMORE GIRLS, FOR THE LOVE OF PAUL ANKA TURN AROUND. AVERT YOUR EYES LEST YOU TURN INTO A PILLAR OF SALT. FLEE.

I’ll start by saying that Gilmore Girls is an important touchstone for me. It served as a key formative influence in my awkward tomboy young adult years when there was often a lack of interesting female characters, and certainly an absence of television shows in which two women were unabashedly the protagonists. They were smart, witty, well read, eccentric, flawed, and unapologetically the center of their own universe—Stars Hollow. And I loved them for that.

While I have long believed that Lorelai (the elder) was by far the most interesting of the duo, I feel a strong affinity with Rory and always have. On the list of fictional character with whom I identify—women including Jo of Little Women and Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables—Rory managed to make the top five despite the fact that I discovered Gilmore Girls rather late in adolescence. We have our differences, sure. I was a tomboy whereas Rory lacks the athleticism to play any sport except under duress. Our family situations are both nontraditional, but different. And whereas Rory is shy and slow to speak up for himself, I don’t require any pushing to speak loudly and with a great deal of profanity about the things I happen to think are important.

It is because I think of Rory as a kindred spirit that I had a difficult time watching the latest season of Gilmore Girls. So much of Rory’s intellectual promise is overshadowed by bad decisions—and not just bad decisions but actively cruel behavior. I’ve catalogued this list below, with my specific thoughts as to why this behavior is out of character or downright ridiculous:

  • Paul. The boyfriend Rory strings along for several years, while sleeping with at least two other men. The show’s reasoning for her failure to break up with him is that she continually forgets, a gimmick that is absurd, unlikely, unnecessary, and obnoxious. Whatever her flaws, Rory has historically been a sensitive character who would decry such extended and blatantly cruel behavior.
  • Sleeping with Logan while he is engaged to another woman. As the victim of Logan’s infidelity in previous seasons, Rory would have a pretty good idea of the sting of that infidelity. While this behavior is not necessarily out of character given her earlier willingness to lose her virginity to Dean while he’s married to another woman and given that she has historically tolerated bad behavior from Logan, such a prolonged bout of this behavior seems unlikely. Obviously, her “what happens in Vegas” relationship with Logan is being used by writers as an excuse for her lack of an honest, fulfilling relationship with someone else, but I would think her busy schedule or her similarity to her mother, who has a difficult time making a commitment, might be a better excuse.
  • The nomadic lifestyle. By choice, Rory gives up her apartment in New York and spends the season flitting from one friend’s couch to another, which might have seemed whimsical when the writers initially conceived the idea but rapidly became another turn that was so far out of character that it served as a distraction. Yes, Rory is a busy writer and yes, her career does require a great deal of travel, but Rory consistently serves as the straight man, “the responsible one” to her mother’s somewhat less grounded character. Rory Gilmore would never spend a year living haphazardly here and there with her possessions strewn across two continents. Rory is, at her core, a homebody. And a homebody needs a home.
  • The inability and strange unwillingness to pitch to a website considering hiring her. It’s true that Rory is a character who likes to be prepared and does not necessarily think well on her feet but considering that she agreed to attend an interview with the CEO of a website considering hiring her, I find it difficult to believe that she would attend this meeting with no ideas whatsoever.
  • Tap dancing. Yes, this is somewhat minor and it was obviously included as an effort to showcase the quirkiness of the Gilmore Girls, but Rory would never take up tap dancing to soothe her anxiety. She’s unathletic, not fond of expending energy, not particularly graceful, and given that she’s depending on the goodwill of her friends and family for housing, it’s a pretty noisy hobby to take up, particularly in the middle of the night.

I could generate a list of issues with the Lorelai the elder plot line as well, and might at some point, but at present I am far too fixated on the sins committed against Rory’s character to get into that lengthy and bitter can of worms. That said, there were some things that I thought the new season got right, but that isn’t to say that they made me happy, in part because they resonated a little too intensely with my own professional life.

Writing is hard. Not necessarily the writing itself, but the making money off of it as a profession part. I believe that journalism could take a bright, ambitious young woman and spit out an embittered and broke 32-year-old filled with self doubt. In many ways, that’s my own story—straight A’s in high school, knew exactly where I was heading, motivated in college, 11 years of professional journalism experience in a world that just doesn’t have much to offer the professional writer. The real world is not kind to dreamers, to readers, to those of us who want to create new worlds comprised of our own words. Whether this experience would have transformed Rory into the aimless, wandering, philandering 32-year-old we meet in this newest season, I do not know. I rather doubt it though. It could potentially account for some of the bitterness of tone that shadowed much of the season.

Rory’s decision, at the very end, to write her own book feels like a step in the right direction and an authentic decision for the character to make. I might just be prejudiced because that was the right step for me to take to escape the uncertainty and self-doubt that shadows anyone who considers herself a writer. I will acknowledge feeling a giddy sense of superiority—a consequence of my Type A personality and highly competitive nature. At 32, Rory is just beginning to write her first book. At that same age, I have written three while maintaining my full-time writing gigs that pay the proverbial and endless bills. If Rory and I are in some sort of bizarre competition that exists only in my head but still matters very much (and obviously we are) then I win. Hands down. I’ve got three books, a house, a steady boyfriend who does not cheat on me and who writes books of his own, two cats, one dog, and, disregarding recent political events, a fairly optimistic view of my future.

The problem is, I’m not sure I wanted to win. I’m not sure I want to identify with a whiny, pitiful woman who absolutely refuses to make reasonable choices despite her privileged upbringing. If fiction is to serve as a source of inspiration, a reminder when the dining room table is covered in rejection letters from potential publishers that life is still pretty good and my creative career is worth fighting for, then I need the Rory who rallied to become valedictorian of Chilton despite starting late. I need the Rory who respected her independence and future enough to turn down a marriage proposal from Logan. I need the Rory whose passion for words and books and writing was solid enough to survive a rejection by The New York Times. That Rory was worth emulating, even when she stumbled. I don’t know whether she can be salvaged from the wreckage of recent events. Even a fictional character has to endure the consequences of her behavior, after all.

And why does any of this matter so much, anyway? If I am, in fact, a 32-year-old woman with a full-time job, a house, two cats, one dog, and books to write, why am I devoting so much time to a television show? It’s been a rough year, and especially a rough month. We all need a win sometimes and I suppose I was counting on this season of Gilmore Girls to remind me of my optimism, my sense that anything can happen if I will it. That’s the Gilmore Girls I used to watch, and I find myself wondering: Have I changed? Or is the show?

Stay tuned for future Lorelai rants.

Happy Halloween 2016!

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At the Schwellenbach-Rigley household, all holidays are supercalifragilisticexpialidocious but Halloween is a special meld of several of my favorite things including make believe, candy, and autumn.

This year, we decided to attempt a group costume around the theme of one of my favorite movies, Mary Poppins. Colin bravely accepted the starring role; I have always yearned to be a dancing chimney sweep and finally fulfilled my ambition; Cat Cat was an admirable Admirable Boom; Cat Cat was an appropriately whiny Jane Banks; and our newest addition to the family, the xoloitzcuintli tripawd Leander played the dancing penguin, which is also one of my favorite roles.

This was our first group photo with three furkids instead of two and the chaos was worthy of a holiday dedicated to mayhem and cavities. Typically, we divvy up the cats, leaving Colin with one hand free to push the button on the camera. We hoped we would be able to convince one of the animals to sit still so we would still have some mobility but Leander gets nervous about photo shoots, Jack gets mad if he has to share my lap, and Cat Cat was not a fan of her bonnet. So … I tried to wrangle two writhing, shrieking cats while Colin ran to press the button, picked up Leander, and tried to pose as Mary Poppins. After several efforts, I was laughing so hard I was crying, we definitely were not going to achieve the polished, posed photo we were going for, so we figured we’d work with what we have.

Is it perfect?

No.

Is is an accurate reflection of life in a household with two cats, one dog, and two pseudo-adults?

Absofreakinglutely.

 

I’ve got 99 problems and cats are pretty much all of them

In honor of National Cat Day which is October 29, I’ve compiled a list of 99 ways cats complicate my life. For the purposes of this list, “cats” includes Jack (the fat ginger cat I’ve had for nearly 10 years), Cat Cat (the insane ragdoll cat I found about six years ago, and who is obsessed with my boyfriend), and Leander (the xoloitzcuintli or Mexican hairless dog we adopted about six months ago who is not, in fact, a cat, but exhibits a number of feline behaviors).

I should add that I adore these three with all my heart. They’re my kids. By definition, that means that they drive me insane. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them, but that does not prevent me from seeing the humor and absurdity in their behavior.

  1. Three times in the last week I’ve accidentally locked one of the cats in the front hall closet, which is kept closed because the dog food is in there and both cats desperately want to eat the dog food.
  2. Cat Cat has discovered that she enjoys peeing on the pile of clothes at the bottom of the laundry chute in the basement.
  3. Leander refuses to go pee outside if it’s wet, cold, or raining. We live in Seattle; it’s pretty much always wet, cold, or raining. His solution is to wait until no one is looking and run down to the basement and pee or poo on the carpet.
  4. Sometimes Leander decides it’s better to pee on the back of the couch of the support beams or in between the potty pads.
  5. Leander is a reluctant eater, which means he needs a pep talk before he receives his food. He also requires at least one person to sit by him while he eats and protect his food bowl from the cats, who sit and stare at him while he eats, inching closer.
  6. Without fail, Cat Cat decides she’s hungry every morning at 4 a.m. In order to get us out of bed, she runs around the bedroom knocking things down. I’ve lost three containers of deodorant and at least as many necklaces this way.
  7. Leander has to have a lap to sit on at all times. That lap has to be sitting on the couch, otherwise he runs frantically around the house with his lambchop toy whimpering until someone sits on the couch.
  8. Colin works from home and when he sits on the couch to work, because Leander doesn’t like hanging out in the study, Leander leans in so close that Colin can’t use his arm to type.
  9. Jack despises Leander because he considers my lap his and his alone.
  10. Jack is also exceedingly jealous that Leander is allowed outside, even though Leander hates going outside unless it’s for a walk to the park.
  11. Cat Cat loves Leander and expresses her love by trying to face bunt him and get him to groom her. He is not interested.
  12. Cat Cat is obsessed with walking on Leander whenever he’s under the blankets in bed. As a result, he now lunges at her whenever she gets too close to him on the couch.
  13. Leander is convinced a Halloween witch figure in our neighbor’s yard is real and barks and lunges at it every time we walk by.
  14. Jack has to sleep by my head, which sometimes results in my overheating or being nearly smothered in my sleep.
  15. Jack hates laughter, dancing, and all noise including sneezing and coughing and meows disapprovingly at me if I do any of those things.
  16. Little balls of cat fur drift across the floor like tumbleweeds.
  17. The cats’ likes and dislikes regarding food are subject to change at a whim and without notification to the humans. They’re starving, but not for that.
  18. Cat Cat has to face bunt the corner of the laptop and walk across the keyboard.
  19. If she can’t access the laptop, Cat Cat will rub her face on the monitor in the study or anything else that will interfere with work.
  20. Cat Cat snores like an obese, alcoholic sailor.
  21. Jack eats my hair … while it’s on my head. I often wake up to discover that he’s chewing on my hair, at which point I remind him that he’s not allowed to eat my hair. He does it anyway. Colin often finds him wandering around the house with my hair in his mouth.
  22. Leander has started eating my hair.
  23. Jack drools on me while I’m sleeping.
  24. Jack desperately wants to be allowed outside but as soon as he gets in the yard he begins frantically eating grass. Within minutes of going back inside, he vomits grass all over the house.
  25. Leander likes to “bury” extra treats and snacks in the couch so we often sit down on top of pieces of old bread and pigs ears.
  26. We have a queen bed, but there isn’t enough room for us because Leander sprawls across the bottom of the bed and the cats sprawl across the top. Leander shifts at least a half-dozen times between sleeping under the covers or on top, which means we have to help him get in and out throughout the night.
  27. Jack is afraid of plastic bags.
  28. “No” has absolutely no meaning in our household. Our only method of enforcing good behavior is a squirt bottle.
  29. When the squirt bottle is out of reach, the cats will continue their bad behaviors until we’re within grabbing distance of the squirt bottle, at which point they run like hell.
  30. Sometimes a specific room of the house will smell like urine and feces and we never find out why.
  31. Sometimes a specific room of the house will smell like urine and feces and we find out why.
  32. Sometimes a specific room of the house will smell like urine and feces and we find out why months later.
  33. Leander has a dog bed and Cat Cat has peed on it twice.
  34. I had a giant beanbag that I loved. Cat Cat peed on it until we had to get rid of it.
  35. Cat Cat loves men. Jack loves women. Leander hates everyone. We also think Leander hates women.
  36. We have a standing appointment at the vet every three weeks for Leander to get his anal glands expressed. Unfortunately, the vet doesn’t hand out punch cards for anal gland expression.
  37. The only thing more dangerous than stairs at 6 a.m. before I’ve had coffee is stairs occupied by two hungry cats who are convinced that running between my legs is the best way to convince me to feed them.
  38. Leander is convinced the treadmill is Satan, which isn’t doing much to help me convince myself that it isn’t.
  39. Little Cat Cat hairballs all over the place.
  40. Having to look at three different anuses every day.
  41. When Leander decides he doesn’t want to go outside, we have to coax him really quickly before Jack sees the door is open and makes a break for it.
  42. When Jack jumps on the bed, he usually lands on Colin’s throat.
  43. The constant cat kneading hurts Colin’s stomach and he has to force Jack to lay down, which usually pisses him off so much that he gets up and leaves.
  44. Leander gets boners when he’s happy and nervous.
  45. Leander refuses to sit down in the car, and with three legs he has zero ability to balance while driving.
  46. Cat Cat has few teeth and will lose more and it costs a goddamn fortune to have them removed. It’s a condition called feline oral resorptive lesions, and as a result she gets her teeth x-rayed more frequently than we do. 
  47. Because Cat Cat has no teeth, we can only get wet food.
  48. Wet cat food smells disgusting.
  49. The cats have decided that any food item encased in a plastic bag now sounds the same as the bag that holds their bonito flakes.
  50. Cat Cat gets lost every once in a while and we have to scour the house to find her.
  51. Cat Cat has crazy fits that usually result in destruction.
  52. Cat Cat goes Van Gogh when she gets poop stuck to her butt and frantically tries to smear it away.
  53. Wiping Cat Cat’s ass is usually a two-person job with her howling like a fucking maniac the whole time.
  54. Sometimes Cat Cat has random bouts of sadness and meows loudly and pathetically from far corners of the house for no reason. It’s really, really sad but we don’t know why she’s sad and she doesn’t know why she’s sad so we can’t make her feel better.
  55. Cat grooming always leads to vicious cat fighting.
  56. All the animals are afraid of the vacuum cleaner and too dumb to run into another room when it’s turned on.
  57. Jack leaves shedded claws all over the place.
  58. We’ve spent exponentially more on pet medical services than our own.
  59. We can’t get pet insurance for Cat Cat and Jack because they have pre-existing conditions (triaditis and oral resorptive lesions, respectively).
  60. Leander hasn’t learned the art of walking a normal route at the park.
  61. Cat Cat threw up on Colin twice in the middle of the night.
  62. Cat Cat almost threw up on Colin a third time in the middle of the night and he flung her out of bed so she threw up on herself and he had to clean vomit off of her in the middle of the night.
  63. We both have scars from cat scratches.
  64. Every item placed on any flat surface has to be strategically placed to reduce the odds one of the cats will be able to knock it down.
  65. All the animals prefer to sleep during the day to save up their crazy for the time when we want to relax.
  66. Leander butt scoots on the carpet. We’ve identified a handful of causes but no actual solution.
  67. Leander flunked out of obedience training after lunging at a dog named Millie. He now requires private lessons which cost more money.
  68. When we get home, Leander has to celebrate by having us choose a toy from his toy box and handing it to him, but it has to be a toy he really likes, but all the toys he really likes are already out for him to play with so we have to find a toy, put it in the toy box, and then pretend to find it and hand it to him.
  69. I have to hide most of my craft supplies like they’re god damn diamonds to prevent the cats from utterly destroying them.
  70. All of our interior decorating is based around how high the cats can reach and what is breakable.
  71. We think it would be nice to foster cats and dogs in need, but none of our animals would tolerate it. They’re all rescues so it’s still a karmic win, but still.
  72. During a rather long car drive, Cat Cat shit in my lap in the middle of bumper to bumper traffic. In. My. Lap.
  73. Leander is convinced our airbnb guests are Satan and is highly suspicious of our guest room, even when nobody is there.
  74. We used to live in a house with a lot of mice. One got loose in the kitchen once and when I ran to hide in the living room, Jack followed me instead of chasing the mouse.
  75. Jack and Cat Cat both think my sewing machine is a giant, fun toy–especially when I’m trying to use it.
  76. I can’t have indoor plants because I’m absolutely certain one of the three stooges would eat, poop, pee on, or dig up the plant. And I like plants a lot.
  77. We both feel guilty leaving the house for any length of time because it makes Leander so sad.
  78. Trying to go to the bathroom alone is an enormous struggle.
  79. Colin can’t wear his favorite pair of pyjama bottoms because Cat Cat loves them so much that they’re on her cat stand for her to lay on.
  80. Jack likes to whip people with his tail. It doesn’t sound painful, but when it involves your face, it really is.
  81. During our first trip to our favorite ice cream shop with Leander, he tried to attack a tiny butterball of a puppy that wanted to play with him.
  82. We get stuck in chairs, on couches, and in beds minutes and sometimes hours longer than we intended because we’re buried in cats and don’t want to disrupt them.
  83. Arranging cat sitters when we travel is like a secret ops mission. We have one cat sitter, two backup cat sitters, two Leander sitters (who are the only other people he likes) and a multi-page list of instructions and tips for dealing with the monsters.
  84. Cat Cat and I met when she jumped on my back when I bent over to pick up a box. She’s since decided that my back is an awesome place to hang out, meaning that I can never turn my back on her without the risk of suddenly having claws in my back. It’s worst when I’m changing clothes and not paying attention.
  85. I’m a Christmas nut but no power on earth, including Santa, could convince the cats to stop trying to destroy my Christmas tree.
  86. I’m a Christmas nut who can’t have poinsettias in the house because they’re poisonous, and I know for certain that one of the cats would try to eat it.
  87. I’m a Christmas nut who loves making elaborate bows for presents, but every time I do, a cat either sits on or attempts to eat the bow.
  88. Cat Cat doesn’t necessarily want to eat our food, but she wants to lick just enough of it that we can’t eat it anymore.
  89. Jack is so fat that he wears a dog’s medium Halloween costume.
  90. When one of the cats comes back from the vet, the other sniffs the cat, smells the vet, and hisses cruelly at the sick animal. Least. Sympathetic. Creatures. Ever.
  91. We own three lint rollers, but it’s never enough.
  92. Happily, we now own a home that we love. But for years we faced the challenge of finding an apartment that would allow animals and while this mostly made me mad at the landlords, Cat Cat’s penchant for destroying blinds gave me some unwanted perspective on the issue.
  93. I’m afraid to leave the windows open for fear the cats will jump out through the screen, which Jack actually did once.
  94. The one time Jack managed to get out of the house I was crying and calling to him for over an hour and he stayed hidden. Our neighbor brought over a can of warm tuna and he came out in less than a minute. Asshole.
  95. The cats are convinced that I’m a jerk for leaving for work every day even though feeding them and paying for their medical expenses is a major reason I go to work every day.
  96. Cat Cat tries to lure airbnb guests down to the kitchen to feed her. I’m fairly certain that if it wasn’t for her girth, they’d be convinced we were starving her and she’d be fine leaving them with that impression as long as it meant more food.
  97. No one can get a treat without everyone getting a treat.
  98. Colin once walked into our bedroom to find Jack wearing my underwear.
  99. Sometimes (rather often, actually) Jack and Leander fart while they’re sitting in my lap.  

Three weeks in India: When travel doesn’t quite pan out

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PHOTO BY COLIN RIGLEY A monkey at Elephanta Island off of Mumbai. What this picture fails to capture is the massive number of people trying to take selfies with the monkey. Sadly, we did not see any of them get bit for their trouble. 

Our second plane home landed on Wednesday, October 5, after two flights totaling about 24 hours of travel. As soon as we arrived at the airport in New Delhi, a nasty bout of food poisoning from our last Indian meal kicked in, making for the most wretched flight experience I’ve ever had. Without going into too many details, I went through seven vomit bags, and I spent at least half the time terrified that I was dying.

My boyfriend’s food poisoning kicked in about two hours after mine. We were ecstatic to leave India after three weeks there, and our relief when we landed in Seattle likely appeared exaggerated to our fellow travelers. I’ve experienced intense travel in impoverished countries, countries where I don’t speak the language, countries where the gap between men and women is even greater than the infuriating misogyny that still exists in my own home country. But I’ve always found something to love.

Until now. Until India.

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PHOTO BY COLIN RIGLEY While taking a boat ride on the Ganges in Varanasi, another boat pulled up to ours and the rower began to hand us candles on paper plates filled with flowers. He then demanded 150 rupees for each plate. 

The things I expected to love—the spiritualism, the architecture, the landscape, the people—were somehow absent, save brief glimpses, like something you see out of the corner of your eye but aren’t quite sure of. Varanasi is the spiritual epicenter of India, but as close as I could get was the boy who, unasked, dabbed orange sand on my boyfriend’s forehead and then demanded 100 rupees for the “blessing.” Or the men who offered to let us watch the burning of bodies at the ghats if we were willing to pay a certain number of rupees. The glares at the Hindu temples we visited, curious for more information about that temple’s respective god and purpose.

There were friendly people, kind people even. But they were far outnumbered by the hard stares I received the moment we left the airport in New Delhi, a level of attention I am not accustomed to and do not like and which resulted in my boyfriend panicking about my safety our first hour in India (and for many hours to follow). We eventually learned that he could divert the stares with a hard look of his own, but it was exhausting trying to meet so many aggressive faces in a foreign place where I couldn’t even speak the language. This eventually culminated in my boyfriend yelling “Fuck you, she’s a human being” at a driver who had been staring at me for far too long and who responded to Colin’s own stare with a gesture toward me and a thumbs up. I was less than a person, and while there really isn’t any space that I can expect to occupy without any misogyny, this was far too much and far too constant. At home, I can speak for myself. In India, I didn’t even get a voice. And the looks from some of the women honestly weren’t much better.

I received more of these aggressive looks when I stopped to feed animals, mostly dogs and cats in conditions I don’t think I will forget for as long as I live. I couldn’t save a single one of them, and it’s going to take me a long time to get beyond this, assuming I ever do. And I’m not certain I’ll ever forget or forgive the disgusted looks I received while trying.

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PHOTO BY COLIN RIGLEY I had wondered about what Lonely Planet characterized as a “bun fight” at the top of Tiger Hill to watch the sun rise over the Himalayas. After getting jostled and shoved and watching people throw trash everywhere, I quickly figured out what Lonely Planet meant. 

The landscape may have been beautiful, but it was hard to look past the smog, the mountains of litter and filth that continued to pile higher as we watched. I don’t know that it’s fair to criticize such things when there were countless people starving, without shelter, without medical attention. Is it fair to call attention to the nonexistent sky when the things happening on the ground, directly in front of me, are so blatantly awful? Is it fair to criticize a country that endures such crushing poverty at all?

The thing is, India wasn’t exactly my first rodeo. I’ve visited other countries with correspondingly high poverty rates, and I’ve discovered things to love. Whatever the reason that India failed to translate, I don’t think poverty can ultimately be blamed.

It seemed unfair to tally a list of complaints without at least attempting to summon something positive, something I enjoyed, however small. This is all I could come up with:

  • I loved the food. At least, I loved the food until I got food poisoning. It was the easiest country to find vegetarian food that I’ve ever been in.
  • There was a gecko on the ceiling of the bathroom in our hotel in Varanasi. After Colin and I got past the shock of him being there, he became a sort of roommate who, as it turned out, really enjoyed wet wads of toilet paper.
  • The cows in India give zero fucks. Watch them hang out in the middle of a busy road while buses, taxis, motorcycles, and rickshaws careen past without so much as blinking.
  • Darjeeling. I adored Darjeeling. It was beautiful, clean, fresh, and the Tibetan momos are about the best thing I’ve ever had to eat. Even better, nobody stared at me, none of the taxis tried to cheat us, and no one on the street harassed us. It was like a completely different country.

I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to shake off the memories, the discomfort, the fear, trying to resume a routine I might call normal without this dazed feeling of having been deposited in another world. When I wake up late at night, I panic at the idea that I’m still in a hotel room in India. I can’t stop thinking about the fact that, given the population in India, there was a one in seven chance I could have been born there. I can’t banish the faces of the animals left behind, or cease wondering about the faces of all the women I didn’t see because pretty much everyone we interacted with was a man.

I view traveling as an integral aspect of who I am so when I spend nearly a year planning and preparing for three weeks in another country—a country I have dreamed about since I was a young child—only to have that experience completely and absolutely suck, how do I come back for that? How do I summon the enthusiasm to pick up a new copy of Lonely Planet wherever and dust off my suitcase for future adventures? Do I event want to?

Houseaversary: The First Year

 

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One year ago today I picked up the keys to our first house from the real estate agent’s office. It was around 9 p.m. when we finally entered the house, carefully, practically on tiptoe because anything else seemed certain to destroy the incredible dream before us. Colin wandered through the house making a video for his family. I collapsed in a sprawled out heap on the living room floor and just stared at the ceiling in wonder.

I’d like to think I’ve learned a great many things in the past year. I know where to go for cheap furniture, cheap rugs, which paint remover smells the best and is the most effective, how to grow a lawn from seed, and a few dozen other things besides. I’ve learned that my initial timeline for how long it would take to thoroughly put my stamp on my house was entirely unrealistic. In the beginning, I couldn’t fathom how people took more than six months to settle into a new home—my definition of settling including complete furnishings, exterior and interior paint, interior wallpaper, and landscaping.IMG_2598

 

Anyone who owns a home is likely laughing at me right now, and absolutely deserves to because I had no idea what I was talking about. With each item I cross off the list, a half dozen more magically appear like some mythical beast that refuses to die. I sort of love it. I’m Project Girl and home ownership is the ultimate project, especially where an old house like mine is concerned. And we have accomplished some rather amazing feats. Specifically:

  • Attending a seminar on pruning Japanese maples at Swanson’s Nursery to ensure the Japanese maple in our front yard is properly cared for and groomed
  • Shoveling untold buckets of rocks and planting our very own lawn from seed
  • Painting our staircase to resemble a bookcase
  • Relocating a handful of enormous bushes in the front yard and building (and painting) a picket fence
  • Filling the entire house with furniture almost exclusively from Goodwill, which was by far the most cost-effective measure
  • Creating a carpet runner in the hallway from carpet samples off the Craigslist free section
  • Planting three trees with one more on the wayStair Case_Upper Level_5

Looking forward, it’s difficult to prioritize the many, many projects still to come. Still, I figure for the sake of accountability, it’s not the worst idea to publicly commit to certain projects so I chose the seven most urgent or cheapest or most likely to be accomplished that I would like to complete before Year Two of home ownership is over. Specifically:

  • Installing a Little Free Library
  • Wallpapering at least one room of the house, and preferably more
  • Swapping out the front door for something you can’t see through
  • Removing the linoleum from the kitchen and replacing it with engineered wood
  • Removing the carpeting from the guestroom
  • Replacing the kitchen cabinets
  • Adding a backsplash in the kitchen

The first anniversary is traditionally paper and I do have a yen to wallpaper the crap out of the house, so that might just be my anniversary gift to the house, and myself. Colin is generally a little more practical and, where wallpaper is concerned, a lot more reluctant so I suspect the experience might be something of a trial for him but he survived the staircase renovation effort and I have every reason to believe he’ll pull through wallpapering like a champ. A champ with a mouth like a sailor, but there you have it.

Project Girl out.

Experience>Paper, Cotton, Leather

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This scene from The Darjeeling Limited is pretty much what I’m expecting from our trip to India. I can’t wait. 

On September 24, my boyfriend and I will be in Indiaon a train on our way from Darjeeling to Kolkata, if all goes well. We’ll also be celebrating our six-year anniversary. We didn’t feel it was necessary to schedule any special plans because what could possibly be more special than being in India? I did take a peek at the list of “traditional” anniversary gifts and the sixth year would typically involve candy or iron so, of course, I fully plan to eat Indian candy on that day.

But we’ve never been much for following tradition when it comes to anniversaries, or much of anything else for that matter. Instead of flowers and cards and jewelry, we opt for experiences. From everything I’ve read, that’s actually a pretty typical millennial approach—prioritizing experiences above things. Don’t get me wrong, I fully plan on coming back from India with a suitcase stuffed full of fabric and art and anything else I can fit. I just don’t happen to think that things are necessarily the best representation of a relationship.

So, I broke down our six years of anniversaries to create a new, experience-based anniversary celebration/gift system:

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We survived. I’m not sure either of us really believed it at this point though. Also, neither us wanted to give a thumbs up, but apparently that’s just something you’re supposed to do after you sky dive.

One Year. On our first anniversary, Colin surprised me by taking us skydiving, which was something I’d never had the opportunity to do but desperately wanted to do, and something we were both a little terrified of. I think it was a perfect anniversary present because it’s something neither of us will ever forget. In honor of this, I propose that the one year anniversary experiential present/celebration involve something that neither partner has ever done, and something that you’re at least a little afraid/nervous about.

Two Year. On our two-year anniversary, Colin and I took a weekend trip somewhere very familiar and beloved to us both. Disneyland. In a way, that’s totally cliche, I know. But the point is that it was something we had both done but never together, a place we knew we enjoyed and now had an opportunity to enjoy together. In honor of this, I propose that the two year anniversary experiential present/celebration involve an activity or place both of you have been or experienced independently but never together.

Three Year. On our three-year anniversary, we hiked to some hot springs in Big Sur and spent the night camping there. In the spirit of honesty, it wasn’t my favorite anniversary, mostly because I discovered that I apparently do not like to feel trapped and a 10-mile hike both ways with a pack on my back apparently makes me feel trapped. But part of the motivation was to prepare us for our trip to Peru which would involve a hiking trek to Machu Pichu two months after our anniversary. In honor of this, I propose that the three-year anniversary experiential present/celebration involve nature and/or a physical challenge, however you define that.

Four Year. On our four-year anniversary, we were a few weeks away from a wedding of two close friends which I was performing and Colin was photographing and two months away from a trip to Indiana and Turkey (Indiana for a friend’s wedding and Turkey because it’s freaking Turkey) and we were much too exhausted to plan anything elaborate. Instead, we splurged on dinner at our favorite local restaurant, which was Luna Red. In honor of this, I propose that the four-year anniversary experiential present/celebration involve your favorite food without guilt or too much consideration of cost.

Five Year. On our five-year anniversary, Colin and I were both somewhat tapped physically, emotionally, and financially from buying a house, which we moved into exactly two weeks before our anniversary. We pretty much agreed to simply appreciate our house and instead dedicate that energy and time to making the house perfect. In honor of this, I propose that the five year anniversary experiential present/celebration involve a shared expression of appreciation for what you have and where you are. That might sound lazy or unexciting but I genuinely believe that some of the most rewarding adventures can occur close to home.

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Another possible interpretation of our India experience (minus the fact that they’re related), also stolen from The Darjeeling Limited. 

Six Year. As mentioned above, we’ll be on a train between Darjeeling and Kolkata and if neither of us is sick at this point, I will consider the anniversary a successful one. In honor of this, I propose that the six-year anniversary experiential present/celebration involve traveling as far from home as is financially possible and experiencing something new together.

My point is not that there’s only one way to celebrate or that one method of celebrating is superior to another. I just happen to believe that every couple is different and what works for some couples might feel inauthentic or forced to another couple. I don’t think we’ve ever had a candlelit dinner and neither of us reacts well to being forced to dress up or behave in a manner approximating adults.

Popping malaria pills and battling Delhi belly is a more accurate expression of our relationship than roses and a four-course meal at a restaurant where Colin would feel resentful of being forced to put on shoes with laces and I’d spend the entire evening convinced that I was over- or under-dressed. It’s not a perfect representation of us; we’ll both be missing our cats and dog (more than I am prepared to think about right now given that we depart in six days) and I probably won’t be wearing footie pyjamas, but it’s an experience neither of us is likely to forget barring Alzheimer’s or dementia, of course.