Changes, Balance, and #Outlander

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“The Gathering Glove”

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…

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My sewing space.

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.

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Fandom Shaming Needs to GO #RespectTheFandoms

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.

#Outlander and All The Feelings Ever

There is a reason I rarely wear eye make-up.  Well, besides the fact that I am lazy and hate having to take the blasted stuff off, plus it makes my lashes feel inordinately heavy, which makes me think that it must be time to go to sleep).  Mostly, I avoid mascara because, inevitably, it will end up in wet, black tracks down my face.  Call it the burden of being an empath.

For as long as I can recall it seems that other peoples troubles weigh on me as heavily as my own.  If a friend gets dumped, I grab a pint (of ice cream or beer, I don’t judge) right along with her.  When she starts looking for a house, I giddily sign up for house alerts on Zillow.  Those closest to me know to never send weepy memes to me without a *Kleenex Warning.*

Yesterday, I made the mistake of reading a mother’s letter to J. K. Rowling.  Of course I ugly-cried at my desk and hoped all that walked by might think it nothing more than a bit of spring fever.  Even now, when I called my bleary eyed daughter down from bed to read it to her before I left for work, I choked on the words and she had to make an emergency kleenex run before I flooded my keyboard.  (I have taught her well.)

This blessing/curse of feeling All The Feelings Ever also happens when I read.  As a general rule, I avoid books that contain abducted children for this very reason.  (Although I did watch “Room” recently with my eldest child.  We both ended up screaming “Jump!” at the screen while we ugly cried together.  It was oddly satisfying.)

SPOILER WARNING: THIS THE IS PART WHERE I START TALKING ABOUT OUTLANDER

This All The Feels Ever thing is probably also why I read (and re-re-re-re-read) the Outlander books.  It is why I wept mercilessly at the end of Dragonfly in Amber and called over my daughter as I tried to choke through Jamie and Claire’s parting.  It is why I rejoiced when they were reunited in Voyager.  It is probably why I got so incredibly angry when Lady Sassy-Pants blackmailed Jamie.  It is why the sound of the bodhran sent a shock wave up my spine in  A Breath of Snow and Ashes.  Even now, when I read that bit, I have to read it aloud.  And every time, every single time, I get goosebumps:

I sat up, listening hard. It was a drum with a sound like a beating heart, slow and rhythmic, then trip-hammer fast, like the frantic surge of a hunted beast.

I could have told them that Indians never used drums as weapons; Celts did. It was the sound of a bodhran.

What next? I thought, a trifle hysterically, bagpipes?

It was Roger, certainly; only he could make a drum talk like that. It was Roger, and Jamie was nearby.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES, chapter 28 (“Curses”). Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The All The Feels Ever Thing works both ways–for good and for bad.  Sure, after Wentworth I could barely function, but there might have been a good bit or two in the books to help balance that out.  *blushes furiously*

*ahem*  Moving on…

I’m not sure if the All The Feels Ever thing is genetic or not, but I am fairely sure my mid-kid has it.  She recently took to binge-watching Switched at Birth on Netflix.  This resulted in her bawling and using an entire box of kleenex when someone was cheated on by someone else.  The knowledge that my genetic predisposition would continue on would have been much more endearing if I was not then re-re-reading a certain bodhran scene and had need of kleenex myself.

My husband rolls his eyes at us both and quietly slips off to buy more tissue.  He knew early on what he was getting into.  He teases me about crying over an old Lifesaver commercial and a certain episode of the Simpsons.  Yeah, he knew just fine what I was all about.

I used to wonder about this.  This whole All The Feelings Ever thing.  But then Outlander, as it so often does, offered me an explanation.  In An Echo in the Bone, Claire has to leave her beloved cheetie Adso behind.

“Go on, then,” I said, and set him on the ground.  He stood for a moment, tail waving slowly, head raised in search of food or interesting smells, then stepped into the grass and vanished.

I bend, very slowly, arms crossed, and shook, weeping silently, violently.

I cried until my throat hurt and I couldn’t breathe, then sat in the grass, curling into myself like a dried leaf, tears that I couldn’t stop dropping on my knees like the first fat drops of a coming storm.  Oh, God.  It was only the beginning.

I tubbed my hands hard over my eyes, smearing the wetness, trying to scrub away grief.  A soft cloth touched my face, and I looked up, sniffling, to find Jamie kneeling in front me, handkerchief in hand.

“I’m sorry,” he said very softly.

“It’s not–don’t worry, I’m . . . He’s only a cat,” I said, and a small fresh grief tightened like a band round my chest.

“Aye, I know.”  He moved beside me and put an arm around my shoulders, pulling my head to his chest, while he gently wiped my face.  “But ye couldna weep for the bairns.  Or the house.  Or your wee garden.  Or the poor dead lass and her bairn.  But if ye weep for your cheetie, ye know you can stop.”

“How do you know that?”  My voice was thick, but the band round my chest was not quite so tight.

He made a small, rueful sound.

“Because I canna weep for those things, either, Sassenach.  And I havena got a cat.”

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE, chapter 12 (“Enough”). Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Maybe I can’t weep for my husband’s heart attack and the resultant health problems.  I can’t weep for the mass in my mother’s lung.  I can’t weep for the heart tests that my eldest daughter is enduring.  If I start, I don’t know that I can stop.  But I can find some escape, some joy, and the release of some much needed tears between the pages of a book.  And, for that, I am so grateful.

Depression, #Outlander, and a New Year’s Wish

When you take away the twinkling lights and beloved carols, the bustle of family underfoot, and the sweet anticipation, winter can seem just…cold. Maybe the feeling is held at bay until after the last of the wadded up wrapping paper finds its way to the trash bin, or perhaps it creeps in not long after the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. But it comes. It always comes.

The frightful weather outside no longer seems delightful, instead of throwing another log on the fire and shouting for the storm clouds to do their worst you wonder just how much firewood there is left, and worry how the roof is holding up, and if your pipes might freeze.

Laundry piles up as you put off the wash until the temperature can fight its way back above freezing, and suddenly the same four walls that seemed so cozy and inviting now seem to close in around you. The family you love seems to get on your nerves, and you spend an inordinate of time hiding in the bathroom just for a moment’s peace.

You start to notice the gaps . . . Those dark spaces that used to be filled by someone you loved. You are reminded of the traditions that fell away this year, since the one who carried them out is no longer around to do so. Perhaps there were angry words before the absence, or maybe there was no time for words at all. The were just . . . gone. Or maybe they lingered until there was nothing left to remind you of the person that once was, and you wished you could recall something more than the weakened shadow with which you were left.

For all the joy the holidays bring, too often they also bring sorrow. Maybe this is why I read so much around the holidays. It isn’t because there is more time (because there isn’t), or because the cold keeps me nestled indoors (because I tend to get cabin fever), but maybe it does have something to do with the fact that books remind us that we are not alone.

Books remind us what adventure feels like, the joy of possibilities, and the intimate pleasure of a story well told. They give us a taste of love when our own life might be lacking it, and a sense of justice of which the world too often seems sadly devoid. Books remind us what honor looks like, and loyalty. They can show us joy, and peace, and light.

But some books, daring books, also remind us what darkness is . . . and how to find our way out of it.

Harry Potter reminds us what true friendship looks like. Friendship with all of its faults and flaws. Friendship that acknowledges both selflessness . . . and jealousy. Friendship that has room for shortcomings, for missteps, and that still finds its way to forgiveness and loyalty. The series shows us love in all of its myriad of forms: the love of true friends, yes, but also the love of brothers, of parent and child, and of mentor and protégé.

But, in these dark days of winter, sometimes love and joy can seem as scarce as the fleeting daylight. Sometimes the emotions more easily identified with are those that mirror the steely grey sky.

J. K. Rowling gave the dark emotions form in the Dementors. These creatures sucked the joy out of those around them, just as depression can steal away whatever joy we try to embrace. If only chocolate could stave off the effects of depression as well as it did the after-effects of a Dementor attack . . .

While Harry Potter may have personified depression with its Dementors (and while a dear friend and I often refer to ourselves during inexplicably cranky/depressive moods as feeling rather “Harry Potter Book Five”), few stories summon forth the darker side of humanity better than the Outlander series.

Diana Gabaldon allows us unimaginable intimacy with her characters. We bear witness to violation, to self-loathing, and to grief. But, more importantly, she leads us through to the other side of the dark journey.

[SPOILER WARNING….]

JAMIE ~

From the beginning, we know that Jamie has had to endure Dark Days. His mother died in childbirth, he believed his sister to be in ruin, his father died of a stroke during Jamie’s flogging, he believed his uncle to have tried to kill him, his wife is nearly burned at the stake, and he tried to return her to her rightful time even though such a move would mean losing his true love. Later, he endures unimaginable brutality to try to save his beloved Claire. And that’s all just in the first book!

The end of Dragonfly in Amber always results in an ugly cry. (Yet I keep reading it, again and again.) Whatever joy he found is ripped from him as he is separated from Claire for twenty long years. In her absence, he fully expects to die and does nothing to try to avoid death. Instead, he embraces the relief he expects it will bring.

Slowly, his life finds purpose again. First, as a de facto chief of the prisoners at Ardsmuir. later as provider for Laoghaire and her daughters. He is uncle to Young Jamie and surrogate father to Fergus. Sometimes, we are reminded, it is enough to keep going for the sake of others until you can find your own reason to continue.

CLAIRE ~

Claire’s strength is one of her defining characteristics. When ripped from her husband and the life she knew, she did not fall apart or expect to be rescued somehow. Other that one brief moment of tears while perched on the lap of a certain highlander, the woman was unwaveringly strong. But even Claire has her limits.

In Dragonfly in Amber, when Claire lost her Faith, her beloved first child, she did in fact seem to have a crisis of faith. The darkness surrounded her and she found little reason to go on. As angry as she was with Jamie, she felt ungrounded and without direction or purpose. Only after she realized that she was needed, that he needed her (what with being imprisoned and all), did she start to regain her sense of action.

In a later book, even when Claire was brutalized at the hands of kidnappers, she did not succumb to the darker emotions that might easily have drowned her. Although there was still much to be dealt with and worked through, she did not give up. As long as Jamie was by her side, she seems able to withstand nearly everything. He is her strength, as she is his. In fact, it seems that Claire is most vulnerable when Jamie, her emotional bulwark, is absent.

Undoubtedly the lowest point for Claire was when she feared that Jamie was lost at sea. Without Brianna to care for, there seemed little reason to continue. She contemplated suicide and found what solace she could at the bottom of a bottle. And the readers bear witness to her nearly ruinous grief. We want to shout to her that Jamie is alive! We want to tell her to hang on, that things get better, and that there are still so many others to live for . . . just as, in real life, when we wish to whisper these same consolations to our own real-life friends and family members who suffer from depression or who are struggling with grief. Hang on. Just hang on . . . it gets better.

YOUNG IAN ~

Young Ian suffers from his own grief. The pain of being separated from his family time and time again has to weigh on him. He also confronts the nearly unbearable struggle of trying to do the “right thing,” and of trying to put others first as he offers himself as a substitute for Roger and, in doing so, must turn his back on his family, his faith, and his heritage. Then, when he finally builds up a life with Emily and they try to start a family, to then suffer the loss of child after child until finally his own wife turns from him. And the aching loneliness he quietly endures as he tries to make peace with his loss . . . only to see in his Uncle Jamie and Auntie Claire the kind of love that he longs for. Remarkably, the constant reminder of their joy doesn’t call forth bitterness, but rather hope. Hope that if they can find their way back to one another, that perhaps he, too, can find his way back to happiness. Young Ian still has the soul of a poet and there remains in him the young lad that, on that day long ago in a brothel, when confronted with his Auntie Claire, long since presumed dead, finds the whole thing to be incredibly romantic. Although he faces his own torments, Young Ian meets them like the poet-warrior that he is.

Not everyone is as lucky.

FERGUS ~

Perhaps that is why, for me, the character whose struggle with his own internal demons touches me most is that of Fergus. Fergus, who in his youth made light of his missing hand and joked about finally being a gentleman of leisure, who never complained about his motherless childhood, who always seemed confident and jovial . . . that this is the character who tried to take his own life, that we didn’t see it coming, THIS is the character, the moment, the desperation that I feel sharpest. Because sometimes you DON’T see it coming. Sometimes, no matter how well loved they are, no matter how many people care, sometimes we just don’t see it.

That is why, in these dark days of winter, as we take down the tinsel and tuck away the garland, it is well to take stock of ourselves and those around us. Depression can set in like winter’s chill, and sometimes you don’t realize how cold you are until you can no longer feel.

A new year approaches. Perhaps instead of resolving to fit into a size four dress or buy something bigger, better, or more expensive, we could resolve to take better care of ourselves . . . and of those around us

My wish for the new year is simple: May your home be filled with books that speak to you, friends who care for you . . . and time enough to enjoy both.

The Best Boyfriends are a Work of Fiction

When it comes to boyfriends, real men can’t compete with the fictional variety. In the real world, whatever romantic instincts that Real World Guy may have once had is summarily quashed by the Testosterone Trapping Trifecta of carpool duty, lawn chores, and unpaid bills. The Bad Boys (and some Not-So-Bad-But-Still-Really-Hot-Guys) who lurk between the pages of a book, however…well, they could teach a guy a thing or two about wooing women. Here are five Literary Lovers who should be required reading for men:

  1. Jamie Fraser (from the Outlander series). It doesn’t matter if he has just brawled with a dragoon of redcoats, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser is never too busy to say soft things in Gaelic to a certain wild-haired nurse who fell through time and ended up in his plaid swathed lap. Equal parts boyish charm and, ahem, “unflagging enthusiasm,” Jamie is handsome, funny, smart, and strong. Seriously strong. Strong enough to want a equally strong woman. Even those who would never, under normal circumstances, dare deface a book by dog-earring pages or (gasp!) highlighting text may find themselves surreptitiously marking The Wedding Night scene and leaving it somewhere their husband might stumble upon it…say, perhaps, the bathroom? (In case you were wondering, that sound you just heard was that of some twenty million Outlander fans flipping through their battered books to re-re-re-read *that* scene.)
  2. Four/Tobias Eaton (from the Divergent trilogy). Another Book Boyfriend who could teach the men of the world a thing or two about romance is the strong, quiet Four of Divergent. Like Jamie Fraser, Four likes his women strong; but where Jamie is playful, Four is dark and brooding–perfect for those who want a bit of a Bad Boy but without the lying, cheating, or other drama that too often accompanies the “real life” version.
  3. Josh Bennett (from The Sea of Tranquility). If you haven’t read The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay, you are missing out on some prime Book Boyfriend material. Although tragic, Josh is not pitiful. His painful past has provided him with a profound strength and the desire to protect others. Achingly sweet and undeniably awkward, he is the tortured soul from high school that we all wanted to save but never could.
  4. Ron Weasley (from the Harry Potter series). I know what you’re thinking, “What? That ginger kid from Harry Potter?!” But think about it…Hermione is incredibly smart, right? So she likely gave it some thought before picking Ronald Weasley. In fact, it’s entirely possible that there were lists and charts and perhaps some algorithms involved in her decision. Let’s see…well, he has that “ginger thing” going for him. And, despite the fact that it couldn’t have been easy being known primarily as “Harry Potter’s BFF,” or as “The Youngest Weasley Boy After, You Know, All the Really Cool Ones,” or as “That Painfully Mediocre Quidditch Player,” Ron manages to conduct himself with a surprising amount of grace. He frequently uses humor as a way to navigate the awkward spells (*snort* sorry, couldn’t resist). To his credit, he not only endures Insufferable-Know-It-Alls, but he also seems to have a bit of a soft spot for them (*cough* Hermione). But perhaps one of the best selling-points for having Ron Weasley as a Book Boyfriend is his family. Take a moment to consider your mother-in-law. Now consider Mrs. Weasley. Your mother-in-law. Mrs. Weasley. Need I say more?
  5. Severus Snape (Yes, more Harry Potter characters). At the risk of alienating everyone who has read this far, I am including on this list one of the most under-rated romantics of all…Severus Snape. Yes, I know that he might not have the dashing good looks of say, Gilderoy Lockhart, but Snape can be depended on to keep a secret, to be true to his self, and to be true to those he really loves. Always…. He is even willing to put his life at risk in order to protect the son of the woman he loves. (The son she had by another man, mind you.) If that doesn’t say a something about devotion, I don’t know what does!

I won’t lie, there is a reason that Jamie is #1 on the list. Fortunately, Hubs has taken a few cues from Himself: he has been known to speak with an impressive Scottish accent when he wants to charm me; he does own a kilt and isn’t afraid to use it; and he has, on occasion, called me Sassanach (always to glorious effect).

Of course, the fact that I can’t seem to shut up about Outlander may have something to do with it….  (Still, if it gets Hubs in a kilt, it can’t be all bad, right?)