Or How I Discovered Outlander.
WARNING: This one gets long, this one gets ramble-y, and this one gets maybe a little emotional. Bear with me, and let’s see if we can get through this one together, okay? Okay!
I’m taking a wee break from the creative process to write a Real Entry in this blog. So no excerpts in this one, readers. Just a good old fashioned Entry. Sorry to disappoint, but sometimes it must be done.
Today is my birthday. Because I’m not one of those women that believes in age shaming, I’ll go ahead and say it: I’m 32 today. The big 3-2. Barreling rapidly towards my mid-30s, and not really hating it nearly as much as I thought I would when I was, say, in my 20s, when just the thought of 30 seemed like one step from the grave.
30s are the new 20s, or so I hear. Or so I tell myself. Whichever.
Anywho, I wanted to reflect on something today, or perhaps somethings. Things near and dear to my heart that deserve the recognition of the only gift I could give them that I am confident they are worthy of: My words.
I have spent much of my life being a fan, a fangirl, if you will, of various things. Bands, songs, movies, TV shows, books, authors. I submerge myself fully into loving the work of someone, and that love never leaves me. As one adorably pathetic example, I still listen to Sesame Street songs on the regular, and I am not at all ashamed to admit that has absolutely nothing to do with my one-year-old nephew (but he certainly doesn’t discourage it).
And, hey, I still haven’t gotten over the Hanson thing I went through when I was eleven, but I swear I have no lingering ambitions of marrying any one of them at the present and my room is no longer wallpapered with their faces.
Okay, so maybe I do recover to a degree.
While I am a perpetual “fan 4 lyfe” of more or less everything I’ve ever deemed to be purchase-worthy on iTunes or liked on Facebook, there has been a select few things throughout the course of my life that have somehow been so much more to me than just a song I enjoy dancing around my room to or a show I look forward to watching every week. This handful has helped forge the person that I am today, as though they are pieces of me that I’ve been meant to pick up along the way, always there exactly when I need them most. These things, I believe, are a part of my soul. I mean, as nuts as it may sound, there has always been a very distinct difference between discovering one of these and just hearing a song on the radio I really dig. Almost a feeling of another puzzle piece sliding into place. A sensation of being just a little more put together.
Now, when you’ve finished rolling your eyes, if you’re ready to continue with me, come. Let’s take a stroll through some of those pieces that make me, well… Me.
When I was nine, I discovered the Counting Crows, a band fronted by the dread-headed Adam Duritz. When I first feasted my ears upon “Mr. Jones” as the video played on VH1, back in the good ol’ days when music videos were a thang, I was instantly hooked but truth be told, I didn’t have that instant “oh my God, soulmate” moment until the release of their song “A Long December” when I was eleven or so. It was, I think, the first time that I fully immersed myself into the lyrics of a song and truly thought about what they mean. I would play it over and over again (not an easy feat back then, when I had to rewind that damn cassette to just. The. Right. Point.), just soaking it all in until I felt I had a firm grasp on it, and it is, to this day, my favorite song.
They are, to this day, my favorite band. And Adam is, to this day, one of my Ultimate Role Models.
When I was eleven/twelve, I was introduced to the hauntingly beautiful works of Edgar Allan Poe, all thanks to my English teacher, Mr. Levine, an incredible man with impeccable taste in literature. During class one day, Mr. Levine treated us all to a theatrical reading of The Telltale Heart. Believe me when I say, it was amazing – the man even threw a chair across the damn room, for crying out loud – and I felt it. That excitement, the feeling of discovering a part of myself, and I have held Poe on a pedestal ever since as my favorite poet and among the most influential writers in my life.
When I was fifteen, I discovered The Crow. Now, I wasn’t a stranger to the movie at this point, but I had never watched it in its entirety. An action movie based on the graphic novel by James O’Barr, I enjoyed the gritty darkness of it, but above that, I fell in love with the romance. My heart broke with the bittersweet story, my heart shattered when I read further into the tragic passing of Brandon Lee, and yet, it helped me to feel full again after going through a difficult time with no thanks to my teenage angst. From that moment on, it became a security blanket, something to cling to when I felt less than wonderful, because it held a message for me. That no matter how bad things got, there would always be something good waiting around the corner, because, well, “it can’t rain all the time.”
Now, along the way to where I am now, I discovered the Odd Thomas series, written by Dean Koontz. I discovered Doctor Who. I discovered Lisey’s Story by Stephen King. I discovered Hozier, the mind-boggling talented young man from a little town in Ireland with a particular song called “Arsonist’s Lullaby” that has become the theme song to this gift/curse I call writing. I discovered the Harry Potter series by the legendary J.K. Rowling, who I will one day get a response from on Twitter, dammit. Oh, and then there are things from before; The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, to name a couple. All of these things have in one way, shape, or form helped to meld me into what I am right now, but if I were to write at length about each one of them, this post would take me hours and ain’t nobody got time for that.
However, I do want to mention one more thing, the thing that actually inspired this entry in the first place, and that is Outlander.
When I was thirty, I lost my best friend and my soulmate on four legs. Her name was Lucy, and she was the most special of special cats. To this day, nearly a year and a half later, I still can’t believe she’s really gone because it never quite feels that she really is, and maybe she’s not. But in any case, with her loss weighing heavily on my shoulders, I slumped into something very dark that I found very difficult to claw my way out of. I questioned everything about my existence and my faith, all while trying to cope with simply being brokenhearted from missing my dear friend, and thus began a page in my anxiety disorder that I never thought I’d see or come out of.
Sure, I had my nephew and my new kitten Ethel (get it? Lucy and Ethel?) to fall further in love with and hold onto when everything felt so bleak and hopeless, but nothing seemed to shake that constant feeling of panic striking into my brain and heart with every chance it got. I had almost completely stopped writing, my reading slowed to a crawl, and none of my usual tricks worked. The Crow didn’t help, my music didn’t help all that much either (with the exception of NEEDTOBREATHE, but that’s another entry for another day that might never come, let’s be honest), and I started to think that maybe I was destined to lie dormant in that constant feeling of panic and sadness forever.
And then I remembered that my good friend Shawna had sent me Outlander by Diana Gabaldon a few years back. She had loved it and felt it important for me to have it as well, but readers, you really should see my library of books that I need to read. I buy the damn things constantly, but I can only read so fast and they pile up, so naturally, I put it aside to read at a more convenient time.
That time was apparently in the Autumn of 2016, when I was thirty-one. I had finished Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by the admiringly creative Ransom Riggs and adored it, sparking that fire in me once again that said, hey, bitch, you like reading. Then, I don’t remember what finally inspired me to pick up that large book that Shawna had sent to me, but I did. I began reading that mass market paperback with the tiny font that these impaired eyes could barely read, and I didn’t waste any time buying it to get it on my Kindle ASAP (thank God for the freedom to enlarge font at will). I’ll admit that it was a bit slow-going at first, but it wasn’t long before I was devouring it as though my very soul depended on it. I read it in the car, I read it in public bathrooms when the brutal stigma of irritable bowel syndrome struck, I read it as I cooked dinner, and I read it as I obsessively reached my 10k steps on my FitBit. I thrust myself into 18th century Scotland until my verra thoughts were spoken in a Scottish burr, and whether it was the much needed distraction from my own mental turmoil or something else entirely, I found that I felt better and that in itself felt miraculous.
I finished that first book, and immediately submerged myself into the Starz program. I watched both seasons in the matter of days, less than a week, and I believe there were a few points where my family was legitimately worried for my sanity, but hey, the dinner was still cooked, so… Whatever. I took to Twitter then, running back to an account I created in 2009 and more or less forgot, and I began to connect with other people from all over the world who not only understood but became my friends. People full of optimism and positivity who didn’t know me from a hole in the wall but still accepted me into this “fandom” that I was a mere baby to (well, still am).
These people have been more supportive of this than some people I’ve known for years, and for that, I don’t think I could ever express how grateful I am for them.
And then, there was the Defining Moment. The moment that made something in my head click into place, filling me with a determination so strong I could taste it while I slept. The moment that took Ms. Gabaldon from the point of being that woman that wrote that book that changed my crappy mindset, to being that woman that said that thing that changed my entire life.
I had asked a writing-related question on her Facebook page, not realizing that she was incredibly awesome and actually replied, so I didn’t expect it when I received a notification that she had responded to me. Before reading, I had expected it to be a one-liner; a little anecdote I could smile at and move on from. But no, what I received was something of a short novel full of worthwhile advice that left me feeling touched and honestly emotional. Specifically, because she said this:
“I worry a bit that you’ve been writing your novel for years, though. Most often, that’s an indication that the writer has such a fear of failure that they can’t bring themselves to finish-in spite of the fact that that’s the only way _to_ fail. Finish the book. You have more than one book in you. If the first one isn’t a huge success, just learn from it and go on with a stronger arsenal of skill and mental flexibility. It won’t kill you. <g>”
Nobody up until that point had ever said anything quite like that to me, let alone an esteemed author of a best-selling series. I remember just staring at those words, too stunned to even blink a tear that sat in the duct of my eye, because she had hit that proverbial fucking nail right on its proverbial fucking head. I was afraid. I had always been afraid. Nothing has ever been scarier to me than failure or embarrassment, and up until that point, I had never let anybody read my writing before sans for a piece of poetry here and there. But the moment she said that to me, that respected author with her following of incredible fans, I made up my mind that I was done being scared, and I was going to finish that book.
And now, that book isn’t quite finished, but its close, and I firmly believe that if she hadn’t said that, I wouldn’t be here right now. I wouldn’t have come back to this blog, I wouldn’t have shared my excerpts or my short story (new one coming soon, by the by), and I would’ve been running in the same dizzy circles around that novel I’ve been writing for way too long.
So, those are some of the many pieces of me, and that’s the story of the year that began as the worst but turned into one of the best. And this is the beginning of what I think is going to be one of the absolute best years of my life.
And before I finish this up, let me just say: Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you’re “too into” something. Because that something might just be the thing that surpasses everything else, and becomes the thing that changes your life as you know it. That something could be the thing that forever makes you happy when you’re sad, or inspires you to be a better version of yourself, or just simply makes everything else make sense.
Hey, that something might just be the thing that makes you finish the book.
But uh, if that something is inspiring you to build shrines out of that person’s hair in your shower, then please seek medical attention.