I am my maternal grandfather’s favorite grandchild, or so goes the family joke-truth. I was the first grandchild. When I was born, my grandpa quit heavily smoking and drinking, which he’d done for 40 years, cold turkey. My mother had given him an ultimatum; but let’s be clear, he didn’t stop because of her or my grandmother or his own health. He quit because of me. This is one of the heavy realities of my birth.
Luckily, for grandpa and I, we’ve pretty much always gotten along. I spent an enormous part of my childhood at my grandparents’ house, and my grandpa even lived with my family for many years, on the weekdays anyway, when building two of my childhood homes. He taught me how to hammer nails and developed my love of cheddar cheese. Grandma often comments that I’m sometimes the only one who can make him really smile. (Both grandpa and I are prone to resting bitch face; it’s a thing.)
My grandfather is notoriously stubborn. And I can dig my heels into the sand with the best of them. But being grandpa’s favorite, I learned that sometimes it was better to ask for forgiveness and count on unconditional love than ask for permission when I knew there was a ‘no’ attached. Grandpa always seemed more lighthearted when I asked for forgiveness. Even if it was just changing the TV channel with his remote.
Almost every year as an adult, I bring my cat “home” for Christmas. Now my grandfather grew up in rural South Dakota and believes that animals should only be kept for work. If my cat was out in a barn killing mice and other vermin, fine. But my cats are pampered, indoor creatures. As a child, I dressed them up in Cabbage Patch Kids clothing, and as an adult, I feed them higher quality food than many people eat. I learned long ago never to ask my grandfather or let him know I was bringing my cat. And he still acts like it’s a surprise every year to see me carrying in my feline companion along with my Christmas gifts.
However, it’s always be crystal clear that my cats were not allowed in grandpa’s room or to do such horrible things like snuggle up to him.
One year, I was taking a shower after everyone else had gone to bed. When I got out, my grandma was knocking rapidly on the door. She was in a panic. After grandpa had gone to sleep and grandma was still getting ready for bed, my cat Winston had wandered into their room. When grandma had tried to remove Winston, he’d growled, hissed, and snapped at her. This was very un-Winston like behavior.
Apparently, we’re having another round of “that’s just fanfiction.” Implying that fanfiction is below prowriting quality standards and should be dismissed, and that if you want to insult a prowriting piece, just call it fanfiction.
For those that live under rocks, fanfiction or fanfic is a derivative work of another creator, usually created out of love for the original work. More often than not written for fun and just because. Fanfic is largely created by women for women. And fanfic is infamous for its explicitly erotic stories, which do constitute a significant portion, though not all fanfic. Erotic fanfic often falls into Rule 34: if you can think of it, there’s probably erotica/porn on the internet about it.
For a year I wrote obituaries for my hometown newspaper. There I learned one thing: if someone lives a great long life, don’t just remember their last few years, remember their entire life. Not just the times where they were ill, had lots of wrinkles, maybe watched too much Wheel of Fortune, or did the sanctioned things we allow our elderly to do. Don’t list their past times based on only classes they signed up for at the senior center.
My paternal grandma, Evelyn, passed away in the early am this Christmas at age 87. She’d received a terminal cancer diagnosis earlier this year, and after spending the year before battling breast cancer, she decided to enjoy her final days instead of going for a treatment that wasn’t likely to succeed. Grandma was able to live her final moments as she wanted: in her home and with her family. And I can’t help but wonder what the family will list as her hobbies and interests.
I hope they write about my Grandma’s travels. How age and the dreams of the travelers, who crashed at the bed and breakfast she and my Grandfather started after they retired, propelled her across the world. How she went to Scotland to seek out genealogy and relatives. How she discovered that there are 22 different spellings of our shared last name. How she saw castles while the rest of us stayed safely within the confines of Oregon.
When I was 12, my Grandmother took myself and my two cousins, Sean and Kristen, to Alaska. While it was the second time I’d flown, it was the first time I remembered being on a plane. My cousins and I looked out windows for mountain peaks and entertained ourselves by reading magazines. My Grandmother remained calm and nonplussed as we pinned flying wings on our lapels and met the pilot. When I travel for business, I imitate my Grandmother’s attitude about being on a plane and being on airports. It helps with the stories in my head.
In Alaska, we met and stayed with distant relatives Grandma had met on her dives into genealogy. We stayed up all night getting to know our relatives, but also unsure what time it was in the constant light of summertime in Alaska. Even our relatives laughed when they realized it was 2am and they still had neighbors over after a Club Scout meeting. Before we headed on in our itinerary, we met more distant family, and I remember the first thing that surprised Grandma about Alaska was finding out we had black relatives.
Grandma navigated our travels in Alaska as if she’d taken the holiday already once herself. She had maps and pre-made plans. This was before GPSs and when only early adopters had cell phones. But we made our way from town-to-town, and Grandma had used her bed and breakfast connections for the rest of our stays. The places were overly frilled with tacky wallpaper and pillowy beds. Pinks and blues and Victorian prints seemed a theme.
Before Alaska, I’d had my hair cut short. I wanted to look like Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but instead I sported the infamous bowl-cuts of the era. My hair matched my brother Jonathan’s and my cousin Sean’s. I was as tall as I am now and as thin as a beanpole. In Alaska, it seemed that girls and non-elderly women all had long hair. They had curves and fat, and I had none of these things. And when one odd, ginger B&B owner told my Grandma that the two twin boys could share the candy caned stripped room, I flushed with embarrassment, but my grandma, not for the first time, correct the man that I was a girl.
We went on a day cruise to see icebergs and whales. As we loaded the bus, it was clear my cousins and myself were the only ones under the age of 60 on the tour. A man started to comment on the twin boys, but then he shouted, “oh, one’s a girl” when he noticed I wore a white jersey dress with pink and blue striping. Though this may have given away my gender, it was not appropriate clothing for the deck of a ship near icebergs. But I didn’t care the moment I saw humpback whales.
My Grandma and I were never close. To say she didn’t get me was an understatement and perhaps I didn’t understand her that well either. She was like the icebergs we watched, barely peeking above the surface with more below we never saw. She seemed accepting of the hand that life dealt her, in a way I don’t think anyone born after World War II is. Practical to a fault. But I imagine there were many things she just chose not to say. My Grandfather may have died when I was four, but I always felt this specter of the patriarch lingering. And it wasn’t the huge portrait of him and my Grandma, in full McGillivray tartan regalia, hanging at the end of the darkened hallway. I often felt like an outsider in this no-nonsense place for boys: my father, three uncles, two brothers, four male cousins, and our grandfatherly ghost.
I visited my Grandma about two days before she died, and she asked me if I remembered playing with paper dolls at the B&B log cabin house. How I’d sit for hours, creating new fashions for the paper dolls of Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae. Dolls my Grandma had kept from her own youth and packed away for decades until her sons gave her five granddaughters. She seemed surprised that I remembered this and eager to connect over this feminine activity. Because even though she rejected it, my practical Grandma never realized just how much we’d both needed feminism and how we were just different failures of stereotypical femininity. I kind of wished we’d talked about Alaska and icebergs instead.
I remember lying in the upstairs loft in the log house, staring back at the heads of moose and deer lining the walls. Looking for hidden specters and creepy monsters, listening to the great clock ticking away all throughout the house. While it felt cabin-like, I’d never describe my Grandma’s log cabin as cozy or warm. There were drafts and the strict tidiness of always having guests. (Even after she sold the B&B, my Grandma’s house remained utilitarian and uncluttered.) Only at Christmas, when 20+ people arrived and my cousins and I tore through our gifts littering the place with wrapping paper and new toys did the log house become warm and full of life. Perhaps that was why Grandma chose Christmas Day to die.
As you turn 18, you make me feel both old and grateful I am not your age. I’m turning 30 this year, and having watched you grow up, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I would say to my 18-year-old self. I’ve been thinking a lot about you and the changes that are approaching you in your life. I know we’re not the closest, and I am probably your “weird cousin” — I’m many people’s “weird ___” in our family — but here’s my unsolicited birthday advice for you as you head off on your next journey.
Go to college.
Seriously, just do it.
Do what you love.
When in college, don’t pick a major because that’s what will get you a job. Or that’s what your parents want you to do. Or that’s what your teachers think you’re good at. Or that’s what the cute boy’s majoring in. Instead, do what you love. Find something where your homework’s not work, that you can lose yourself in for hours, that you want to learn about outside the classroom, that you can “geek out” about anytime you’re prompted. Only you can find that.
You won’t know what you’re going to major in or what you’re going to do when you grow up.
And you’re not alone. When I was a college n00b, I thought I was the only one without a major, and then as a senior, I tutored a bunch of freshies. Not a single one really knew what they were going to major in. That’s okay. It’s also okay to not have a 5-year plan or know what you want to do when you grow up. It took me at least 2-3 years into my career before I found what I loved. Heck, my current career, as a community manager, didn’t even exist my first year of college, and the greater industry that I’m part of, just got started then.
My third week at my first job out of college was one of those rare Puget Sound days where it was actually hot. Our office was packed with everyone on the second floor, where the air didn’t move. There wasn’t air conditioning or, as I discovered in the winter, heat. And I had cramps. Not little ones, big ones.
I was ready to spork my lady parts.
The web team consisted of lots of men. Men who carried wallets, not purses, and didn’t care or wanted to pretend to live in a world without periods. I didn’t know anyone in the other departments, which had women in them. I only new the web team and developers. Surrounded on all sides by a sausage fest.
I turned to my skill set, and I googled for the nearest Safeway. Even though I didn’t know the area, it was close enough. Only really two turns. I didn’t know where the printer was. I still don’t know if I would’ve had access to it anyway.
So I made a mental note — I’m not sure I even had notepaper — and took off in my ’83 Volvo that liked to stall out at stop lights.
A lot has changed in the past month. 2012 was a hard year where I reached my limit of many things and figured out what I could and couldn’t deal with. More importantly, what I wanted to deal with. I learned who my friends were and what work, important or otherwise, it was time to pass along to others.
As of December 1st, I am no longer GeekGirlCon’s president. There are long, complex reasons for this; some which involve things that make me frown and others that involve letting the baby bird fly on its own. I’m still involved in the organization as Director of Marketing. And I think the current reoganization and new leadership will bring a breath of fresh air.
Today is my friend Matt’s birthday. Matt’s a dear friend who lives too far away and who’s easily embarrassed, which makes this all the more fun.
Happy 26th Birthday, Matt.
I met Matt my freshman year of college when we lived in the dorms together and happened to be taking a different section of the same Java 101 class. While I became a creative writing major rather than a programmer, Matt stuck with it and works as a video game designer. Unfortunately, Matt moved to California for work and I stayed in Seattle after college. Thus, why I am not dragging a birthday cake over to his apartment.
Matt is one of those friends that you want to move next door to you or live in the same building as you. He’s one of those friends who’s there when you need him. I know in some of my most trying times, Matt’s been the one I’ve sought his wisdom and comfort. And I hope that I’ve been a good friend to him when he’s needed it.
During our sophomore year, we really bonded when Matt’s house became my home away from home to escape. His room became the makeshift library, an often freezing library. His housemates in poor college student tradition decided they didn’t need to pay for heating. We’d often crawl under the comforter on Matt’s bed with our coats on to keep from freezing while exercising our brains. I frequently raided Matt’s sock drawer and sweatshirt drawer for extra layers. Usually ending up with something proclaiming his love for the Dodgers.
One of my favorite Matt stories is a time he came over to do laundry. The dryer in his place had broke. He managed to spill dry laundry soap flakes all over my living room, but I hustled him down to the basement to put in his laundry before someone else in the building got to the washer. By the time Matt came back, I’d already vacuumed. He felt awful and asked if there was anything else he could do. Sure, he could wrap the cord around the vacuum and put it away. I watched in fascination as Matt proceeded to wind the cord around the vacuum like a kite string. Then I asked him why he didn’t use the cord’s hooks. Turns out, at 20-years-old, Matt had never vacuumed. Continue reading “Happy Birthday, Matt”