A good book can entertain you. A great book can change you. It can interest you in previously unthought of things. It can inspire you to try something new. It can awaken a part of your soul long slumbering.
Outlander has done all of these things for me. I picked up a pen, started gardening, renewed my interest in herbs, invested in chickens and a small coop, and now…well, now I am trying something new…
I find that sewing is comforting. And I like the creativity it offers. I like enough that I opened an Etsy store so I could share some of the things I am making.
I have serveral “Outlander” inspired items and, because I am a big geek, I am also working on some Harry Potter inspired items.
Also, in case I haven’t complained about it here, my office often feels something like the Arctic Tundra, so I have even come up with some officey looking fingerless gloves crafted from fleece so that I can stay warm enough to still type.
If you are interested, you can find these items (and more!) at my Etsy store (ThePrintAndPlaidCo). I try to have new items listed every day or so. So please check back often.
I am currently trying to figure out how to balance sewing, and writing, and working full time, and spending time with my mom as she fights cancer, and also taking kiddos to football and color guard. But I am here, and I am hanging on, and (some days) that is enough.
Sometimes you just know things. A thought, unbidden, rises with certainty. Not something hoped for. Not something expected. But something Known.
When I heard my mom had a mass in her lung, I knew it was cancer. And before the radiation and chemo and pet scans, I knew–just as sure as autumn’s days grow shorter–that when the season’s chill gave way to cold, she would also give way to something, to whatever comes After.
This brave, wise, and faithful woman taught me to live. Now, as these numbered days march on, she teaches me the Final Lesson. How to die. The one thing that she cannot teach me is how to go on without her. This lesson I must figure out on my own, and a lonely, stumbling journey it is.
Raised with books as I was, I look there for solace: I try to find escape; I try to find guidance. Something to hold onto when I can no longer hold her.
A pile of books waits for me next to my bed. The spines cracked with use. Pages dog-earred. C. S. Lewis shared his own journey in A Grief Observed, and I cling to it like a map out of the abyss. I spare a thought for the repose of his own soul, and in the next ragged breath I say a word of thanks for Diana Gabaldon and her Outlander series. Mere words on paper, to be sure, but words that have helped me untangle thoughts, find hope and faith, soothe both anger and fear… Now I turn to those beloved books in the blind panic of a grief much dreaded.
Considering the span of years (and the time period) which Gabaldon’s books cover, it is only natural that death and loss occurs. Claire’s parents. Jamie’s parents. Murtaugh. Ian Murray. Frank. Mrs. Bug. Faith. Even merely presumed deaths cast a long shadow across the page.
We see death through the eyes of so many characters. And, in them, we see ourselves Every stage of grief is represented: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, then finally…acceptance.
Last night I reread the pages of Ian Murray’s death. I grabbed the book off the pile and took it with me to my son’s football practice. The heat of the day had dissolved into a crisp breeze, and the Oklahoma sun was blazing pink and yellow behind the black of the shadowed tree line. Under dusk’s shadows, I flipped through the pages until I found it.
The death was neither easy nor poetic, but his soul’s final passage was a gentle slipping away.
He didn’t speak again but seemed to settle, his body diminishing as life and breath fled from it. When his last breath came, they waited in dull misery, expecting another, and only after a full minute of silence did they begin to look at one another covertly, stealing glances at the ravaged bed, the stillness in Ian’s face–and realized slowly that it was over at last.
Despite the fact that we know it is coming, we never quite expect it; we wait for a breath that never comes, and glance at one another for confirmation. Is this it? Is this all? We always want there to be more.
They move on. Then we move on. We proceed with preparations. Busy ourselves with What Must Be Done. But realization finds us in the quiet moments. It always does.
When Jamie and Jenny find a quiet moment together, Jenny asks her brother the thought that has lingered in her mind despite her distractions:
“Where d’ye think he is now?” Jenny asked suddenly. “Ian, I mean.”
He glanced at the house, then at the new grave waiting, but of course that wasn’t Ian anymore. He was panicked for a moment, his earlier emptiness returning–but then it came to him, and, without surprise, he knew what it was Ian had said to him.
“On your right side, man.” On his right. Guarding his weak side.
“He’s just here,” he said to Jenny, nodding to the spot between them. Where he belongs.”
This is what I am holding on to…that long after I stop waiting for the breath that never comes, I will always find her, just there, guarding my weak side.
By the time I turned 40, I had amassed a lot more good books, a few more wrinkles, and more true friends. That is the nice thing about finding yourself…once you find yourself, you can find your people. Everyone needs people. Even a sporadically extroverted introvert like me.
My people tend to be a bookish sort. Full of snark and geeky cultural references tucked alongside the botanical names for certain herbs and an unapologetic appreciation for the bagpipes, my people are a motley bunch. Yet, I still delight in adding to my tribe. In fact, I seek them out.
As I gathered water bottles and hollered for my son to hurry up and grab helmet and pads for practice, I dashed back in the house to grab a book. Well, two books actually.
“Haven’t your already read Outlander like a million times?” he asked as I climbed into the car.
“Mmphm,” I snorted. “You know I have.”
“So….why are you reading it again?”
I sighed impatiently. “Some books are worth reading again. But I’m actually not re-reading it. I’m reading that other one.” I nodded my head towards the other book. My battered copy of Voyager peeked out from under the cluttered in the back seat.
“Why did you run it to get it if you aren’t going to read it?”
I shrugged. “Well, in case I run into someone that likes Outlander. Or might like Outlander.”
That’s right. Let that Fandom Flag fly high.
This is the same reason that I want to get a new phone. Well, besides the fact that my iPhone is so old that it only has 3G, there is no space left on it, and it is so slow that if I had to use it to call 911, whatever crises warranted the call would likely be over. But I digress…I want a new phone so that I have the space to get a new ringtone. The ringtone. The Skye Boat Song.
Right now, all incoming phone calls* are announced with the blaring of the Doctor Who theme song. (Which I downloaded after I realized that the magical twinkling bells of Hedwig’s Theme was not audible from the nethermost of my purse.) I briefly considered the Sherlock theme, but my inner Scotswoman wants bagpipes. So that’s that.
At first, I didn’t realize quite what I was doing. I thought I was simply surrounding myself with the things I love. Which was true, of course, but it is more than that. Like a male peacock showing off his plumage, it was all about attraction. I was trying to attract others. People like me. My people.
There is a Scottish festival coming up in a few weeks. There will be tartans, and meat pies, and bagpipes. Books of history, and uprisings, and recipes, and languages. I want to get a new license plate that proclaims my heritage. Perhaps a bumper sticker, too.
If you see me driving down the street, feel free to honk. If you see me at football practice reading, pull up a chair. We can talk Outlander, or Sherlock, or Game of Thrones, or Walking Dead, or….whatever.
Come on. Don’t be shy. There’s plenty of room in the tribe.
* This is not strictly true. I do have one other ring tone. All of my husband’s calls are proudly announced with the ear-piercing wail of a police siren, since he is…well…a police officer. This is particularly fun when I am in a crowded place and he calls, and everyone around me looks around nervously. My kids do not find this nearly as entertaining as I do.
Momming is hard. (I assume that Dadding is hard, too. But, not being a Dad, I wouldn’t presume to know. It just seems like it would be.) Momming takes time and energy (so, so much energy). It takes patience, and it requires a certain tacit agreement to go without sleep. Momming means changing your child’s clothes a dozen times a day…on days when you may not even manage to change your own clothes even once.
Momming is especially hard when you try to pair it with something else that is hard like, you know, Arting. Arting is hard by itself. Arting takes time and inspiration time and dedication and time. And…well, did I mention time?
Yeah…with one husband, three children, three cats, four chickens, and one beagle, time is at a premium. I know, I know. I’m not special. What was it that Neil Gaiman said?
“You get what anyone gets – you get a lifetime.” ~Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes.
Smart man, that.
I really like Neil Gaiman a lot. I like his books. I like how he talks about books. I like that he appreciates librarians. I even like how (for whatever reason) my beagle barks incessantly whenever I listen to Neil Gaiman’s audio books, as if she is convinced that a well-read Englishman has broken into our house and might decide to steal her kibble.
Set aside time to write that’s only writing time. Put away your phone. Turn off or disable your wifi. Write in longhand if you wish. Put up a do not disturb sign. And make your writing time sacred and inviolable.
And in that time, this is the deal. You can write, or you can not do anything. Not doing anything is allowed. (What not doing anything includes: staring at walls, staring out of windows, thinking broodily, staring at your hands. What not doing anything does not include: alphabetising the spice rack, checking Tumblr, taking your pen apart, playing solitaire or running a clean up program on your computer.)
You get to pick how long a day your writing time is. An hour? Two? Three? Your call.
Doing nothing gets pretty dull. So you might as well write. (And if you write 300 words, one page, every day, you’ll have a 90,000 word novel in a year.)
Let me be the first to admit that I absolutely defer to Mr. Gaiman on the subject of writing. He has done it longer. He has done it better. But I have Mommed longer than he has—what with him not being a Mom and all. (Yes, yes, he has Dadded—his is Dadding–I know. Hear me out.)
When I read Mr. Gaiman’s writing wisdom with a friend, I choked at the bit about picking how long a day your writing time was. Seriously, an hour? Two? Three? *snort laugh* I know of Zero mothers who have an hour to set aside without someone bellowing Mom? Mama? Mommy?
The Mom Version of this would be more like:
You get to pick how long you can ignore the crashes and whining coming from the other side of the door, or how long you can hide in the bathroom until your kids/spouse/co-workers find you. Ten Minutes? Fifteen? Until the person in the stall next to you asks if you have a roll to spare?
I understand that writers must write. I do. I get it. And we do learn to steal our moments where we may. For instance, in order to carve out about 30 minutes of writing time in the morning, I get up at 5:00 a.m. I also write on my lunch hour. I write at football practice. I write in the stadium while waiting for color guard practice to end. I write on my arm at stop lights. I write on the back of envelopes. I have even written out a particularly pleasing turn of phrase in the steam on the shower door, then attempted to fog up the room again to retrieve the snippet. (Yes, it worked.) But I honestly cannot tell you the last time that I had an uninterrupted three hour stretch of writing time.
With three kids, all of my vacation time and sick days are used tend to the needs of others. Sick children. Teacher conferences. Rehearsals. Recitals. Dentist. Asthma attack. You pick.
Still, I do take his meaning. And, honestly, I am grateful for the reminder. It is the doing of The Thing that makes The Thing possible. In other words: if I want to be a writer, I’d better write. So, I do. God help me, I do. I set my alarm to an hour that even my chickens find deplorable. I also linger in the bathroom longer than strictly necessary for bodily functions. In between moments of Momming, I find time to do something else. I write words. I turn phrases. I craft Art. Perhaps the method is haphazard but, for now, it is the only method this mom can manage.
Life is short. Kids grow up. So, in the words of Neil Gaiman, I might as well write.
 I am especially fond of him because when my eldest child was eight years old, she decided to write to Mr. Gaiman and to send him a “book” she had written (and illustrated) entitled “Regina the One-Winged Owl.” Mr. Gaiman was kind enough to very promptly send along a handwritten note of encouragement telling her how he liked the cliffhanger ending. My daughter was thrilled. She is now 14, and she still has the note.
Her hair is brown, curly, and rather unruly. Her eyes are the color of whisky; they are hawkish and observant[i]. At 5”6, her nose fits neatly in the hollow of Jamie’s chest. Despite her generous bum and her full bosom, she is trim.[ii] In the first book, Claire responds to Jamie’s blurted inquiry of “How much do you weigh, Sassanach,” with the unguarded answer of “Nine stone.”[iii] These are the physical attribute of Claire—this is what she sees when she looks in the mirror. Although, to be fair, considering the fictional life she lives, she doesn’t always have one to hand. But that’s perfectly fine, because more often than not, Claire does give a rat’s ass if she looks “proper” or not.
Besides her lack of preoccupation with appearance, one of the things I love best about Claire is that her appearance is not static. It changes. She changes. During times of trial and hardship, she loses weight; her stomach becomes nearly concave. One cold winter, when activity is understandably limited due to the weather, Claire describes herself as “squidgy.”[iv] Her hair starts to turn, some strands fade to white while others take on a silvery sheen. Her ankle is marked by a broken vein. Faint stretch marks are a testament to her feminine form.
And yet, based on (or in spite of) the words on the page, readers undoubtedly find themselves in Claire:
She is tall like me (…or short like me…)
She is curvy, like me (…or thin, like me…or has a round rear-end, like me…)
This seeing ourselves in the characters may be one of the reason that readers be so emotionally invested in the appearance of their beloved book characters when they do finally make an appearance on the screen.
Unfortunately, whenever a character is cast, it seems that the Appearance Police make their own appearance…
Hmmph, Brianna’s hair is so not that shade of red. Cant’s they just use the dye they use for Jamie?
Claire’s eyes should be whisky colored. Seriously, how hard would it be to wear contacts?
Brianna should be taller. Geez, can’t she just, like, wear some platform shoes?
Roger’s hair should be blacker. *produces bottle of hair dye and waves it threateningly*
Claire is too thin (…or too curvy).
Jamie’s hair is too short (…or long….or red…or curly…or fuzzy…) Because, you know, they totally had some great hair products back in the 1700s… Bear grease, anyone?
Admittedly, it seems like the screams of outrage are louder for the casting of the female characters. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall having heard too much drama over the casting of Dougal (Disclaimer: I love Graham. Seriously. Not hating on Graham. But, if you want to get picky, he really doesn’t look like Book Dougal. And yet…no drama. But geez, let poor Catriona rock her own eye color rather than some boozy hue and OMG! The Skye[v] is Freakin’ Falling!).
It seems that of All The Things I Stage Whisper To My Husband While Watching Outlander, none of these things are about physical attributes. Mostly, because I tend to read characters and develop a “sense” of them rather than a mental image. So I’m kind amazed when I see how absolutely rabid some[vi] of the Mental Imagers have with regard to the casting.
I just don’t get it.
But as I read all of the Twitter (and Facebook) outrage over the latest round of castings, it made me want to understand. The best I can come up with is this: maybe those qualities that the Casting Blasters believe they share with the main character weren’t retained, and it makes them sad to miss that perceived connection.
But I do know that Jamie loved Claire when she was bony and when she was squidgy. He loved her when she was his brown haired lass, when glints of white shone in her curls, and even when her head was shaved. He loved her pre-stretch marks, and he loved her even more when the marks—these tangible evidence of the life they created– wove their silvery web across her stomach. He loved her unconditionally. Because Jamie loved the essence of Claire…not her appearance.
While lovely, Claire was so much more that that. Jamie knew it. Hell, even Lord John knew it:
“When he began to speak of you, both of us thought you were dead,” he pointed out. “And while you are undoubtedly a handsome woman, it was never of your looks that he spoke.”
To my surprise, he picked up my hand and held it lightly.
“You have his courage,” he said.
*Drains whisky glass.*
So, I am thinking that maybe it would help if instead of Casting Bashing, we channel our inner-Jamie and wait and see how an actor/actress actually acts before we judge him/her. We need to give them time to “show us what they got,” so to speak.
This approach works really well with fictional characters…come to think of it, it works pretty well for Real Life People, too.
[i] “She turned to Roger, her gaze an unsettling amber. Her eyes always reminded him of hawk’s eyes, as though she could see a good deal father than most people.” Voyager.
[ii] And this is where I would tuck in the quote about her flat belly that I recall from Voyager, when she is appraising her appearance and wondering how she will look to Jamie, after all these years… or at least this is where I would put the quote if I had book to hand and could find it at the moment
[iii] Or 126 pounds. I rather like that she “owns” each pound; her answer is neither coy nor self-conscious.
[iv] To which Jamie responds something like, “I like ye fat.” A response that made me crush on him pretty hard, and which every male would be well advised to learn and use when needed.
When I was fourteen, I read Flowers in the Attic. Several of the other girls in my grade were reading it…whispering about it…stashing it away when the teachers walked by. Of course, I had to read it, too. I was lucky; my mother was always happy to buy me books (although, had she read the book herself, she might have rethought that, at the time).
Some of my schoolmates had borrowed the book from their own mothers…and by “borrow” I mean that they took the book after their moms left for work and then slipped it back into place before their moms came home in the evening. In the time in between, we consumed the story with a kind of perverse fascination.
So this was what grown-ups read!
So when my own fourteen year old asked if she could borrow my battered copy of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, I didn’t hesitate long before passing the book to her. My heart skipped a beat as she dashed to her room to start reading but, to be perfectly honest, this was likely more concern for the fate of my beloved book than for how my daughter would react to the story.
No, that was a given.
This was one of those books that would leave a mark on her soul.
Some stories do that…they stay with you forever. I simply wanted to make sure that her first Adult Book was one worthy of the honor.
I read a lot of the same books that my daughter reads. Not because I am policing her reading, but because I want to share in it. When she comes to me sobbing over some book betrayal, I need to know who has earned those tears. But some of the books targeted to teenagers seem to portray the female protagonists as perpetually enduring some Great Tragedy, or waiting for a male character to define them/save them/notice them/love them.
Not all of the stories, mind you. There are some really good YA books with strong female characters who represented a wide range of diversity. But, honestly, we waded through a lot of simpering fools to find a few strong female protagonists. And a lot of the love interests shown in the books were either sparkly or broody. Many were emotionally manipulative or controlling. If she was going to have a “book boyfriend,” I wanted better for her.
So when I realized that my daughter seemed interested in this massive tome which made me laugh out loud, and ugly cry, and real passages aloud for the simple pleasure of feeling the words on my lips, I didn’t discourage it.
In fact, I encouraged it.
I scoured the books to find passages which showed the strength of love, the resilience of the human spirit, the anguished soul clawing its way out from the pits of despair. Some passages I read aloud. But sometimes, I left the book conspicuously next to the sofa—pages temptingly dog-eared—like an offering.
So when she finally asked to borrow the book, it was a relief, really.
“Where are you?” I’d ask eagerly. But not too eagerly.
The book served as a way to talk about hard things, scary things, awkward things… We talked about love and sex and respect and mutual pleasure and consideration between couples. We talked about marriage and expectations and the roles we construct for ourselves (and those that others wish to inflict on us). We talked about sexuality and about when feelings aren’t reciprocated. We spoke of honor and vows. Of promises kept…or not. We shared tears and heartbreak and loss. We talked about rape and brutality…and of healing. We spoke of hope and faith and trust. We talked about when to hold on; we talked of when to let go.
I let my fourteen year old daughter read the book not in spite of the fact that the books is mature, but because it is. I let her read the book because I know that a book can be more than just entertainment—more than just a story.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a book can be a conversation…or at least the beginning of one.
I have no idea what a Magmar is, other than the word kinda looks like Ragnar. Which makes me think of Ragnar Lothbrok…which makes me wonder when the new season of Viking starts. I don’t know because it isn’t my fandom. And I’m okay with that. Some people, however…aren’t.
My kids like Pokemon Go. They like walking around the neighborhood catching them. They volunteer to run errands with me, and they bring their phones, and they ask me to turn right when I could just as well go straight, but I do it because it costs me nothing and yet it makes them happy, and it gives us a few more minutes together, and later I overhear them telling their friends that they caught a Nidorina…which means nothing to me. Except it makes them happy, and the word kinda looks like Narnia, which makes me wonder the last time I read C. S. Lewis, and I make a note to dig out the books.
I understand the lure of books, and games, and television shows. I know firsthand how a book can open your eyes to new possibilities, or breathe life into interests that had been left for dead. The Outlander books reminded me of my interest in herbs, and nudged me into gardening more seriously, and urged me to track down my ancestry. The books reminded me of the importance of strength and endurance and made me want to take better care of this body I inhabit. The books whispered to me and echoed the beauty of the words of my ancestors spoke, and the words they spoke were Gaelic, and I wanted to understand. So now I have dozen books on the subject on my shelves, and I can say a few halting phrases, and it makes me stupidly proud…
My daughter went to a Con this weekend. It was her second. She planned her outfits months in advance. She spent hours on her makeup. She styled her wig. On the first day of the convention she walked around for eight hours. She found her place among other made-up faces and she took photos to share. In the photos, she smiled; in the photos, she was no longer the awkward 14 year old who was self-conscious of her smile or her adolescent skin—she was brave, and she was alive, and she was…happy.
There is strength in numbers. There is joy in recognizing yourself in those numbers.
Personally, I don’t care if Pokemon Go gets people to—however unwittingly—exercise. I do not care if you are a forty-three year old who wants to Catch Them All. I do not care if you spend your down time scavenging for super rare creatures whose names escape me. I don’t care—not because I am Above It All—but because it makes you happy. And that is enough.
For those who think that time is better spent studying or reading or creating or doing…ANYTHING other than Wasting Time…perhaps a reminder is in order: It is their time to waste, and perhaps your time would be better spent doing something—anything—other than sucking the joy out of another person’s life like a Dementor. (Yes. I went there. Deal with it.)
Because in a world where we actually have to remind ourself that lives—any lives—matter, and where those sworn to Serve and Protect are being assassinated by those eager to have their names written in the annals of time, if we can find something that brings us joy, something that brings us a bit of peace at the end of the day, something that makes the news for bringing people together rather than tearing them apart…then I am all for it.
I will happily drive my kids over another block, or another, or another.
Collect that Magmar, Exeggutor, or Nidorina if it makes you happy. Read Outlander if it gives your peace. Watch Supernatural, or Sherlock, or Game of Thrones if it gives you something to look forward to…no, in fact, watch them all. You don’t have to choose.
Because tearing down someone else does not raise you up…and tearing down another person’s fandom does nothing to strengthen your own.