A year ago. 6/7.

Friday.

He’s invited me to a heathenistic, nondenominational solstice party with friends, but has also presented some harmless convenience store larceny as a tongue-in-cheek alternative. Basically, he’s up for whatever, and so am I. I spend at least two hours getting ready, curling my hair and cramming myself into my brand-new pair of tailored jeans, lip syncing to a motivational soundtrack headlined by Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”

At the last minute, we decide to eschew the party and meet up for drinks in Durham, more or less halfway between our houses. The place isn’t far from where I did a contract stint at Blue Cross earlier in the year, but it’s off an access road I can’t for the life of me find actual access to. I’m about five minutes late when I finally pull into the gravel parking lot in front of the bar, frazzled and abashed and fully aware that I am not off to a great start. His truck is nowhere in sight. Am I in the wrong place?

I’m perched on a curb, frantically texting him for answers, when I hear footfall. As I turn, he steps from the shadowed side lot into a wan amber column of street light, his stride easy and confident, his hands in his pockets. He is smiling beautifully, mocking me.

The moment takes me by the shoulders and rattles me where I stand. A year later, ten years later, I couldn’t hope to tell you why.

***

This place is a weirdly charming little warren—a small bar and then, out a back door and down a flight of stairs, through a bamboo-lined path, a conglomeration of wood-paneled rooms full of hodge-podge furniture. We nurse a couple of Duck Rabbit Milk Stouts as we search for a modicum of privacy, settling at last on a wobbly two-person table adjacent to some sort of bridal shower.

(“I think they’re a bunch of nurses,” Dustin later confides. “And all they’ve been talking about is weed—no, don’t look.“)

We talk for two hours, a natural continuation of the previous night’s whiplash syllabus. It’s a little forced at first, as one might expect—general pleasantries and the standard questions about work and so forth. But, maybe with a little help from the Milk Stouts, it doesn’t take long to lighten the fuck up. Conversation flows. He is well-read but not pretentious, witty but not condescending. He is curious about the world.

And funny as shit.

And damn good-looking.

The beer is good, but this place doesn’t have any food. I feel free to chow down on the granola bar I had the unusual presence of mind to put in my purse, and Dustin feels free to tease me about it. But after hours of talking and nothing in my stomach but a few brews, I’m legit hungry and options are limited.

Following Google Map’s somewhat dubious directions, we hoof it across the street to a strip mall Chinese place. I order General Tso’s chicken and ask Dustin if he’d like anything; he politely declines. It’s late, and the restaurant is closing soon, so we take my food out to the parking lot and perch on a cinderblock retaining wall. Conversation flows out of us, even as the restaurant lights cascade, one by one, into darkness, and the proprietors pitch the garbage, and lock the door, and drive away.

Around 11 o’clock, perilously full of beer and passable Chinese food, I close up my take-out foam clamshell and lean back on the grassy bank. “So like, I know it’s late,” I venture, “and you have the dog and stuff.”

“Yeah,” he says, pretending not to know where this is going. “Gotta get back to him pretty soon.”

“But I’m, you know, I’m really enjoying this. I’m not really ready to call it a night.”

He peers at me sideways, smiling indulgently. “What would you like to do?”

HEY. HEART. KEEP IT DOWN IN THERE. “Well,” I say, idly scratching doodles into the box lid, “is your place very far?”

***

I follow his beloved ’91 F-150 down dark roads, and then darker roads, skirting Chapel Hill, plunging us into some ante-Carrbororan semi-wilderness. My sense of recklessness ricochets off every surface; my nervous yammering yo-yos between incredulity and self-affirmation. I inflect “What am I DOING?” six different ways. I text my sister the address of my destination. “OMG,” she texts back, “I looked it up on trulia and it’s just darkness.”

Cheerfully, I tell Siri to tell Fletcher to avenge me in death.

Finally, a gravel driveway ends at the foot of a rustic split-level, ensconced in friendly, deciduous sprawl. I hop out of my car, breath misting.

“I’ve seen this movie,” I quip. “This ends in axe murder.”

Obviously,” he rejoins, rattling his keys in the front door. “But first, you get to meet the Brutus.”

Brutus, with or without the definite article, greets us just inside the door, a solid wall of affable. Though I have no fear of pit bulls, and have received every assurance of Brutus’ abiding pacifism, I am taken aback by his dramatic brindled coloration, his sheer density. I find myself hesitating to pet him.

“Is he…”

“He loves everyone. You’re fine. Seriously.”

As if to make the point, Brutus drives his formidable snout into my knees, whuffing and snorting enthusiastically, tail whipping into the walls. If not for the closed door behind me, I’d go sprawling. I am smitten, and feel as though I have passed an important first test.

Before me are two sets of stairs, one descending and one ascending. Dustin has already disappeared downstairs, and as I follow he calls from the kitchen, “Can I get you a drink? I usually have beer, but right now all I have is wine.”

“Wine is great.” Brutus trots after me, gamely accepting these odd new circumstances. Dustin emerges from the kitchen with two glasses of red. “This place is great,” I say, truthfully. “Give me the tour.”

“Okay. Though… I probably shouldn’t show you my skulls.”

I stare at him. “Uh, you completely should show me your skulls. Have you met me?”

I follow him up the front landing, and then up the second flight of stairs, to a small brown study full of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. I make a show of perusing his books, hmmming and nodding approvingly for each one I also own. There are many of those, but also many I don’t, covering areas of interest in which I am woefully deficient. Ancient Egypt, biochemistry, foraging, botany, fungus. Tons of books on fungus. “I love fungi,” he gushes, pronouncing a soft “g.” “I’ve got a whole photo album of pictures I’ve taken of all kinds of mushrooms.” Here he seems embarrassed, an emotion I can tell he doesn’t wear often. “I won’t bore you with that.”

“Stop apologizing for awesome shit. I totally want to see your mushroom pictures. But first, skulls.”

One shelf has been set aside for a row of toothy animal skulls—mostly found in the woods, he says, though he’s been given a few. A cat, a raccoon, a fox, a dog, a peccary, a deer. A few others. I ask about where and how he found them, and we speculate about how they died, and look at pictures of wild mushrooms, and recommend books, and our glasses contain less and less wine.

Eventually, we drift back downstairs. The living room is edged by floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, with one side opening onto the deck Dustin is about 90% finished building. A fireplace, a proper wood fireplace, is built into the wall adjacent to the stairs; I envy it as I drop onto a well-worn corduroy couch. Dustin takes a seat next to me, at a respectful distance, and after a few minutes our companionable banter trails off into loaded silence.

“So,” I say, lamely, “what do you want to do?”

“Well, we could watch a movie or something. Or”—and he looks me straight in the eye—”I could pounce on you like a puma.”

I could pounce on you like a puma.

I could pounce. On you. Like a puma.

A. PUMA.

WHO EVEN SAYS “PUMA.”

For the barest instant, I am stunned. Everything was going so well. This can’t be right. He can’t be this incompetent. What the hell do I do?

And yet, it’s a line delivered so effortlessly, so shamelessly, with so little regard for its undeniable terribleness, that somewhere behind my shock I register that he is deliberately attempting to awful me into bed.

That’s some next-level shit right there.

I admire his strategy, his pure fucking gumption. Despite myself, I burst out laughing, and am rewarded to see his fabricated earnestness resolve into a classic shit-eating grin.

I return it, and set my empty wine glass on the table.

A year ago. 5/7.

Thursday.

I disabled OKC’s chat function not long after joining. For years, one of my biggest peeves has been people sending me “hey” or “hi” or “sup” with nothing of substance to follow—they initiate a conversation, but then expect me to carry it. Bad enough when it’s someone you know and love, but immeasurably worse when I also have to navigate some horny stranger’s subtext. My inbox is already packed to the brim with ovary-shriveling a-romantic desiccant. Let’s not add 27 consecutive minutes of phatic banality to this godforsaken ritual.

But at 7:30 p.m., MTB_Dustin is online. Jessica and her sugar gliders have long since departed for the Palmetto State, so it’s just me and the couch and all the hours standing between me and Friday. We’ve exchanged a couple messages about Invader Zim and Jhonen Vasquez and if that’s not a sign to lower my guard, then what is.

(7:30:11pmCavatica83: I am temporarily lowering my IM filter rating thingie.

(7:30:35pmCavatica83: Trying to keep out the riff-raff. You understand.

(7:48:53pm) MTB_Dustin: Was afk. She’s lowered her shields! Hit her with spam messages!

The conversation yo-yos between Nickelodeon and our professional lives and where we’re from.

(8:05:29pm) MTB_Dustin: Born in Utah. OhbythewayI’mamormon.

(8:05:39pm) MTB_Dustin: Just kidding. No crazy here.

(8:05:41pmCavatica83: You are not!

(8:06:19pm) MTB_Dustin: No, but I’d love to see The Book of Mormon.

(8:06:26pmCavatica83: Well, yes.

(8:06:36pmCavatica83: And throw things at Orson Scott Card’s house.

(8:06:42pm) MTB_Dustin: Can we!?

(8:06:46pmCavatica83: WE SURE CAN!

(8:06:49pmCavatica83: He lives in Greensboro!

(8:06:56pm) MTB_Dustin: Perfect date!

This is the first time anyone’s dropped the d-word, even as a joke. My heart notices and I’m like, hey. Settle down in there. BE COOL.

The conversation wanders comfortably, in a bantering rhythm we both implicitly understand. There are some bizarre commonalities, too. My birthday is July 3; his is July 4, which makes him “a megapatriot.”

(8:17:42pmCavatica83: DUDE. BEST BIRTHDAY. Fireworks and shit, amirite?

(8:17:51pm) MTB_Dustin: Exacto.

(8:18:10pmCavatica83: The world makes sense again.

(8:18:28pm) MTB_Dustin: Every birthday. Adults get drunk and give you small explosive devices. What?

(8:18:41pmCavatica83: Truly, a magical time.

And it’s not long after this revelation that I, in a graceful segue, get us down to brass tacks.

(8:23:19pmCavatica83: Okay, so, confession time: I honestly have no idea what the fuck I am doing with this website. I ended a long-term relationship just under a month ago and now I’m here for…? A sociological experiment? Science. Basically I’m here for science.

(8:23:28pmCavatica83: FOR SCIENCE.

(8:23:47pm) MTB_Dustin: Hey me too! Eh, and science…

(8:23:53pmCavatica83: THAT said, there is this dude trying to get me to go to a thing on Friday and ehhhh.

(8:24:14pm) MTB_Dustin: How about a party?

(8:24:20pm) MTB_Dustin: I have one of those.

(8:24:21pmCavatica83: …what SORT of party?

(8:24:38pm) MTB_Dustin: A {ahem} Solstice party.

(8:24:42pmCavatica83: PAGAN.

(8:24:45pm) MTB_Dustin: Should be…rockin.

(8:24:54pmCavatica83: Describe the nature of this party.

(8:25:36pm) MTB_Dustin: A friend and his lady are hosting it. There will be homebrew cider, homebrew beer….probably homebrew meade… and a bunch of shoe-staring nerds. Probably.

(8:25:59pmCavatica83: Is there any part of this party where I get roofied?

(8:26:17pm) MTB_Dustin: If that didn’t catch you hook line and sinker, I don’t know what will!!

(8:26:52pm) MTB_Dustin: There may be some homebrew roofies. ROOFIES!

(8:26:56pmCavatica83: NO.

(8:27:10pm) MTB_Dustin: Only if you’re bringing them.

(8:27:22pmCavatica83: Everyone always makes ME bring the roofies.

Roofies or no roofies, it’s a date. I struggle to recall if I’ve ever been on a date with someone I wasn’t already dating.

He doesn’t like to be called Dusty; I propose Kansas, for “Dust In the Wind.” Social media details are exchanged, and subsequent photo stalking and commentary. We agree about cats (they suck) and tiny dogs (also suck). He has seven chickens. I have full-color photos of my innards, gamely autographed by Rebecca Skloot, which takes us back to his work, and HeLa cells. Insectia, sci-fi, books, books, books, bourbon, Dragon Con, we can’t get it all out fast enough. How did this happen? Didn’t I just come here to get laid? To wade into the stink of desperation with a perfumed handkerchief held to my upturned nose?

Finally, at 10 p.m., he’s ready to hit the hay, because he’s an 80-year-old man. We agree to meet around 8ish tomorrow, with the understanding that I will probably be late because I’m usually late to things.

(10:02:33pmCavatica83: I’m going to be reaaaally pissed if I get murdered.

(10:02:41pm) MTB_Dustin: If it’s terrible we can go gorge on wafflehouse and rob a convenience store.

(10:02:46pmCavatica83: THERE we go.

(10:03:03pmCavatica83: Okay. Go. Sleep. Dog cuddle.

(10:03:15pm) MTB_Dustin: Yop. Have a great night.

(10:03:28pmCavatica83: You too.

(10:03:30pm) MTB_Dustin: Had fun talking with you.

(10:03:39pmCavatica83: Yeah. Winning all around.

(10:03:42pmCavatica83: Strong start.

(10:04:01pm) MTB_Dustin: G’night

(10:04:04pmCavatica83: G’night.

I stare at the screen for a long moment after, struggling to master my giddiness. Don’t get your hopes up, Moore. There’s still every reason to believe this will be a disaster.

But my own words seem to know better.

Strong start.

To what?

A year ago. 4/7.

Wednesday.

I’ve started wearing a necklace my parents gave me for my 30th birthday, months before—a small, simple round diamond in a small, simple round gold setting. I’m not religious or even superstitious, but treating it as a benevolent, protective charm seems sufficient to make it so. Like, hey. A little autopsychosomatic trickery never hurt anyone.

My high school BFF Jessica is overnighting on her way to South Carolina. She’s got her two sugar gliders with her, and because sugar gliders are among the cutest creatures ever devised by nature, I am easily persuaded to let her pitch a tent—an actual tent, which she finds is a portable yet spacious way to give her darlings real estate on the road—in my tiny guest room/craft room. We have enough time to get them situated before climbing into my decrepit-yet-loyal Focus for a midweek, hour-long jaunt to Greensboro; the Mythbusters are doing their live show there. I’ve seen it once before, in Raleigh, but Jess never has, and she’s pretty amped for some live-action, family-friendly pop science pyrotechnics.

I don’t see Jessica very often, since we graduated military school a thousand years ago. Adults are poorly equipped to fend off the crippling pathogens of schedule and responsibility, and we are no different—but we’re lucky in that each meeting feels like a continuation of the last. No matter how long it’s been since we’ve actually seen or even spoken to one another, it always feels like the last time was yesterday.

So I tell her everything. About my recent breakup, barely a month old, still cooling on the windowsill; about the ill-advised streetside shenanigans; about OkCupid, and this one guy who seems pretty cool. In the car, I pass her my phone and let her scroll through the app, and my inbox. Our gleeful ridicule buffs the edges off my disposition.

Dustin and I have been corresponding throughout the day; I brought myself to write to him in the middle of the afternoon. Still book talk, mostly. He makes soap for funsies. My brain goes straight to Fight Club and I say so.

At 6:50 p.m., he writes:

That’s it! A competitive boring-off!

I knit chainmail and enjoy board games. I don’t think I have an alter ego spawned by insomnia. If I do he’d better be half as awesome as Tyler and have at least a quarter of the looks.

As I’m sitting in a packed Greensboro auditorium, it’s intermission before I get a minute and the wherewithal to reply:

I cosplay, and enjoy board games as well!

I’m no Marla Singer, thank fuck.

I barely know what that last part means, and I’m not completely sure it’s true.

When Jessica and I, thoroughly enscienced, get home, we sit in the tent and talk and make baby voices at the sugar gliders, and for a blessed few hours my life regains the familiar, rightful dimensions of a Virginia high school dorm room.

A year ago. 3/7.

Tuesday.

I spend most of the day refreshing OKC, in my browser and on my phone, and while I have a few potentially promising leads, Dustin’s gone silent.

In the evening, everyone at my company gets their Christmas present—a tailored pair of hand-made jeans from a reputable local shop. We tour the factory, an enormous workroom filled with stolid, motley machinery from older, more reliable decades. I resist the urge to run my fingers over the meticulously cataloged patterns, measured and cut and organized, we are told, by an exacting octogenarian who once designed for Levi’s.

I use a portion of my Christmas bonus to buy a woven artisanal necklace for my dear friend Sarah Cadence. A member of the staff wraps it carefully and lovingly and puts it in a brown paper bag.

But for all my efforts, I find myself dogged by Sunday, and fighting a rising swell of despair for which I can hardly account. As soon as is socially permissible, I make my goodbyes and slip out into the stark December night. There was beer at the event, and I’m a little buzzed, a little damaged. The walk back to the office, where I’m parked, where I left my stuff, lasts too long. When I arrive, I find three of my coworkers, all women, have beaten me to it—they’re back at their desks, but too engrossed in tying up the day’s loose ends to notice me as I gather my things and leave.

In my car, I make it a block before I realize something inside me is badly, badly wrong.

Automatically, autonomically, my brain steers me back to my freshly vacated streetside parking spot, and then through the office door, and then to the back of the building, towards the bathroom. My half-formed plan is to hide in a stall, but the way is blocked by two of my coworkers; their faces tell me everything I need to know about mine.

Someone says, “Are you okay?” and I unravel.

Neither woman asks for an explanation, but offer instead their arms and shoulders and silence, which I fill with gutted, humiliated sobs.

Someday, I will try to explain to them the immensity of their goodness.

When I get home, there’s a message from Dustin—polite, interested questions about Neil Gaiman and reading and Raleigh, but I’m too exhausted to answer.

A year ago. 2/7.

Monday.

Less than 24 hours in. Mixed results, which I can sum up in 15 seconds of wobbly song and a series of swings and misses:


From trying too hard…

 


…to not trying at all.


Bro have you even seen my eyebrows, they’re a disaster.

But one message, from MTB_Dustin, seems promising.

It’s short, confident but polite, and demonstrates an overlap in our interests.

Click.

Oh. He’s cute. Clean-cut, trim, an inch taller and two years older than me, if his vitals are to be believed. It’s hard to tell, but I think he has blue eyes.

He does science of some sort. Same music, and—critically—same books. Lots of overlap on our answers, like, oooh, he knows the Sun is bigger than the Earth, for Pete’s sake. Set that bar high, OKC. Set it on the Moon.

In one photo, he sports a host of facial appliances—ear gauges, labret and septum piercings. In another, he stands in front of a short hill, a backpack hefted over his plaid-flanneled shoulders.

Still another captures the spacious quarters of an aging truck, a blur of green filling the view from the driver’s side window. In the middle ground, he looks straight ahead, at the road. In the foreground, a stocky brindled pit bull lays his chin on the back of the bench seat, sampling the wind through the small rear window. Their companionableness is palpable and appealing.

The OKC algorithm matches us up somewhere in the mid-70th percentile. Not great. But I’ll take my chances.

I return to my inbox and pull up the thread.

Deep breath. Be cool, Moore. Be cool.

Ahem.

“Oh. Why, hello, Dustin. I’m Charlotte.”

A year ago. 1/7.

Sunday.

I’ve been waiting by the phone for two days. Yesterday was detox day, spent in bed with ginger ale and crackers, alternately reliving and doubting Friday night’s grossly intoxicated PG-13 misadventure against a storefront on Hargett St.

I’ve never had a guy not call. I thought that only happens (or doesn’t happen) in flimsy movies written by and for cartoons. But I’m not thinking about it. I am consumed by not thinking about it.

I run out and buy a bunch of books I’ve been meaning to read, and then don’t read them. I don’t have the attention span. I’m too busy not thinking about Friday night and my gallingly silent cell phone.

…which does ring, finally, late, and on the other end he sounds threadbare and abashed. I’m thrown. Why is he sorry? We’re both adults, and that was very hot. I try every persuasive tactic I know: logos, pathos, humor, reassurance, deflection, self-deprecation, charm, emotional brute force. He’s not having it. He’s not interested, not in that way. What can I do? Consent is a 1 or a 0.

So I relent as gracefully as I can and hang up, knuckling away embarrassed tears. I stare at the quiet phone’s blank face.

Fuck you. Fuck this.

Somewhere around midnight, I crawl back into bed with my laptop and, after a moment’s guilty hesitation, point my browser to OkCupid.

“I’m not an executive, just a writer.”

Kids get into fights about their dads. “My dad could beat up your dad!” “My dad’s smarter than your dad!” “Oh yeah, well, MY dad says…”

Kids are dumb. And wrong. Because the combined dadness of all their dads could not out-dad my dad’s very daddish dadness.

My dad was flying planes before most kids learn how to drive a car. He plays the guitar and the drums. He sings. He draws and paints. He can ride horses. He’s photographed presidents, senators, royalty, rock stars, actors. His articles have appeared in nearly every major U.S. publication worth its salt. He wrote a biology textbook. He’s worked in government as a civilian and as a presidential political appointee. He’s dined at the White House. For several years, he co-owned his own speechwriting firm, run in tandem with his daily job as an executive speechwriter to three successive secretaries of Veterans Affairs. He’s “retired,” but he still narrates books from his at-home podcasting studio, records the Washington Post for the blind, occasionally writes for The Huffington Post, and takes beautiful photos of birds, barns, bees, blossoms. He recently traveled to London to photograph the Invictus Games. He cooks. He knows the names of the stars. He reads a book a day, in any genre—his favorites, I think, are history and science. He is relentless.

He never even finished college. He just busted ass.

He makes me tired.

In the nonexistent but inevitable book I will someday write, no-really-I-swear, there is a chapter or two or five about my dad. For now, let it suffice to say that he is extraordinary, and I am proud of every photo, every column, every sketch, every dumb comic about moose, every piece of poetry he has ever composed. My dad, more than any other individual in my life, taught me to be curious and passionate and pliant and eager and fair.

2001, military school. In which we have a proud-off.


#FlashbackFriday to 2001, military school. In which we have a proud-off.

And also, to avoid adverbs. Sentence fragments, not as much.

Occasionally, on Twitter—which I joined because Dad joined and I didn’t want to be less cool than he is—and elsewhere, I’ve mentioned my dad’s grandfather, a man named Charles Brackett. I’m actually named for him; my full name is Charlotte Elizabeth Brackett Moore. (His youngest daughter, my grandmother, was named Elizabeth Fletcher Brackett. So my sister and I are both named for her, too.)

Mom. Dad. I know you meant well but THIS DOESN’T FIT ON FORMS.

You probably know Charlie’s work even if you don’t know his name—he won four Oscars, and one of them was for co-writing a small, cult indie film no one’s ever heard of called Sunset Blvd.

Two others were for writing The Lost Weekend and the 1953 film Titanic; the last was an Honorary Award in 1959 for outstanding service to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences*, for whom he served as president from 1949-1955.

Charlie’s hetero lifemate and frenemy was Billy Wilder, with whom he wrote and/or produced most of his films. As the more boisterous, mercurial, and provocative of the pair, Billy got the lion’s share of credit for their work. Everyone knows who Billy Wilder is. The mark of a real film nerd is someone who knows he was only the dynamic half of the Brackettandwilder duo.

For many reasons, Dad didn’t get to spend a lot of time with his grandfather, but he loved and admired him. Even from a distance, I think Charlie inspired and shaped him as profoundly as Dad shaped me.

Over the last few years, Dad’s been working with an archivist/editor/movie nerd named Anthony Slide, in an effort to collect, decipher, and contextualize Charles Brackett’s extensive and meticulous diaries. The fruit of their labor is called “It’s the Pictures That Got Small”: Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood’s Golden Age. Tony is the official editor, but Dad contributed a wonderful and thoughtful forward.


Billy Wilder’s face = accurate representation of the writing process.

(My mother, apparently, also had a hand in deciphering Charlie’s often unintelligible scrawl. I don’t know how she achieved this because her vision is crap and she always uses $10 drugstore glasses, Mom seriously suck it up and see an ophthalmologist I am not kidding I know you are reading this somehow even though your eyes are godawful.)

When the ‘rents were visiting Raleigh for Thanksgiving, I asked Dad how he was feeling about the upcoming book release, and how well he thought it would do. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said, thumbing absently through the galley paperback he’d brought me. “I’ll feel pretty good if we sell 500 copies.”

Unlike his eldest daughter, my father is a nuanced writer with a knack for understatement.

You can’t buy the book online right now, because even though its official release isn’t until December 16, Amazon already sold out. It’s #4 in their Film Documentaries category. They’ve re-ordered from Columbia University Press three times already.

I. AM. SO. PROUD.

If you have a film nerd in your life, please try to get your hands on a copy for Christmas. If you ARE a film nerd, please ask for one. I haven’t read much of it yet, but I can tell you it’s about so much more than the mind of a man who, in whatever small way, helped shape our cultural lexicon—it’s a first-hand account of the world that shaped him, even when it didn’t always understand him (or vice-versa).

Dad and Tony will be plugging the book on Alicia Mayer’s podcast tomorrow. Give it a listen while you’re doing the dishes or whatever. I’m sure it’ll be great.

And check back in a year or two, when Dad’s official biography of his grandfather hits shelves.

If you forget, don’t worry—I’ll remind you.

I love you, Dad. Congratulations. You done good. <3

 

*I originally wrote, incorrectly, that Charlie received a “Lifetime Achievement Award,” which isn’t really a thing, by the MPAA, when it was in fact AMPAS. Apparently there are approximately 348 organizations using some permutation of the words “Motion,” “Picture,” “Arts,” and/or “America.” I was gently corrected by the infallible** Howard Prouty, family friend, Academy archivist, and invaluable resource. Thanks, Howard.

**Here I originally said “ineffable,” which is also true, but not AS true. Clearly, I am neither.

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.

  • KHAL ME MAYBE
AMIRITE


AMIRITE

  • 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.

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