A Fey Queen in a Library

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(A new WIP. © Robin D. Ashe 2017)

            Órfhlaith used the water closet. It was efficient and clean. The soap was in a bottle on the sink. She drank water from her clean hands, then immediately wished for food.

            Food was a conjuring beyond her powers at the moment. As the big room grew warmer, she smelled sweet scents and meat from a white box in the corner. She opened it. Cold rushed out, dissipated, and then she saw bread, meat in a container, little white bowls with fruit and yogurt written on them, and a bottle with a paper label that read Excite Water. The liquid was pink. She turned the lid until it fell off and rolled across the floor, then sniffed the liquid. Wine.

             There were forks, spoons, and knives wrapped in something clear on top of the white box. She broke the instruments in one before she realized how to open the package. The room was warm. She had food and drink and proper facilities, and she was in a building lined with shelves of books.

            She used a flimsy knife to force her way into a yogurt bowl, then ate up all the white milky stuff and berries. She had a sip of wine. She felt much better. She took the blanket—a thing made from itchy yarn that didn’t smell like wool—wrapped it around her shoulders, and went walking the library with the light hidden in her fist. Every room seemed to be a small library. She found the room where the globe lived and glanced over titles with her head cocked to the side until she found a set of big books with black bindings and gold writing. She knew what encyclopedias were. They many, so very many, in the castle library.

            She carried the first five back to the improvised bedchamber, arranged the pillows, ate another yogurt, and propped herself up on the couch with the itchy blanket over her knees and the bottle of wine in her hand, and she read the first book and most of the second before the nearly-empty bottle slipped out of her hand, her head fell back, and she started to snore.

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Something Fun

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I have a lot of hobbies: reading, drawing, sewing, gardening . . . well, that’s not a hobby, it’s a big part of my life . . . photography, and collecting dolls. Lately, things in the world and the U.S. in particular have been so depressing that it’s a struggle to write for the day job and work on my novels. I’m 44, and I’m starting to have problems with arthritis, so I’ve neglected my sewing and drawing. When I lived on Long Island, I spent hours every day driving around taking pictures. That’s difficult where I live now because I lost my SUV in the divorce due to my ex-husband’s lies and financial connivance. It’s hard to go off-roading in my Kia. On Long Island, it’s commonplace to see people parked on the side of the road, taking pictures. Here, it seems to be bizarrely annoying to people who rocket past in their giant pickups, laying down on their horns as if stopping on the shoulder, putting on your hazard lights, and standing on the opposite side of the road with a camera is some kind of unpardonable sin.

But I digress. I’ve found cemeteries and parks and other places where I can take pictures without someone trying to run me over. There is still the issue of having to go somewhere instead of simply going about my daily business with the camera in the passenger seat. I get some nice shots around my yard from time to time. I got this shot of the full moon tonight:

2017 sept full moon

I’ve been actively collecting dolls for about 17 years. Doll collecting has gone from a casual hobby to something that keeps me sane. I know what the majority of people think about doll collectors, and I frankly don’t care, because those people collect baseball cards, comic books, model trains, sports team memorabilia, and lots of other things that bore me to tears.

Doll collecting isn’t about returning to one’s childhood, at least not for me. Today’s dolls would have struck me speechless when I was 10. I would have loved the Monster High dolls in particular. I still collect Barbie . . . articulated Barbies, Fashionistas, Holiday Barbies, special collector Barbies. I keep an eye out for a couple of dolls, Star Fairies and Chrissies, that I particularly loved as a child. I’m fascinated by doll photography. I’m terrible at it, but I try. I’ve been incredibly lucky–no, I worked really hard and saved my money and bought three Monster High repaints and three Tonners. I bought the Tonners nude, otherwise I would never have been able to afford them. I found a wonderful lady in North Carolina who makes clothes for Tonners. I dressed the dolls myself, and I’m quite proud of how I personalized them.

Some dolls, you set up and look at and enjoy, like my Wonder Woman dolls. Some dolls you dress and photograph, like my Tonners and my Monster High dolls. I bought a used Ever After High doll, Cerise Hood, the daughter of Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf (I’m assuming he was a werewolf, nothing will sway my opinion) so I could try giving her a short haircut. So few dolls have short hair. The haircut came out gorgeous. I redressed the doll. The entire project cost $33 (and a bruised thumbnail because I evidently don’t know how to hold barber shears) and was so much fun. I took a mass-produced doll and made it unique. I only wish I had the talent to repaint doll faces.

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Aren’t my twin sisters lovely?

My point in writing this post is to say–hobbies are important for your mental and physical health. ESPECIALLY today. Gardening is a hobby for many people, but to me it’s like running every day. It’s just something I have to do to live, and it does relieve mental stress, and it gets me out doing something physical. It’s healthy and productive.

But so are hobbies. Hobbies take your mind off all of everything that’s going on today for a little while. That’s why coloring books for adults are so popular. That’s why crocheting, knitting, building models, and creating model railroads are so popular. If you don’t do anything but work and try to spend some time with your family before you go to bed so you can get up and go to work again, you’re almost certainly tense, exhausted, and unhappy.

Get a hobby. Make doll clothes. Go fishing. Paint something. Become an amateur astronomer. Do yourself a favor, and make sure that you regularly take a mini vacation.

Put your phone down.

Sometimes I wonder if people wonder why this blog isn’t devoted to books, writing them and reading them. I love writing. I love reading. Writing is my job. Reading is part of my job. I talk books and writing with other writers on Twitter. Here, I like to talk about other things, although since I’ve broken through my writer’s block, I’ll likely be writing more posts about writing, and what I’m reading.

This post isn’t one of my ranty posts. It’s for you and so many other people who have reached the end of their tethers with the excruciating stress of daily life. You have a hobby you’ve been neglecting or want to try but haven’t. Do it.

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.” Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

Today’s reality is soul-crushing. Do something fun to escape it. It will improve your mood and hopefully lower your blood pressure.

Thank you for not parenting our kids

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Someone wants to ban Teen Vogue. She claims it’s because the magazine is sexually explicit, but I’m sure we all know the real reason, and it starts with T and ends with rump.

Whatever her faulty “reasoning,” her campaign is doomed to failure because:

  • Teen Vogue isn’t going to be banned; in fact, she’s only going to rally support for the publication.
  • There is absolutely no way to keep any form of media out of the hands of teens. I know this from my experience as a teen and a stepmother.

I was eight when MTV debuted. We didn’t have cable then. When we finally got cable, my mother was so appalled by the likes of Duran Duran and George Michael (miss you, George) that she actually had MTV blocked from our cable package.

I spent almost every weekend sleeping over at my best friend’s house, watching MTV and horror movies and Cinemax all night. Now I write about vampires, ghosts, and fairies (REAL fairies, not Disney fairies) while listening to 80s music. I also care for my mother, and now she watches things like Alice Cooper and Queen concerts and enjoys them. Well, actually she laughs at Alice Cooper, but she does like Queen. Our favorite band and singer will always be Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks. I was in an evangelical private school during MTV’s heyday. We got regular sermons about the evils of rock and roll, and they always mentioned that Stevie Nicks would drag you to hell because she was a witch.

Mysteriously, my interest in paganism and Wicca began at the same time.

And then I repeated the silly cycle when my stepdaughter was about nine and my ex-husband and I didn’t think she should be listening to Britney Spears. I’m so embarrassed now, and I’d like to apologize for that here in writing. That did not help the delicate stepparent/stepchild relationship.

Of course, every parent has the right to set limits for their child and attempt to enforce them. THEIR CHILD. This is the problem with the book banners, who I dealt with when I worked at the library, and the magazine banners, and the album burners, and the art-censoring crowd. Whatever “it” is, they can’t just restrict it from THEIR child. They want to make the parenting value decisions for OUR kids, and even if I might not really love the thing in question (but Teen Vogue is awesome), I don’t need Susie Quiverfull taking books or magazines out of the school library. It is, quite frankly, none of her damn business.

No one is entitled to have the world baby-proofed to suit their so-called family values. Period. Do you want your child to have access to materials about safe sex, YA books with LGBT characters, The Color Purple? Susie Quiverfull has no interest in respecting your parenting decisions. She wants to make them for you.

It’s very important to tell Susie and Sam Quiverfull that your child is none of their concern. Even if what they’re trying to do is stupid, like banning Teen Vogue, they’ll eventually worm their way into your child’s school library and go after a book like The Color Purple. They will absolutely try to impose their “morals” on your child.

So please, when they show up in your town and try to censor the teen magazines at the public library or the grocery store, or they go after the 9th grade reading list, put your foot down and tell them that you are entirely capable of raising your own child and they can keep their “values” in their own home.

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.

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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)

WIP Excerpt

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I had been a witch since I was fifteen. One of my parents worked every weekend, most often, both. My grandfather just said church wasn’t for him. He spent Sundays in his woodshop. My sisters and I got stuck at the old, musty Methodist Church between my grandmother and my aunt. I always ended up beside my grandmother, which I thought was rather stupid because Paige was so young and my aunt always had to carry her downstairs to the nursery. Reading fantasy novels led me to the folklore shelves in the library, and on the other side of those shelves were the books on religion. The Spiral Dance had a red cover and was like a forbidden fruit in a garden of dry and bitter things. I stood reading it until my legs started to ache. I took the book to a quiet room and sat in a cubicle, reading, reading, until a librarian tapped on the glass door. The library was closing. It was almost five on Saturday afternoon. I took the book home and copied much of it by hand into a notebook. I still had the notebook.

I hid my first altars in plain sight by using dollar store figurines as goddesses and other cheap knickknacks, even Christmas decorations, to decorate the altars. My mother thought nothing of my using my grandmother’s old cut-glass salt and pepper shakers as vases for violets and other little wildflowers. My grandmother gave me a little allowance for vacuuming and dusting her house every week. I used it to buy “witchcraft” books that I hid at the bottom of my hamper, the one place my sisters would never look. My mother made us do our own laundry. She laughed long and hard when I fessed up as an adult.

WIP Excerpt

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After my grandfather’s death, I took the stepladder from its place on the garage wall. Up in the rafters, I found old bottles with dead flower bouquets, and a wooden box. I took everything, replaced the ladder, and swept away my footprints in the pea stones. My grandmother was still alive, and my aunt might take anything out of the house or any other building on the property.

It was a rough handmade box, like something my grandfather had carved before he even became an apprentice woodworker. There were newspaper clippings, photos, and a postcard. A woman stood at what seemed to be the edge of a cliff, with little boys surrounding her knees. Someone had written Morton shaky pencil over one dark-haired boy. I touched the name. Most heartbreaking, someone had scratched out the face of my great-grandmother, probably, I thought, my great-grandfather’s second wife, after my great-grandmother died in childbirth. There were no other pictures of my great-grandmother in existence.

“Ain’t Nobody Else Going to Read Them”

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My mother and her older brother started cleaning out my aunt’s house today in preparation for it being put up for sale to satisfy the nursing home bill. I was unable to go and help  them today because I’m drowning in freelance assignments and still fighting bronchitis. My aunt’s house is hot and, after three years, dusty.

I asked for a few things from the house: a rag doll, teddy bear, a stuffed (toy) dog, my aunt’s sewing box, a handmade wooden box containing my grandfather’s paperwork as a railroad employee and then a barber, and my aunt’s memorabilia from President Obama’s first campaign.

My uncle despises President Obama and looks at Trump as a validation. A wealthy white male validation. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut when he saw my mother putting the Obama mailings into her purse.

“What do you want that crap for?”

My mother, wanting always to keep the peace and still afraid of her older brother, said “Robin likes Obama and she doesn’t like Trump.”

(My mother also likes Obama and doesn’t like Trump, but I’m used to being thrown under the conservative family bus.)

My uncle responded: “GOLLLEEE.”

When my mother located the specific book that I wanted (An Introduction to Literature, Fiction-Poetry-Drama, Barnet-Berman-Burto) my uncle told her to take every book in the house because “ain’t nobody else going to read them.”

The book that my mother brought to me is a college literature textbook. I wanted it because it contains A Rose for Emily by Faulkner.

My aunt had wonderful taste in decor. She could have been an interior designer. She worked as a waitress for 30+ years before going back to school to earn her R.N. degree. She worked in the same nursing home where she spent the last three years of her life.

Why do you want that crap?

Ain’t nobody else going to read them.

When I recover from this bronchitis, I’m going to my aunt’s house with my mother, alone, and rescuing the books.