Red in Tooth and Claw

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Snow White-A Smile and a Song

It is really too bad that nature is not like this scene from Walt Disney’s Snow White. BTW Snow White remains my favorite Disney Princess because when I was a kid in the 1970s, she was the only brunette. I didn’t really care about her “happily ever after” with the prince who appeared at the end of the movie. I loved the thought of her living in the forest in harmony with all of the animals.

Then I grew up. Unfortunately, a lot of people did not.

I follow two related Twitter accounts: A woman farmer in Ireland, and an account for one of her cats. She posts pictures and short videos every day of her sheep, her farm, her cats, her spinning room. Usually they’re a diversion from the ugly reality in the U.S. Sometimes sad things happen, like a premature lamb dying. Sometimes upsetting things happen, like one of the farm cats getting into a tangle with a strange tom and having to have his ear glued back together (which I found fascinating as it healed up so much more quickly than stitches.)

A few days ago, she posted a picture of herself rescuing a wren nestling before one of the cats got ahold of it. All’s well that ends well, right?

Not on Twitter. She was verbally attacked by multiple anti-cat people who refused to understand that this is a farm cat, not a city cat, cats are needed on farms to control the rodent population, domestic cats aren’t evil. I blame the Audubon Society for spreading lies about outside cats and associating with people who advocate killing them for this sort of nonsense.

Life is not a Disney movie.

I’ve seen a blue jay kill a house sparrow. By the time I got outside with the broom to chase away the jay, the little bird was hopelessly injured. Another year, a bunch of grackles killed a family of house sparrows, parents and nestlings. Territoriality. Animal instinct. I didn’t kill the blue jay or the grackles. And anyone who thinks no cat should be allowed to roam or that cats are an “invasive species” (in Europe!) and spews that nonsense is going to get it thrown right back in their face by me.

The Audubon Society needs a good housecleaning, starting at the top. They are no longer pro-bird. They are anti-cat, and they are validating the absolutely false views of people who just hate cats. One person kept saying the cats “poison” wildlife.

I’ve never seen a cat putting out poisoned bird food, have you? This insane rhetoric has gone way too far. And not enough people are standing up to it, so if you love cats and understand that “nature is red in tooth and claw,” could you confront people spreading anti-cat lies? Could you confront online bullies in general when you see them? Those of us countering the lies and confronting the bullies could use some help. I don’t want to see good people who make the Internet better driven off social media because some blithering idiot can’t understand why domestic cats are so valuable.

If you are one of those blithering idiots: enjoy your bubonic plague.

Forbidden Frida

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In 2008, I wasn’t writing the Empire State Vamps. I was selling drawings, mostly of fairies, and nature photography, on Etsy. I was learning new things every night. I followed established artists and indie artists and newbies like myself. I kept seeing the name “Frida Kahlo” and art inspired by this Frida Kahlo, and I did not know who she was.

9 years ago, my immediate impulse was to go to the library. As I was living on Long Island at the time and the library was convenient to my ex-husband as he left work, I asked him to pick up a biography of Frida Kahlo for me. I searched the library catalog from home and found the most appealing bio to me: Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. I printed the page, gave it to my ex-husband, and asked him to check out the book for me.

I really didn’t expect a Major Racist Insecure Male problem, because he regularly checked out books for me. I just wanted to understand Frida, who was so important to so many women artists.

What I got was:

“Why would you want to read about her? She was a lesbian who had an affair with a black woman.”

For my self-protection, I played the shocked female role. “I didn’t know! I would never read a book like that! I was just curious about her because she’s so popular on Etsy.”

I never heard a bigoted word out of that man’s mouth until President Obama announced his candidacy. In fact, he used to mock Southerners for being ignorant and racist. I can’t explain it. I’m just glad I don’t have to listen to it any more.

Please understand that I was in an abusive, controlling relationship, isolated (why I asked him to get books for me) and afraid for my personal safety and that of my cats, and brainwashed. This incident was an element of my packing up (including the cats) and leaving him. This incident may have been the impetus. He was okay with my drawing fairies, but I stepped out of line. After that, I started daring to go to the Riverhead library and Borders. I don’t think that I ever asked him to bring another book to me.

Still, that book lingered in orbit around the moon of unread books. I thought of it from time to time in my new life, but there was always something else. Until the other night.

I remembered the book, the fact that it was paperback, had the movie tie-in cover, was 500 pages long. I searched the library catalog on Long Island. Then I found it on Amazon: Frida, a Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera.

Now I have it in my hands.

frida

Of course in the years since 2008 I’ve educated myself about Frida Kahlo. But my desire to read this forbidden book never waned. And now I’m going to read it, and I know that it doesn’t matter to my ex-husband because I’m no longer his property.

But it matters to me that someone told me not to read a library book, and now I own it, and it sits on my bedside table.

(Edited for clarity, and because one sentence just made no damn sense 5/11/2017)

The Gentle Adventures of Justine and Vivian 2: Vivian

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Vivian 2

What is there to say about me? Once I was a mother. I lost my daughter.

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I felt that I was becoming a shadow. I couldn’t bring my daughter back. I couldn’t keep living in our home. One day, I woke up and packed a valise and went to the airport.

Vivian 5

I don’t require much, and when I make a decision, I act. I left England for the United States. I was used to a quiet life in a green countryside. I took a taxi cab from the airport to the train station, and when I walked out onto the street and looked up at the metal and glass buildings and heard the noise of so many people and so many cars, I almost turned around.

Vivian 4

I thought I had made a dreadful mistake, that I should return home, but I kept walking until I found myself in an old part of the city. Though the buildings were young compared to my home, I did sense age, and the passage of many lives, and there was life all around me. Street vendors selling food, clothes, handbags, shoes. I didn’t need shoes. I thought that I might seek lodging in this neighborhood, at least for a little while. Then I heard a woman calling a cat. I looked up, and she was standing on a balcony with a wrought iron railing.

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“There!” she called, and pointed, and I saw a kitten with blue eyes hiding under a food vendor’s cart.

justine kitten

I have never been a great fan of cats and was surprised when it came to me. The woman ran down, and I saw she was just a little older than my daughter had been. I told her I was new to the city. She said that she had a room to rent.

miette lizette

This is how I came to live with Justine. She loves books and old-fashioned things. I am an old-fashioned thing. She said that I must have more clothes, so she took me to her dressmaker. I paid. I paid for a new dress for her, too. One thing I did bring plenty of was money. The apartment is tiny, even thought it has two bedrooms. We’ve been talking about moving. I’ve grown to like the little beast, whose name is Pyewackett after a cat in an old movie. We like old movies. We aren’t exactly friends yet. Perhaps we are both trying too hard. I must never tell Justine how much she reminds me of my daughter. Sometimes I hear Justine’s step behind me and think it is . . .

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But it isn’t, and it never will be.

A Common Question About Wicca or Paganism and Being Wiccan or Pagan in 2017

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Last year I used my oracle cards and asked if a particular goddess was trying to reach me. I turned a card over and it was Rhiannon. I already had an image of her on display, and my shrine to her grew quickly and naturally into a thing of such beauty that I’d like to share it, but I feel it should be kept private.

After a few months, I found my that my thoughts often turned to The Morrigan. I felt her as strength, autonomy, and ultimate feminine power. She is, after all, regarded by some as the personification of Ireland.

(Rhiannon is a Welsh deity familiar to most because of the Stevie Nicks song. I LOVE Stevie, but she wrote the song because she was inspired by a character in a novel, not the goddess. If you are interested in Rhiannon because of the song, research the goddess. Books are best. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a book just about Rhiannon as I did with The Morrigan. I did find and buy this book and found it eye opening. It has chapters about 13 Celtic and Norse goddesses including Cerridwyn, Brighid, Eostre, Freyja, Aine, Danu, Modron, Hella, Branwen, Maeve, the Valkyries, and Morrighan. If you want to read about the fictional character that inspired Stevie Nicks, you want this book. I found the hardback and paperback in the same used bookstore.)

Okay, now that we have the list of books out of the way, let’s talk Wicca, altars, and 2017. You can bet your buttons that anything with the words “religious freedom” in it no longer applies to us in the U.S.

I’ve been interested in Wicca since I was 12. I’m 44 now. I started my Wicca journey with The Mists of Avalon and The Spiral Dance. Guess I didn’t get the book list out of the way after all. What I learned from The Mists of Avalon was what it means to serve The Goddess. The library copy I read had an index listing The Spiral Dance as source material. Wiccans generally refer to “The Goddess,” “The Triple Goddess,” and, more popularly today, “The Spiral Goddess.”

What if more than one goddess seems to pick you? I believe in individual manifestations of The Goddess. Believe me, if She wants you to see Her as one or more particular deities, She’ll make you see it.

With my shrine to Rhiannon and then The Morrigan opening my door and announcing herself, I was concerned about having shrines to multiple deities, especially deities from different pantheons. This forum discussion helped me tremendously. I set up a separate shrine for The Morrigan. It’s much darker than my shrine to Rhiannon but, as with the construction of Rhiannon’s shrine, it almost seemed to create itself. I honor both of them on holy days and throughout the month, especially on the days/nights of the New Moon, Full Moon, and Waning Moon.

Now, 2017. They’ll use their religious freedom nonsense against us eventually. How do you want to live as a Wiccan, a pagan, a heathen in 2017? If you’re already out, you’re out. If you’re not, you must be knowledgeable about your religion and your REAL religious rights before you come out. Hell, if you’ve been out, you should have the ACLU’s phone number in your phone. Many of us are by nature solitaries and we despise dogma, and lately there’s been too much of that in Wiccan groups (and too much of men running groups and chastising women.) If you don’t want to be in a coven, don’t feel obliged to join one now. But consider a quiet support system. You can find your sisters and brothers on Twitter. You can find me there.

Beware of white supremacist, homophobic “pagans.” They’re out there openly now, particularly if you identify with Norse goddesses and gods.

Blessed be, Sisters and Brothers.

Failure Does Not Make You Stronger

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Since so many people feel free to throw around a blanket statement like “failure makes you stronger,” I’m going to throw my own blanket out there for those who think that’s a colossal load of horseshit.

Failure may make some people stronger. Or maybe it makes them more determined. Or angry enough to attack their problem and crush it.

Failure also destroys dreams, costs people their life savings, demoralizes them, causes them to fall into deep depressions that never lift, makes them simply give up. No, it’s not a case of blame the victim for their response to the situation. It is the situation that brings on the emotions that break a person.

There have been many people who have gotten back up after failures and become heroes, and I admire those people. But there are many more people who “failed” and lost their motivation, their way, even their will to live. Those people are not one iota less than any other person who has ever walked the face of the earth. They deserve our empathy and our help and our support.

Not one single person in the world has the exact personality and strength as another. We are all snowflakes. The way that we respond to all the stones life throws at us is a combination of nurture and circumstance. The cruelest thing someone ever said to me was a friend (it’s always a friend) who, when I was very down (I have chronic untreated depression because I can’t afford the healthcare I need) said, “You want to hear about a real problem? My first son was stillborn.”

I knew about that, she told me about it earlier in our friendship, and it broke my heart that her baby didn’t live, that she is still so obviously tormented by it after more than twenty years and four living, extraordinary sons. Pregnancy, the deaths of infants, stillbirths, and infertility affect me in a different way than “normal” people because I’m infertile. I cried for my friend.

I have seen her through so many problems, and I don’t consider a stillbirth a “problem.” I consider it a tragedy. I’ve seen her through problems large and small. I’ve seen many people through problems large and small. I’ve never said, “You want to hear about a real problem? I got pregnant once, when I was 20, had a miscarriage, and had to have a hysterectomy when I was 32.”

Every single person deals with tragedies and problems differently. We’re beaten with the “tragedy/failure/whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” myth until we feel like failures if our failures don’t make us stronger. My tragedy didn’t make me stronger. Am I a failure? My marriage failed. I don’t feel that made me stronger. Smarter, maybe, wary, cynical, suspicious, cautious, guarded, reliant on my intuition, mistrustful of my heart. But mostly it made me feel like I hurt my stepdaughter by not bearing up under the abuse for four more years, until she turned 18, and then I could have somehow bowed out gracefully.

That’s the mindset evoked for some of us by “failure makes you stronger.”

If it doesn’t make you stronger either, you’re not weak. You, like me, lack the ability to rebound from deep personal tragedy or disappointment in a way that inspires others.

It’s not my damn job to be an inspiration.

We’re not heroes in the conventional sense. We’re heroes because we’re alive. Like my friend, who lived through a tragedy and kept going.

We need to stop celebrating the myth of strength through failure and start celebrating the fact that we got up  today and took care of our families and/or went to work or put in another job application or planted a garden or adopted a pet or saw another human being through the fallout of a failure. Failing doesn’t have to mean you lose your dreams. It would be a lot more productive and humane if we all saw ourselves as part of a support system and helped each other regain our strength after a failure or a loss.

Can a Villain Be a Villain?

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Or, can a monster be a monster?

This is a hard one for me because I write vampires, all of whom would describe themselves as monstrous in many ways, but not monsters.

Of course the sympathetic vampire started with . . . Carmilla! She beat Dracula by 25 years!

What prompted this post wasn’t vampires with whom you can sit down and earnestly talk before they drain you dry. It was goddamned Jeepers Creepers.

I hate this movie so much that I watched it and the sequel last night, and I figured out why Jeepers Creepers works and Jeepers Creepers 2 doesn’t. The sequel brought us too close to the monster.

Okay, let’s define the movie monster we’re dealing with here. We’re dealing with the bizarre, horrifying, disgusting, demonic, soul-devouring THING that’s never been a person. This isn’t the type of monster you can even try to reason with because once it notices you, you’re dead.

Monsters got wimpy for a while there; maybe that’s why zombies are so popular. Zombies are way worse than the demon from Jeepers Creepers. They aren’t even interesting.

And that right there is why Jeepers Creepers 2 fails. It brings us too close to the monster. The closer we get to the monster, the less it scares us.

The monstrous vampire in my first book has a backstory that readers learn as the series progresses, but essentially, this vampire was a human monster and was chosen to become a vampire for that reason. But you’re not going to get chummy with it. You’re not going to spend much time with it, for the same reason we shouldn’t have spent so much time with the monster in Jeepers Creepers 2: Both are simply evil things.

Times are bad and we’re trying to make chummy with century-old villains, like the villains in fairy tales. There’s no understanding of why DAMMIT THAT PERSON IS JUST BAD. There are too many excuses.

Vampires can be amplified versions of ourselves, our desires, our evils. Or, they can just be monsters.

If your villain is a vile creature, let it run free. Monsters require no reason nor rhyme. Just don’t allow it to spend to much time onstage, because the more we see of it, the more we question it, and questioning the monster saps its power.

The Gentle Adventures of Justine and Vivian 1: Justine

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lizette 3 8 2017

I’m twenty-two (my birthday was in January) and have been living in a little apartment since I was eighteen. My apartment is in an old-fashioned brick building with cast-iron door handles and balcony railings. There’s no elevator, but I don’t mind climbing the stairs.

Someone in the building has a lady cat that goes outside, and she had kittens. I adopted a boy kitten and named him Pyewackett.

justine pyewackett

He has enchanting blue eyes. My favorite colors are blue and pink. We had a lovely Valentine’s Day together.

2017 feb justine

I work in a library, in the history room. I shelve the very old books. On my way home, I sometimes stop at a shop that sells vintage clothes and little treasures. I bought my doll there, and my chest of drawers, and bedding. I like imagining that I saved someone’s favorite thing from being thrown away, and now it’s one of my favorite things.

I don’t need much, just books and Pyewackett. One warm day I did a terrible thing: I left the balcony door open, and Pyewackett disappeared.