The birds and the bees and the seals and the penguins and the chimps and the frogs.

I was going to write a blog entry about my very first trip to a strip club, and I still will, but first it’s very important that I tell you that Jezebel’s Mark Shrayber posted a video of a seal raping a penguin.

What follows is, to the best of my recollection, the subsequent conversation I had with Dustin.

Me: So there’s this video of a seal raping a penguin.
Dustin: What?
Me: There are these seals going around having sex with penguins against their will.
Dustin: Won’t someone think of the penguins?
Me: <reading the comments> Actually, someone literally just posted that clip.
Dustin: Oh my god, I’m that guy. I’m the won’t-someone-think-of-the-penguins guy.
Me: The thing is, the seals let three of the penguins go. But one killed and ate the fourth one.
Dustin: So that’s…
Me: Interspecies murder rape, yes.
Dustin: Animals are awful.
Me: They are.
Dustin: And that’s not even the worst I’ve seen.
Me: What?
Dustin: I saw a chimpanzee get a blow job from a frog.
Me: WHAT??
Dustin: Yep.
Me: So it just… shoved its stuff in a frog’s open mouth?
Dustin: Pretty much.
Me: Was the frog alive?
Dustin: …for a while.
Me: Oh my god.
Dustin: Here, hang on, I’ll send you the video.
Me: There’s VIDEO??

<Then we watched the video. The chimpanzee pries open a frog’s mouth and fucks it. There are children watching. They’re giggling and shrieking in baffled, innocent delight while their parents, no doubt, enter a state of slack-jawed Cervidaean shock.>

Me: These kids don’t even know what they’re seeing.
Dustin: They’re seeing a chimpanzee have sex with the body of a frog.
Me: Oh my god.

<sound of a child asking, “What is it doing?”>

Dustin: A frog fucked to death by a chimpanzee.
Me: Oh my god.
Dustin: Nature is cruel.

The rest of the conversation is just me saying “oh my god” through peals of horrified laughter.

This is my favorite quote from the original article:

It is known that seals are able to learn from each other, so it is possible that it is spreading through observation.

Seal deviancy doesn’t just happen in a vacuum, people. This is learned behavior. This is a byproduct of the corrupt seal patriarchy. Sealtriarchy. WE ARE FAILING OUR SEALS. IT IS KNOWN.

Not all seals? YES ALL PENGUINS.

They should have sent a poet. You got me instead. Sorry.

You should have been at Dragon Con.

It has been a busy few months. Which is a little like saying, “Justin Bieber’s semen is questionable.”

I would like to sum up the last few months for you, but you’d be bored reading about it, and I’d be bored writing about it. Instead, I will give you some choice bits from Dragon Con 2014, at which I direct the Fantasy Literature track, and where you should have been this past weekend. Actually, the con estimates 62,000 people were there, so some of you probably WERE there last weekend. But not all of you. Unacceptable.*

  • I got Jim Butcher and Lev Grossman in a room together to talk about magic in modern fantasy. I’m calling the resultant entity “Butchman” or possibly “Grosser.”
  • At the Dragon Sex panel I run with my buxom and mellifluous Second, Angel, our friend and regular attendee Jay had a question about what happens if a male dragon misses. Like, if Tab A doesn’t line up with Slot B. Midair. It’s better if you don’t think about what we described next. Don’t go jogging when dragons are fucking, is all I’m saying. Or at least wear a wide-brimmed hat. And a poncho.
  • If this guy gave you a gold coin for pounding his box (lol), know that this is my ex Loren and that this is his third year enacting this idea, so ingenious in its simplicity, but his first year doing so dressed as Luigi. He is well on his way to Dragon Con institutionhood.
Yes, he had an iPod Mini that made the "DING!" sound every time you hit the box. Yes, he would throw a gold coin at you for hitting the box.

Yes, he had an iPod Mini that made the “DING!” sound every time you hit the box. Yes, he would throw a gold coin at you for hitting the box.

  • I explained to a room full of gay and gay-friendly people that I was very nervous about talking to them about GLBT themes in fantasy literature, even though I set up the panel, because it was a dicey subject and I’m cishet so what the fuck do I know, but that I would try to be intelligent and sensitive. Then I immediately fucked up the distinction between “sex” and “gender” so I teleported myself into a nice comforting volcano.
  • Still, somehow lots of people told me I’m good at moderating panels. It’s a very strange and specific superpower I can literally only use four days out of the year. Like a werewolf who turns into Jim Lehrer. A lehrwolf. I am a lehrwolf.
  • I got a personalized advance copy of Naomi Novik’s next book, Uprooted, and I am SO PSYCHED to read it because Naomi Novik is awesome for 100,000 reasons and I’ve been trying to get her to Dragon Con for literally years so that everyone else can bask in her particular brand of petite (read: concentrated) epicness.
  • Dustin just walked around grinning like a moron for four days. He wore a chain mail shirt and a tabard he made himself, like, years ago, but they still fit because that’s how Dustin rolls. He was adorable. Here he is with gender-bending Lestat and Louis.

This combines quite a lot of Dustin’s interests.

  • My Daenerys costume wasn’t perfect, but still vastly better than last year’s initial attempt. I met approximately 50 other Daeneryses who were all fucking adorable. Oh and also THIS ACTUAL DRAGON.
Seconds later, I swung myself over his neck and smote our enemies.

Seconds later, I swung myself over his neck and smote our enemies.



  • I had a nice chat with Vince Caso about snorting cats like a line of coke. It was Monday. We were very tired. Getting his autograph completed my collection of signed Guild headshots. He signed it, “Charlotte, do you wanna date my avatar? Also, snort some cats…” I said, “In a year, I won’t know what this means.”
  • I took this picture to make Wil Wheaton feel bad about not going to the convention but I don’t think it worked.
It did, however, make ME feel GOOD about going to the convention.

It did, however, make ME feel GOOD about going to the convention.

  • After the convention was well and truly over, a bunch of us went over to the Westin to play Cards Against Humanity. The downstairs bar was closed, so Dustin and I were like, okay, we’ll go to the restaurant at the top of the hotel for some beers, no problem. The kid at the desk said, “Just take it up to the 72nd floor and walk the stairs to the 73rd.” I said, “Great.” He said, with a caution I didn’t understand, “Just so you know, it’s a glass elevator.” I said, “Okay.” Then I got on the elevator. And I was like, so what, it’s a glass elevator, I’ve been taking these all weekend OH IT’S ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE BUILDING AND IT IS GOING 72 FLOORS I GET WHY YOU MIGHT BE CONCERNED ABOUT MY LEVEL OF APPREHENSION, which was actually fairly low. Then a little German woman got on the elevator and the doors slid closed. She said, heavily accented, “At least zuh elevator is inside,” and Dustin said, “I think that’s just for the beginning.” Sure enough, THE LIGHTS DIMMED and a blue light came up like we were on Spaceship Earth, and as our capsule ascended, a pleasant female voice not unlike Majel Barrett’s explained that we were riding to the top of the second tallest hotel in the Western Hemisphere. And the poor German woman turned her face into the door and moaned while I thought very hard about the two times I saw Adam Savage hang by interleaved phone books because he trusted science. I trusted. I trusted and was rewarded. We looked down on buildings capped by helipads. I-75 snaked away in parallel ribbons of white and red, viscous and arterial, between tilt-shifted skyscrapers. Even the poor German woman rallied for an appreciative glimpse. Any metropolis worth its salt is brightest at night. We surmounted it, affixed ourselves in its diadem.
    I sent Todd McCaffrey, waiting downstairs with our friends, a text encapsulating this moment of singular awe: “HOLY BALLS THIS IS HIGH.” He said, “Pope’s balls or JC’s?” They should have sent a poet.

And, just in case you remembered last year’s unpleasantness: my car did not get broken into. The guy who manages the valet at the W, where I was staying, felt so terrible about what happened—I’d parked in a crummy lot because I didn’t want to pay $30 for the W’s valet—he gave me two nights free, so I could park affordably and without fear. Thanks, W. I’ll sleep in your hotel’s shamelessly ostentatious purple plushness any time.

*Actually it’s perfectly okay, because too many people coming to conventions is why conventions start to suck, and which is why I will probably not be going to SDCC like, ever. Also, the costumes at Dragon Con are better.

Say hello to my little friend: an IUD-having atheist’s FAQ for evangelicals.

I let myself get drawn into an internet debate today.

I know. I know. I know.

This used to happen to me often as a teenager and young 20-something, but then my brain finished cooking and I realized that this was largely a waste of everyone’s time.

When debating with an ideologue on the opposite end of the political/philosophical/ecumenical spectrum than I, I try to remember a few things:

  • This is a person.
  • This person’s ideas were not formed in a vacuum. Their internal logic does not make sense to me, but it does make sense to them.
  • I will not sway this person by using arguments and rhetorical tactics that I find compelling; I will not bring a creationist to evolutionary theory by quoting Dawkins any more than I will bring the illiterate to books by using the Oxford English Dictionary.
  • I will not sway this person by being hostile or petty.
  • I will probably not sway this person, period.
  • Discussions are not competitions.

On my best days, setting this example has led to some very civil, nuanced exchanges of ideas that may still ultimately have ended in a stalemate, but which at least left the door open for further discussion.

Today, the dogged, fatuous ignorance of the myopic, ass-licking troglodytes, absolutely TICKLED by their shadows dancing on the cave walls, got to me. I ended up snapping at the worst of them, and then blocking them, and then fuming my entire way home. They’re still wrong, but they got the better of me, and so they won.

Here, then, are my thoughts more cogently collected. I doubt very much that they’ll change anyone’s minds, because if there’s one thing you can’t fight with objective fact, it’s confirmation bias. But I’m a sucker for punishment.

Hobby Lobby pays for 17 other kinds of birth control. What’s the problem?

The problem—well, one problem—is that hormonal birth control can be fatal. And not “can be” in a “you might get struck by lightning while being attacked by a shark in a crashing airplane” kind of way. In a statistically significant way. In a doctors-are-negligent-not-to-tell-you-this way.

This goes double for women like me, who may be genetically predisposed to blood clots/thrombosis even in the absence of hormonal imbalances.

While estrogen-based birth control can be dangerous to any woman, progestogen-based birth control, like Depo-Provera, is considered relatively safe. I say “relatively” because after two years, Depo starts irreversibly wearing down your bone density. I was on it for many years before that particular set of data came in and my gynecologist strongly, strongly advised I get the hell off it ASAP. Which I did.

For me, and for many other women, a non-hormonal IUD is the only feasible option. In the United States, there is only one of these: the ParaGard copper IUD.

IUDs are abortifacients!

Not when they’re working properly.

While an IUD can prevent embryo implantation as a last resort, its primary mechanism is to keep sperm from fertilizing an egg to begin with. How they do this is still an issue of some debate, but it’s thought that—in the case of my ParaGard, at least—the device triggers an inflammatory response that makes uteruses unpleasant places for sperm to be, never mind the physical barrier posed by the IUD itself. Failing some catastrophe, most women with IUDs experience regular periods—meaning the uterus is doing what it always does in the absence of an embryo. Normally. Non-abortively.

I would go one step further and assert that zygotes aren’t people, and that extinguishing one is sad but not criminal and therefore no one’s business, but this is not a useful argument in a discussion with someone who believes zygotes ARE people.

If you don’t want to get pregnant, don’t have sex.

How about those of us who don’t want to get pregnant EVER? What should I do, join a convent? Wear a chastity belt?

They look cold.

What about married couples who want children but not, like, tomorrow?

Also, just going to throw this out there: do you know what’s WAY more expensive than contraception? Childcare.

You’re demanding my church subsidize your sex life.

  1. I don’t believe you actually believe that.
  2. If you DO actually believe that: let’s do a thought experiment.

I’m an atheist. Let’s say that I’m your boss. I know, that’s a horrifying thought for any number of reasons not pertaining to my ecumenical leanings or lack thereof, but bear with me.

I feel that circumcision is an archaic practice that’s medically unnecessary at best and barbaric at worst. It’s a decision made on behalf of children who can have no appreciation of its religious significance, and who may grow into adults of a completely different philosophical bent than yours. It is a terrible, physical, scarring imposition of one’s will upon a helpless being who has no power to object.

If a fully informed adult male decides, for personal and/or medical reasons, that he wants a circumcision: fine. I’m all for it. Bully for him. Nip the tip, old fellow, and god speed.

But to unilaterally mutilate a child’s most personal and delicate asset for life is horrible to me. It stands in direct opposition to my moral code.

As your employer, I could decide that I will no longer subsidize circumcisions performed on any of my employees’ newborn children. Even if, to those employees, circumcision is a routine and even sacrosanct procedure; even if my they can show a wealth of evidence that circumcision may provide some modicum of health benefit; even if circumcision is consistent with their First Amendment rights.

As the owner of a closely held business, I needn’t fund any procedure I deem at odds with my deeply held moral code.

And let’s say, as in the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court backs me up.

My religious employees—that includes you—are now “free” to do one of two things:

  1. Stay in my employ, where they are paid well, and either not circumcise their children or pay obscene fees out of pocket.
  2. Quit and find another job. Which is definitely the option you want when you have a newborn, right?

As I said to one guy today: “Freedom to make the choices I give you” is not freedom.

Do not confuse “my way or the highway” with freedom of choice. It’s an ultimatum. It is the definition of an ultimatum. And I am not at all persuaded by its use in conservative rhetoric (or really any rhetoric, for that matter). 

I’m not demanding your church subsidize my sex life.

I’m not demanding anything.

I’m asserting my right NOT to be discriminated against because I don’t subscribe to the tenets of your church.

I’m resisting your attempts to hold me hostage to your ideology.

I’m denying your authority over my body.

Furthermore, Hobby Lobby doesn’t run a church. They run a business. 

I cannot reconcile the fervor with which conservatives, so vociferously opposed to the intervention of Big Daddy Government in any matters whatsoever, worship at the altar of business. A business is just a government no one votes for (“Oh, but you vote with your dollar,” they sneer, disingenuously, neither seeing nor caring that a society that votes with its dollar will favor those with the most votes to spend).

I don’t get to vote my employer out if I take umbrage to her governance. If I don’t like the way she does things, I can take a walk. Which would give employers free rein to do whatever they damn well pleased if not for laws imposed upon them.

Evangelical conservatives insist employers shouldn’t have to pay for health care they’re morally at odds with, but all of their efforts, all of their energies, are concentrated on dismantling Obamacare, the only other recourse for the jobless, the underpaid, and/or the underinsured.

They don’t want women to have choices. They just want us to make babies or close our legs. They want us to fall in line or GTFO.

Thankfully, we don’t work for them.

What I thought I saw.

A sort of ramshackle mesa rose from the arms of the creek, its flat top cluttered but serviceable. A tree’s smooth-skinned corpse bisected the little peninsula, and on this we perched, pitching clementine rinds into the brush and speaking only to observe a cicada’s rattling cry, or to encourage the tethered dog to lie still.

I looked from the high green canopy to the creek bed, and saw something dark and slick heave itself to shore and go still.

“I think I just saw a crab,” I said uncertainly. Dustin looked over his shoulder and down.

“A crab?”

“I think so.” My knowledge of freshwater aquatic life is unimpressive, but even as I said it, I doubted. Crawdads and perhaps some sort of small soft-bodied crab, sure, but this, from my vantage, seemed much too big—more like the industrious, palm-sized ghost crabs common at the beach.

I grabbed a stick and began to pick my way down to the creek. Brutus whined, uncharacteristically.

I watched my feet, heavily shod in sturdy Timberland boots, as I went. Always do this in the South, in any season, by freshwater. Though rattlesnakes and cottonmouths are heat-seekers and will know you long before you see them, they may underestimate your ignorance.

As I approached the water’s edge, I saw the object turning and turning in the sand, and at first my brain didn’t understand what it saw, not until it distinguished the single object as two: the slick, dark, bloated corpse that could have once been a mouse or a lizard or neither, and its upper half disappearing into the grasping jaws of a small, determined snake.

The snake was very beautiful. Its body, still half-submerged in the creek, was just barely wider than a man’s thumb, cream-colored but for the coppery bands placed at even intervals over its length, its head crowned in auburn.

Adrenaline pumped into my bloodstream, a warning from my ancestors. I retreated quietly and calmly. I watched my feet as I went.

I said to Dustin, “It’s a snake eating something. I think it’s a young copperhead.”

He got up and descended to the creek, more directly, crunching down the leaf litter; Brutus whined and pulled at his leash. Dustin stopped a few feet from the snake, peering at it thoughtfully, then came back. “I think you’re right.”

“It could be some sort of corn snake,” I pointed out, “or king snake. There are lots of snakes that look like copperheads and rattlesnakes.”

“Sure,” he said, “but to take down prey that big?”

I thought of the vague body protruding from the working mouth. It had been much wider than the snake, who had not coiled around it as a constrictor might. What crushing will do with a struggle, venom will do in a trice.

We put the rest of our food back in our picnic bag, which I slung over my left shoulder, and untethered Brutus’ leash. As we began to make our way back to the trail, I said, “Hang on, I want to see if I can get a picture of it.” I made my way back to the narrow bank, more confidently this time, and thumbed my iPhone’s camera to life.

The snake had released its kill and was trying to get a better grip on it. It tested from this angle and that, its slender jaws opening and closing and maneuvering, its lithe belly turned outward so that I could see the broken russet bands underneath. Unburdened by a meal, the snake would be fast and possibly defensive. I had heard, too, of snakes regurgitating and abandoning food to flee larger predators. Either way, I felt I could come no closer. I lowered my camera and watched a moment longer, then turned and retreated back to the trail. I felt disappointed. I felt relieved.

We walked a little ways before I admitted, “I’ve never seen a snake eat anything before.” In documentaries, sure. But not in person.

He said, “I saw a snake eat another snake once. But that’s it.”

When we got home, we pulled up Snakes of North Carolina and quickly eliminated hognoses, king snakes, and brown water snakes as potential culprits. The northern water snake was close, though. Very close.

An easy way to tell venomous snakes from similar-looking nonvenomous ones is the ratio of their heads to their necks: where venomous snakes tend to have wide jaws and narrow, evident necks, nonvenomous ones usually have no neck to speak of. But it’s harder to make this distinction when the animal is mid-swallow. Nor could I see whether its pupils were slitted or round, or whether its tail ended in a stretch of bright green.

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension has a picture of a northern water snake that looks uncannily like the one we saw. It was even taken in Umstead Park. “That could be it,” said Dustin, ever the scientist, resistant to bias.

Harmless species often adopt the coloration of dangerous ones. It’s called Batesian mimicry, and it’s Occam’s-razor-common. I sighed. “Yeah,” I said. “That could be it.”

And still, perversely, for reasons I can’t explain, I hope it wasn’t. I hope instead that today I had a close encounter with a wild copperhead, living the only way it can, and that we did no harm to one another, though we could have.

Wear good boots along the waterways of the South.

Today I read too much about Elliot Rodger.

Then I was reading #YesAllWomen on Twitter, and then I drank some more beer and wrote some feelings.

Possibly triggery.

How to avoid becoming a statistic

1 in 5, I read,
1 in 5, which are not odds you’d play if we were talking
plane crashes (1 in 11 million),
shark attacks (1 in 3.7 million),
lightning strikes (1 in 500,000),
or fatal car accidents (1 in 5,000),
but they are the odds you play when you cast
a bumpy shadow, and you
step outside.
They are the odds when the sun is shining,
or not,
and you are accompanied,
or not.
Yes: all women know the odds,
if not the statistics,
and that is why we fly airplanes
and SCUBA dive
and chase tornadoes
and press our feet against the pedals but
tug on our hemlines,
walk against traffic,
let the meager key chafe between our fingers.

“What is the first thing you do,” my mother asked from the passenger seat,
“when you get into a car?”
Start the ignition, I said.
Ah, a trick question:
buckle my seat belt.
Turn on the headlights?
Check my mirrors? No,
she said, and no,
and no. The first thing, said my mother,
looking straight ahead, through the safety glass and into
every headline, is
“Lock the door.”

Slumming it for Sexual Chocolate

This is the story of how I slept in a parking lot for beer.

About a month ago, a guy named Ray Goodrich called and asked me to blog about the Foothills Brewing Sexual Chocolate 2014 release party.

“Sure,” I said. “What’s a Sexual Chocolate release party?”

Ray explained.

“Oh,” I said, when he finished. “So this is an event for insane people.”

Sexual Chocolate, I learned, is a much-prized commodity in the North Carolina craft beer community. This is largely because it’s a goddamn delicious beer: a full-bodied imperial stout that looks like black walnut and pours like heavy cream, flush with layers of savory cocoa and coffee. It’s like eating a piece of dark baking chocolate, except it also gets you drunk.

But Foothills only releases it twice a year. And if you want to be guaranteed your allotted four bombers, you have to wait in line.

All night.

I’ve camped out in the woods. I’ve pooped in holes I dug myself, I’ve made pudding in Ziploc bags, I’ve slept in tents in thrashing thunderstorms. But I’ve never camped out for a THING. A thing like concert tickets or a phone or a console or a book about morose teenage vampires. That seemed stupid. That is the domain of Schadenfreude. It’s harder to laugh at the suckers in the line when you’re one of the suckers in the line.

But, I mean, beer. Right? Beer. Let’s all agree on that. Beer.


Here’s how it would go down:

On the night of January 31, Foothills Brewing would host a bottle swap, in which craft brewers would circulate through a room pouring various fermented nectars down one another’s eager gullets. Foothills would put Sexual Chocolate on tap to sample, and everyone would socialize and talk about how terrific beer is.

At around 2 a.m., Foothills would turn off the lights and lock all the doors, at which time a few dozen very committed, deeply disturbed individuals would queue up on the street and adjacent parking lot, where they would cheerfully strive not to freeze to death. At 8 a.m., they and whatever limbs remained to them would all be let back into the brewery. Each of these certifiable headcases would be issued a numbered wristband, and starting at 10 a.m. would be called up in groups of 50 to buy no more than 4 bombers—22 oz. bottles—of the sweet stuff. Then they would go home and sleep until 2068.

I’d come to Ray’s attention after a little Twitter mix-up with Wil Wheaton. Back in October, I gave Wil some beer. North Carolina has a respectable, rapidly growing craft beer culture that deserves to be shared, and as Wil is a home brewer, I decided to drop some Cackalacky knowledge on his Hollywood ass when I caught him at a tour stop in Virginia. I stopped into Raleigh’s Bottle Revolution, loaded up a DIY 6-pack with selections from Big Boss, Highland, Duck Rabbit, and Foothills, and gave the booze to the Wheatons. This seemed to satisfy everyone.

Then, at the end of December, this conversation happened:


Ray, whose officially official Foothills title is “Marketing Guy,” had been hunting around for an observant master of the English lexicon to describe the experience of the event. Failing that, he’d settle for any vulgar, self-loathing jackass on Twitter. When all of them turned him down, he went with me.

“I don’t know anything about beer,” I warned him. “Just that I like to drink it.”

“That’s fine,” he assured me. “I’d actually prefer someone from outside the craft brewing community. Someone with the kind of innate, powerful-yet-refined sexual magnetism only an unwashed junior ad copywriter can possess.”

“Just as long as I get fucked up, man,” I said, sucking at an old chili stain on my shirt.

I explained the situation to my boyfriend, Dustin, who a month and a half in still has that unmistakable new OKCupid smell (turns out you can get it in aerosol cans), and asked if he’d like to come along. He didn’t bat an eye.

“Just as long as I get fucked up, man,” he said.

“That’s what I said!” I cried. We high-fived.

Wil, for reasons pertaining to both distance and, I assume, dignity, could not attend. Luckily, I had a surrogate.

...dude, did you just have that thing READY?

I told him we were going to be blogging a beer event and this thing just APPEARED.

On Friday night, in anticipation of copious potables, Dustin made us a badass steak dinner. Then we piled ourselves, Lil’ Wil, and a bunch of camping gear into my janky old Focus hatchback and made for Winston-Salem.

We arrived around 9, by which time the event was in full swing. Ray—who I wouldn’t describe as “unreasonably tall,” but whose skull has probably had its share of altercations with low door frames—set us up with a couple of glasses of Sexual Chocolate before ushering us to the rear of the brewery, where most of the action was happening.

What’s the collective noun for a group of microbrew enthusiasts? A fermentation? There was one yeasty fermentation of beer nerds packed into the back of Foothills Brewery. And the booze flowed. There were stouts and porters and blondes and hefeweizens and pale ales aplenty, with a smattering of fruity ciders and sweet meads to round out the palate. Our little glasses were kept full by one enthusiastic, bearded pourer after another.



Near the back of the room, Foothills was pouring samples of its Jade IPA and seasonal Cottonwood Frostbite Black IPA. I’m generally a stout/porter kind of girl, and tend to resist a lot of hops, but both of these were refreshingly fruity, eminently drinkable beers. On the opposite wall was the craft brewers’ setup: a few kegs, a few coolers, and a table littered with with evening’s offerings. All of it had been pretty well picked over by the time we arrived, but Lil’ Wil plunged in with gusto.

Dude, seriously? It's only 9:30.

Dude, seriously? It’s only 9:30.

We also got a look at Foothills’ actual brewing operation—or, at least, the smaller iteration they keep at their store, which they reserve for experimentation and small-batch brews. We were very professional about the tour.

Sorry, Foothills enthusiasts. Your beer may taste a little more confusing for a while.

Sorry, Foothills enthusiasts. Your beer may taste a little more confusing for a while.

Ray gave us an overview before leaving us in the hands of a staff brewer named Matt, whose casual knowledge of the beer-making process vastly outstrips the skillset required to perform complex neurosurgery. I was doing an okay job keeping up with him until I made the mistake of comparing his job—brewing alcohol—to Dustin’s, which is brewing parts of people (specifically, vascular grafts). I said it as a joke. But when their eyes met, I knew the broment for what it was.


Literally how it happened.

The conversation took a turn for the esoteric, with each man unpacking his encyclopedic knowledge of microorganisms: their habits, byproducts, and the best things to feed them to make sure they don’t die. My scientific vocabulary is not insubstantial, but I could feel my eyes glazing over. Let it suffice to say that Foothills appears to be in capable hands.

The next few hours: drinking, drinking, quesadillas, drinking, falling asleep on a couch upstairs, and being rudely awakened at 1:30am by a humorless staffer who was not happy to find us there.

“Sorry,” I said, serving up my most charming, most crooked rueful smile. “We were just waiting until it was time for everyone to get kicked out.”

“Well,” he replied, impervious, “I’m kicking you out.”

I hope his entirely unpaved bed was everything he so obviously longed for.

The line had formed some time while we were dozing, and had already begun to spill from the main street into the side parking lot. At 1:30 in the morning it was barely 30 degrees, and we were groggy and surly from our accidental nap. The line was capped by a group of gregarious young gentlemen who, undaunted by the nipple-pinching chill, were occasionally given to fits of whooping, cat-calling, or cheering at nothing in particular. For five agonizing minutes, they engaged with a trio of passing young ladies who were not suitably attired for the cold.

We decided to let the line grow a little before we pitched our tent.

Tetrising ourselves into the back seat of my car, we dozed fitfully until somewhere around 3 a.m. By then, the line had moved up such that the obnoxious brodudes were now around the front of the building. A few tents had sprung up, but most people had just brought collapsible beach chairs (with cup holders, obviously); some groups huddled around portable stoves, talking in low voices over mugs of steaming coffee or, yes, bottles of beer.

We hauled our asses out into the night, where it was now in the mid to upper 20s, and got our tent pitched as quickly as possible. We filled it with approximately 37″ of blanket and comforter. We zipped our sleeping bags together, crawled in with whatever we were wearing, and tried to get some sleep. Our prior talk of clandestine semi-public parking lot tent sex evaporated with our breath.

Dustin sleeps like a brick no matter where he is, but I had a little more trouble. We seemed to be bracketed between the only two groups of people really committed to talking and laughing all night long. I would drift off for a while, then be startled by a burst of laughter or the vibrations of a passing car’s subwoofer.

I used the latrine in the back. Twice. It was cold. Let’s not talk about it.

At around 5:30, I was awakened by the chill seeping in from the ground.

I crammed on a few more layers, then lay in the dark eavesdropping. My attempts to sleep were at last derailed by the sound and smell of our neighbors cooking sausage and hash browns and, by the sound of it, passing around bourbon and sherry. Their discussion revealed they were seasoned pros, having done this every year for who the hell knows how many years now. I could hear more voices now, too, and realized the line was again beginning to grow. I figured I’d better emerge and take some pictures.

Here’s what things looked like at about 6:45 in the morning:

Standing outside our tent, facing the back of the line.

Just around the front of the building. The blankets contain actual people.

Nearer the front of the line.



As 7 a.m. approached, I figured I’d better rouse Dustin from cryostasis. He wasn’t too happy about it. I was sympathetic, but unmoved. Like, come on, this wasn’t a picnic for anybody. Who the hell knew when our nipples would regain feeling?



Luckily, Lil’ Wil finally pulled his tiny, tiny weight.

Hey. Hey there. Wake up.

Maybe some gentle earhole diddling?


...but Dustin will try anything once.

…but Dustin will try anything once.

At a few minutes past 7, we were prompted to present our IDs to wristband-wielding Foothills staff members. Dustin and I were assigned the mid-70s, which must have meant that there were at least 200 people behind us; the line now stretched to the rear of the parking lot and back again, curving around so that we faced the end of it when we emerged from our nylon cave. We broke down the tent, unceremoniously crammed it and the rest of our shit into the back of my car, then took our place in line.

The line. Most of it. Not shown: a whole bunch of the rest of the line.

For a bunch of uncaffeinated people who slept—or didn’t—in a cold-ass parking lot for six or seven hours, the atmosphere was convivial, almost celebratory. A guy in front of us played dance music from a speaker foisted onto his shoulder 1980s style. Most of the talk was about how fucking cold it was and how stoked we all were to get back inside and buy some beer already. But there was no malice in it. We’d weathered a night of discomfort together, a motley drunken tribe, and soon we would be rewarded for our fealty. It had sucked. But the suckage was fundamental to our victory.

As promised, the doors opened just after 8 a.m. The line moved fast, and Dustin and I found seats in the same booth we’d dined in the night before. Waitstaff circulated with huge trays of sausage biscuits; our waitress pointed the way to the coffee table, and confirmed that we would, in fact, like some Sexual Chocolate with our breakfast. Soon, everyone in the place had a spread like this:

Beer: part of a complete breakfast.

Beer: part of a complete breakfast.

I have the gastrointestinal system of an 80-year-old man, but I stuffed enough biscuit, sausage, coffee, and beer down my gullet to cripple the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. For the next hour and a half, we ate, stretched, snuggled, awakened, and indulged in some marathon people-watching. The home brewers had their wares out again, and had gathered around a table to partake and discuss. At a table adjacent to ours, a group of half a dozen guys raised their glasses in a weary toast to perseverance. Slowly but surely, coats, sweatshirts, hats, and gloves took their places on benches and empty chairs. Seeing the crowd thaw out made me feel warmer, too.

Note how the hat-to-beard ratio is about 1:1.

Note how the hat-to-beard ratio is about 1:1.

Eventually, as promised, a voice from a loudspeaker began calling us up in groups of fifty. We thought. It was hard to tell over the noise of the room. We saw the 1-50 group line up, and heard instructions for the 50-100 group to queue up… somewhere?… in anticipation of being called. We paid our check, gathered our stuff, propped ourselves against a wall, and waited.

And waited. And waited. And waited.

We began to perceive that we had missed something.

My only real criticism of the event is the way the buying line was handled. Instructions were very difficult to hear, and when we wanted clarification, there didn’t seem to be anyone to ask. There were two different lines on two different sides of the restaurant, and it wasn’t obvious which one was for which purpose. There were no staff members directing traffic or even verifying wristband numbers to ensure no one was sneaking in prematurely—and if I’ve slept in a parking lot just to be cut off by some smarmy fratbro who swaggered in at 8:23 a.m., you bet your sweet saccharides that someone’s getting his grains mashed.

Questioning members of the line, we discovered that no one really seemed to know quite what was going on, and that the 50-100s had just sort of randomly merged in at some point. We jumped in at the end, still feeling vaguely abashed and confused, but at least we didn’t have to wait very long; the two women taking orders were brutally efficient. We paid for four beers, then made our way to the rear of the brewery, where we were to present our receipt and collect our hard-won prize.

Ray, who was working the brewsky package assembly line, was so excited to pose Lil Wil’ for pictures that, in one arm-jerking moment of enthusiasm, he nearly swept our beers AND our commemorative glass to the floor. I would have laughed, Ray. I would have laughed a lot.

That catastrophe averted, we gathered our goods, thanked Ray and his staff, and stepped through the back door into the mid-morning daylight. The temperature was arrowing towards the low 50s, and we stripped off our jackets as we walked to the car, grateful for the experience but eager to get our drive home underway.

When we arrived, we stood back and admired our take. I took some fancy pictures of it.

IMG_6057Then we slept until 2068.

Last Thursday, I got a phone call from Ray. “Hey,” he said, “what are you doing tomorrow night?”

Nothing, I said. Why?

“Do you want to be a judge for the first annual Miss Sexual Chocolate Beauty Pageant?”

“Sure,” I said. “What’s a Miss Sexual Chocolate Beauty Pageant?”

Ray explained.

“Oh,” I said, when he finished. “So this is an event for insane people.”

My year of things

So the other day I did that Facebook Year in Review thing. If you’re on Facebook, you can do it, too. Log in, go to your profile, and you’ll see this “See Your 2013 Year in Review” banner on the left-hand side. Click it.

Go on. I’ll wait.

…okay, that was A BIG SACK O’SMEGMA, am I right?

I don’t know what algorithm Facebook is using—probably some combination of likes, exclamation points used, and potential for personal embarrassment—but here’s what Big Brother Zuckerberg thinks were my top 20 moments. ACTUAL big moments are in bold.

  1. I discover my name on Amazon’s page for Dragonwriter. Like, I just see my name on the website. Months before the book actually comes out. I make a huge deal out of this for no discernible reason; it’s not like I didn’t already know I was being included.
  2. I enter a poetry contest. I do not win.
  3. I see the final cover for Dragonwriter, contributor Michael Whelan’s “Dragon Aboard.” Admittedly, it is pretty impressive.

     Admittedly, it is pretty fucking impressive.

    Draaaaagons iiiiiiin spaaaaaaaaace!

  4. My brother does a whirlwind tour of U.S. barbecue before moving to fucking Australia. He stops in Raleigh because our barbecue makes your barbecue’s butthole bleed. Also he stops in Raleigh because my sister and I live here. We eat approximately 146 pigs. Then he moves to fucking Australia.



  5. I suggest we all love each other and be nice to each other. Revolutionary.
  6. I am included in a company-wide picture with my coworkers, even though I am still just freelancing.
  7. I acquire a House Targaryen t-shirt. I take a selfie in it.
  8. My sister gets engaged to a guy who rules so hard you don’t even notice his disability, which is that he does math for a living.

     Do not trust this man. He thinks numbers are letters.

    Do not trust this man. He thinks letters are numbers.

  9. My parents celebrate their 42nd wedding anniversary. This is terrific and warms my heart but, aside from correlating to the ultimate answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, it’s not really red-letter per se.
  10. “Holy shit, I survived to 30.”
  11. I put on an ENORMOUS airbrushed t-shirt I bought in ~1996. Brian takes a picture.



  12. As a birthday present, Brian asks my multi-talented friend Em to crochet me a fucking adorable little dragon guy. I name him Clarence, after a dragon doodle I invented in 10th grade math class. I take a selfie with him.



  13. Dragonwriter hits the stands. I am a published writer. Panties and marriage proposals begin to amass on my doorstep.
  14. A cashier at Yankee Candle likes my tattoos. TOP. TWENTY. MOMENT.
  15. My friend and Fantasy Literature staff minion Hisham takes pictures of me at Dragon Con. Mostly just kind of sitting at tables and stuff.
  16. I watch my sister’s dog jump. My dad takes a picture.

     Olympic poingage.

    One for the history books.

  17. I get asked to do my dream job full-time. I have health insurance for the first time in two years.
  18. I go to a Halloween party as Daenerys Targaryen. A coworker goes as Walter White. He is in his underwear. Someone takes our picture.
  19. Video evidence that my new neighbors are noisy assholes.
  20. On the show’s 50th anniversary, Wil Wheaton is reminded I don’t watch Doctor Who. He refuses to speak to me for 24 hours.

     His heart is smaller on the inside.

    His heart is smaller on the inside.

Now, some of those, like my sister’s dog jumping and the Yankee Candle employee and the enormous t-shirt-wearing, are actually very important. In fact, this was a banner year for Charlotte’s nerdy t-shirt collection, which grew substantially. Like, I have this one of Felicia Day’s character from Supernatural, Charlie Bradbury, because I mean basically Felicia and/or Charlie are me (Wil, please tell Felicia, she keeps not coming to my sleepover parties and this hair isn’t going to braid itself), and also I got ANOTHER Supernatural shirt of Castiel as Totoro and like Sam and Dean are holding on to him and Dean is crying and—

…anyway, it was a good year for t-shirts and underwear-donning coworkers but other important things happened, too. Here is the correct order, given chronologically:

  1. I become the director for the new Fantasy Literature track at Dragon Con. I realize there are approximately 10,000 cromulent fantasy books I haven’t read, most of them by Robert Jordan. I am completely screwed.
  2. I attend an inaugural ball hosted by the Democratic Party of Virginia. I meet some Ukranian-American kids my own age and befriend them over a mutual love of tattoos and Gogol Bordello.
  3. My brother visits my sister and me. We lay waste to droves of pork. Then he moves to fucking Australia.
  4. I drop my cell phone on the floor by a public toilet and forget to clean it off before using it. 24 hours later, still uninsured, I am hospitalized. It is the first time in my adult life I actually shit myself.

    Applesauce in a juice box. Truly, we live in The Future.

  5. I get the advance check for Dragonwriter. I look at it for a few days because I’m sentimental, but then I deposit that shit because, I mean, seriously, I need the money, I have almost $2,000 in hospital bills to pay. I resolve that from now on, I’m shitting myself for free.
  6. I send my Canadian artist friend Micah on an important mission to Calgary Expo, where he is to instruct Misha Collins to return my brain to Dragon Con where he found it in 2011. Misha mostly just smirks at him. I become pregnant.


  7. I attend my first Moral Monday. The 1,000+ people in attendence are some of the happiest pissed-off people I’ve ever seen.
  8. My sister gets engaged. My biggest takeaway is that I am the only bridesmaid and I don’t even have to DO anything because she and I agree that bachelorette parties and bridal showers are kind of fucking awkward and we’d just sort of rather not, thank you.
  9. My friends Kelly and Matt marry each other at the Outer Banks; like ten of us crash in an amazeballs beach house for five days and do everything fun and good in the world.
  10. Neil Gaiman is very kind to me and signs my arm. I get it inked. Life makes sense.

  11. I complete 30 orbits of the Sun. In celebration, I steam an entire bushel of live blue crabs for my friends and family. At least five of them—the crabs, not my friends and family—spit on me. One of the little shitheads tries to take a fingertip into the double boiler.
  12. I don a pink corset to spend several hours glowering at Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly as they attempt to combine my vagina with a motorcycle in a very unpleasant way.
  13. Dragonwriter is released into the wild—and with it, my essay “The Twithead with the Dragon Tattoo.” I am officially a published writer.


  14. I join Team Hedone for the third annual GISHWHES. We are amazing. We play the Nerdist theme song on wine glasses, party in a dumpster, feed the homeless, die by chocolate, put a wolf in a shirt, wear helium pants, and hug a small country’s worth of people, among other things. A video of me in a leotard eating whipped cream from a bike blender comes into existence.

     What is it? It's GISHWHIP!

    Confusion? NO.

  15. I direct the first Fantasy Literature track at Dragon Con and nobody under my purview dies or is arrested or caught balls-deep in a slinky or something. Rebecca Watson and I run a standing-room-only panel about the women of Westeros. I meet Peter S. Beagle and Larry Niven and ask them questions in front of audiences. Lev Grossman thinks I’m a pretty unbad moderator. The weekend is only somewhat marred by my car getting broken into.

    Notice how my entire staff clusters at a safe distance from me.
    They know what’s what.

  16. Brian helps me make a heartfelt PSA for the Walk for Hope, whose cause is near and dear to me. With help from my friends, Team Epic Dragon raises over $2,100. My heart grows three sizes.

    The dragon is small, but that just makes its epicness more compact.

    The dragon is small, but that just makes its epicness more compact.

  17. Anne Wheaton, in an unprecedented and possibly illegal show of generosity, asks my friend Jessica and me to join her table during the Alexandria, Virginia tour stop of Wil Wheaton vs. Paul & Storm. The show is exceptional and I laugh for a solid four hours. Anne vandaleyes-es my “Make Good Art” tattoo. One of my tablemates is this guy and he’s MAYBE only 2% dickwad in real life. We all hang out in the Birchmere green room later. I see the horse mask in person. Wil’s ability to eat an entire drum of ice cream makes me nervous and a little aroused. Anne and I make a Vine to taunt our friends Jeff and Alyssa. I come down with a fever and become convinced that I have infected and killed the Wheatons.
  18. My friend Katie gets married to the love of her life in a super-sweet castle-type-place in the middle of a field in North Carolina, which seems like kind of an unlikely place for a castle, but no one really questions it. At the reception, I convince a bunch of drunk people to do the Gangnam Style horse dance across the top of a grand staircase. For close to three minutes, we are a sensation.
  19. Emerging from the clear blue sky astride a mighty winged stallion, Wil Wheaton follows me on Twitter. My colon throws its badge and gun on the desk and storms out.



  20. I get to do my dream job full-time, ending two years of dogged, insuranceless freelancing. My official, self-chosen title is “Mage.” I literally tackle my boss when he gives me the offer letter, which he immediately rescinds.

And it’s not over yet, people. There’s still time for this whole thing to be a complete wash.

Requiem for an empty locker.

This is not like it is in the movies, I think, absurdly, as Sara Mohamadeian tests whether I will fit inside my own locker. I don’t; I am skinny but not quite locker-skinny. I am saved by bony shoulders, bony elbows. My bony heel finds the place where her balls would be if she had any. I remember her stumbling body intersecting the disinterested passing crowd, the surprised look on her smooth olive-skinned face.

I am emerging from Tech Ed, squirreled away in a back hall where no one will give much thought to the omnipresent scents of scorched wood and acrylic. A small boy bolts by me, left to right, and as I look left I see his broad-shouldered pursuer closing the distance. My foot seems to find its own way into his path, and though he nearly takes me with him, it is so funny to watch him kiss the floor, potatoes tumbling free of the sack. “Thanks!” pipes the elfin boy, and is gone. The bully is faster on his feet than seems fair for a kid his size, but though I lead him by precious seconds, neither one of us is too swift for the wall of Mr. Paradise, whose unerring hands find our collars with frightening precision. Where the principal lets my would-be aggressor off with a warning, I am given three days’ in-school suspension. “You could have broken his neck when he fell.” No good deed goes unpunished.

Mrs. Covington is making each of us stand up and tell our geometry classmates our names and one thing we like and one thing we dislike. When it’s my turn, it never occurs to me to lie as I get to my feet and say (projecting, but not yelling, like my parents and theater teachers have always urged), “My name is Charlotte, and I like reading in the bath. I do not like boys.” For the rest of the year, I am branded a lesbian. A weird lesbian. A few months later, I discover I do like one boy. He is in my geometry class.

I don’t curse and I tell other people they shouldn’t, either. I correct others’ grammar. I’m just trying to be helpful. The bathroom walls let me know that I will not be thanked for my efforts.

I fake sick as much as possible. My mother’s policy is to refuse to keep us—me, my brother, and my young sister—home unless we are A) vomiting, B) running a fever over 100 degrees, and/or C) bleeding from a massive head wound. The school nurse, however, is more easily manipulated into giving me brief reprieves from pains imagined and real (the constant knot in my stomach is very real indeed, and I am often pallid or watery eyed). Soon the clinic bed is among my only reliable friends.

Not a single boy asks me on a date.

At a mandatory school dance, a cluster of girls takes pity on me, drawing me away from the wall. I stare at the orbits their broad hips circumscribe. “I can’t do that,” I confess.

Cue the encouraging chorus of Sure you can! Come on!

“No, I—I think I was born without some vertebrae or something.”


I demonstrate. My underdeveloped midsection can only rock side-to-side or back-and-forth, a fused unit without grace or autonomy. The others laugh, delighted, and I flush brightly enough to attract small moths. One girl sidles up and puts her manicured hands on my hips. “Loosen your spine. Like this.” Like… this? “Wow, okay. Maybe you really are stuck.” Maybe I really am.

The thing that most eludes me is the art of initiating conversation with another human. I plummet headlong into passionate soliloquys about some facet of natural history or meteorology or astronomy, and look up to find the sea of glazed eyes are now meeting one another with baffled, unsubtle mockery. This happens often enough that eventually I learn not to speak to my peers or, if possible, to anyone.

I bury myself in literature. I wonder how people get to be authors or actors or artists or politicians. I wonder how a person gets anyone else to listen at all.

Private school helps. Eye contact and attentive, patient smiles are more common there. I act in two school plays a year. I take voice lessons, for whatever those end up being worth. I join clubs and learn to manage more than two friends at a time. I come to crave the rush I feel when an audience approves of me; I begin to seek audiences whether or not there’s a stage.

The internet helps. The internet goddamn saves me. I use bulletin boards and roleplaying games as focus groups for facets of my personality. I practice being clever, until eventually I start to actually be clever. I am perfectly at home in this vast world without faces or status, where anonymity and intimacy are one and the same. From the earliest days of screeching modems, I am amazed to find that I am not alone, and I see how much we need each other.

I realize that everyone is scared as shitless as I am, and just like that, the world sheds its mystery.

One year at Dragon Con, I gather enough courage to approach Todd McCaffrey, Anne’s son, after a panel. I ask him to sign my badge, and as he obliges, I ask about whether there might ever be hope for a book of fan stories about Pern. He likes the idea but thinks the legal logistics would make it nearly impossible; he hands my badge back to me with a smile, and I walk away in a daze. Oh my god, I think, I just had a conversation with Todd McCaffrey. He writes actual books that actual people actually read.

Nearly ten years later, after Todd makes a good-natured quip at my expense during a panel, I scoop sand from our painted wooden “firelizard clutch” in a casual pass behind the panelists’ table. In moments, applause and hoots of laughter follow me from the room as Todd sits in a comical stupor, sand falling free of his head and clothes, calling “Thank you, Charlotte!” at my corseted back. In Dragonwriter he’ll describe me as “a force of nature,” and gawking at the words I’ll wonder if there’s sand in my hair.

In the last two years, I have thought often of the day I was pushed into my locker. I thought about it when a video I wrote hit 100,000 views, the Huffington Post, and Dan Savage’s Twitter feed.  I thought about it when I got on stage in front of hundreds of people—twice—to explain why nerdgirls are awesome and writers are (lovable) assholes. I thought about it when I marched against Amendment One. I thought about it when the advance check came for my first published piece of writing. I think about it every time any artist I admire pays me a compliment or, miracle of miracles, becomes an unlikely new friend. Most recently, I thought about it when I inked my name into the offer letter promising me my dream job.

Every time. Bang. Bang. Bang. I look back on it now and think, When did I pop the fuck out of that locker? I am still me, I have always been me. Who is this woman with the firm handshake, with laugh lines beginning to show? How did she possibly grow up without noticing? Is she worthy of these people? Did this shit really just happen?

My 17-year-old cousin, a talented artist and member of her homecoming court, the kind of windows-down, speakers-up girl my inner 14-year-old still regards with awe, recently tweeted, “I wonder if freshmen look at me like I looked at seniors when I was a freshman. I thought they all looked so old. But I don’t feel like I do.”

It’s rare to glimpse an opportunity for wisdom and know that moment for what it is. It’s rare to know exactly what to say. My fingers wasted no time finding the keyboard:

“You should probably get comfortable with that feeling.”

In which I am a pain in the ass about mental illness, which is a pain in the ass

I was in the emergency room and a man was fingering my asshole while my boyfriend watched.

“Does that hurt?” the man asked. It didn’t. He’d used plenty of lubrication. But at 1 a.m. on a work night, I was beginning to reconsider this particular life choice.

I was here because, halfway through a date night at the movies, I’d gone to take a dump and discovered, upon mopping up, a smear of crimson where there ought to be none. And it was not my womanparts throwing a reality-show-level hissy fit because, once again, I’d refused to give them a baby.

My then-boyfriend, who had patiently endured dozens of small-trigger meltdowns and who had no doubt assumed he’d seen them all, poor bastard, tried not to look stricken when I slid back into my seat and hissed something vague about my bloody butthole. He attempted, calmly at first and then with an edge of desperation, to assure me that this was probably nothing and could we please just finish the movie?

But I’d already gone full Hertzfeldt. My anus is bleeding! I knew that if we did not get to a hospital right away, my rectum would prolapse and all of my organs would fall out and damn it, I was not going to subject my parents to answering those questions at the world’s most awkward funeral reception.


The dedicated, begloved individuals at Rex Hospital were unable to reproduce the results of my butt’s experiment. “Probably just a burst blood vessel,” they assured me, handing me a bill for a number that is typically measured in degrees Kelvin. “Nothing to worry about.”

I have a panic disorder. Everything is something to worry about, including nothing at all. I wasn’t subjecting myself to the embarrassment and expense of an examination because there was something wrong with my plumbing. I was there because there was something wrong with my wiring.

I had my first panic attack (that I remember, in any case) at 12 years old, at my own slumber party, once everyone was already asleep. I lay in my sleeping bag on my own living room floor, surrounded by friends and people I really really really wanted to be my friends or at least not make quite so much fun of me anymore, trembling and tooth-chattering as if I was either freezing or febrile. I was neither. My mother suspected I might be dehydrated, so we pumped me full of water, and that seemed to solve the problem.

So, for the next ten years, I would drink a shit-ton of water every time I had an episode. Sometimes it would work, but more and more often, it wouldn’t. It would be years before anyone realized water was just a placebo.

Throughout my teens, I saw a number of therapists and was prescribed pills for suspected maladies ranging from ADHD to depression: Ritalin, Wellbutrin, Adderall, Prozac, you name it. Some worked better than others, but if one problem was solved, another took its place. Mostly, I think, this is because my well-meaning doctors were attempting to medicate me for being an intelligent teenager, which is a disease you live with, not one you die from. Usually. But maybe they played a role in suppressing my anxiety; I honestly don’t know. In any case, eventually I refused to swallow one more fucking pill.*

There came a day, somewhere in my mid-20s, that I approached the end of my 12-mile commute to my dead-end job and realized I didn’t remember any of it, which is when I frantically veered into a Wendy’s parking lot to call my mother and ask her whether she thought I might be dying. I drank a lot of water that day.

Cue two or three years of hypochondria, insomnia, nightmares, paresthesia, on-the-job hysterics, and roadside 911 calls that I would cancel after two shameful minutes with the baffled but gentle dispatcher. Ulcers and Helicobacter pylori were ruled out as the sources of my ongoing stomach pain, but only after painful courses of antibiotics and a $2,000 endoscopy performed by a very cute Indian doctor to whom I may or may not have expressed some anaesthesia-induced admiration. The worst was the constant depersonalization: the fog I lived in, the feeling that my body did not belong to me, that all of my actions were being performed by someone else as I remained trapped inside, rooted down, unable to act or come fully awake. My life was ruled by a cycle of fog, fear, panic, and exhaustion.

My family’s lineage is full of this garbage. Anxiety, depression, and alcoholism are our favorite flavors, with the spicy notes of agoraphobia, claustrophobia, ADHD, and anger management sprinkled on for funsies. We’ve all been medicated and/or headshrunk for something. Mental illness isn’t one of those things that rears its head and controls every waking moment of my life; I’m grateful that no one in my family suffers from anything as severe as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or DID. But it’s always there, the white noise fizzle of television snow.

And ALL of that is to explain why I do the Walk for Hope, a Raleigh-based charitable organization that raised millions of dollars for the research and treatment of mental illness.

The 10K walk happens this coming Sunday, October 13. It would mean a lot to me, dear reader, if you might be convinced to donate a few bucks to Team Epic Dragon—even ten, even five, even one—and then tell everyone you know to do the same. My boyfriend and I made a simple, short, but heartfelt video PSA you can share:

Your mom will probably love it. Moms fucking love PSAs.

My meltdowns are largely under control these days, thanks to a long-haired, big-smiled, barefooted therapist named Elaine who helped me understand that panic attacks are scary and uncomfortable, but not dangerous; that fighting them only acknowledges and exacerbates them; that when they happen I should go to a quiet place and just wait for them to blow over.

Now they mostly just happen when I’m about to get on an airplane, or when it’s a week off Dragon Con and I’m just not fucking ready and I am 150% convinced that everybody hates me and will laugh me out of Atlanta forever, or when I’m stuck in a hot car for five hours to see a favorite author and I forgot to do things like eat. They don’t happen because I did something stupid like wake up in the morning, or because I have a headache I can’t explain.

There are so many people who have it way worse than I ever did. 1 in 4 Americans suffers from (or, if you prefer, lives with) some kind of mental disorder. It’s ridiculous. We ALL know someone who’s been affected, even if they’ve mastered the art of keeping it to themselves. I would be grateful for any and all forms of help—even just a share or a shout-out or a like.


tl;dr: I live with anxiety that once got so bad I thought my butt was going to fall out and that is why I would really like you to support the Walk for Hope.


* I am not one of those homeopathic hippie headcases who eschews all forms of mass-produced chemical assistance. The right combination of therapy and medication can be essential to managing mental illness. But I don’t think I was ever prescribed the right medication, and I got sick of the way drugs were making me feel (or not feel).

To the drug addict who broke into my car at Dragon Con

You don’t know me. And you will never see this. I don’t know if you can see this. I don’t know if you can even read very well; close to a million of your fellows can’t.

My boyfriend and I stepped around a used needle on our way to the Hyatt the other day. Old needle, empty. We passed the stone doorways made into ragged nests. The old man staring through his cataracts. The latticework gates encasing the liquor stores.

I thought of this as I tried to piece together my broken window. I wondered which one you were. What the drug was that you needed so much, to ignore the CDs and the iPhone charger and the official documents and even the warm blankets in the back seat, favoring instead a fast rummage through the broken armrest, your rapid hands clutching at fistfuls of sticky pennies and dimes. I think there were some video game tokens in there. You won’t be able to use those. I’m sorry.

I was calm on the phone with Brian, checking out of the W just across the street, waiting for me to come back with the car so we could load the things we had bought, the things I had labored to make. I was calm with the 911 dispatcher. Calm as I carefully gathered the green safety glass into bags with the strewn receipts, orphaned pen caps, a tampon or two.

It must have been half an hour in the wet Atlanta heat that finally broke me. Or five days without more than four hours’ sleep in any one night. Nearly 400 miles of travel. Months of planning. A chaotic weekend in which I was glad to exchange my own freedom for the fun and fulfillment of others who had traveled further still. Maybe it was the residual exhaustion from the night before, when I wept for an empty city suddenly bereft of magic. I think it was when I realized I wouldn’t make it to my old college town in time to hand a favorite professor a copy of the first book I’ve been published in. I wanted to see his face. I wanted to have that moment.

Whatever it was, I eventually broke down. “I’m sorry,” I said to the police officer. “I’m crying all over your car.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “Don’t cry.” I cried harder.

Did you wonder why there were no quarters in the armrest? I’d given them to a beggar outside Goodwill the week before. I wondered whether that would make a difference to you. Whether you would care about the charities I give to every year. The clothes and goods I donate. The thousands of dollars I’ve raised to fight mental illness. Probably not. Maybe you’re right. Some privileged white girl gives her shit away so she can buy better shit? Fuck her. She can spare a few pennies from the car her daddy bought her for college.

I want you to know I’m not angry. I would have been if you’d broken all the windows, if you’d slashed my tires, if you’d written BITCH or CUNT across the doors. But you weren’t some vindictive teenager acting out of malice. What you did was abhorrent. You destroyed my property, you violated my space, you cost me hundreds of dollars, you upset the balance of my emotional well-being. But you did it for a handful of change.

You did it for a handful of change.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? You are so consumed by your addiction that you cannot even conceive of the effect your actions have on another person. It’s not that you don’t want to care. You literally can’t care. You don’t have object permanence. If you don’t see me, I’m not there. How can I blame you when the rest of us live the same way?

I thought about what it would take to make me so desperate, I’d give up basic human empathy—how dire my circumstances would have to be for me to pick up a chunk of concrete and smash it through a window. You’re not some alien creature, some inconceivable animal. We belong to the same species. You and I were born naked and unknowing, eager to touch and absorb and expand. What happened to you could happen to me. That is the heart of the horror. What would it take to turn me into you?

I thought about it. And then I tried not to think about it anymore.

I would have given you the money, if you had asked.


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