The Zen of Lawn Care

This past weekend, I decided to tackle a project I had been putting off for weeks. Saturday morning I got up early, made coffee, put on enough clothing to not be indecent, and went outside to make my backyard more presentable. If it were up to me, I might let the yard go completely wild and see what plants choose to make their home there. But, there’s a rule in my renter’s agreement that states I am responsible for cutting the grass.

Lawn_1

Contained wilderness.

To be fair, my lawn is not huge by any stretch of the imagination. And, my property management company provided me with a manual push mower when I moved in six years ago.

Mower

I sharpened the blades myself and still have all of my fingers.

I think I used this potentially hazardous contraption once or twice after I moved in. That same summer, while I was working on my MFA, writing my first novel, adjusting to life in my hometown after living in a city for 16 years, learning the ropes at a new job, figuring out how to get divorced, becoming a single parent, and dealing with the inevitability of my dad’s death, I got a call from my property management company because they thought my grass was too high. No, seriously. Someone who works for them literally drives around checking to see if people are cutting their grass. After cursing a blue streak about how fucking ridiculous it is to hold ADULTS accountable for cutting grass on some imaginary timeline, I came to my senses and accepted the fact that I couldn’t possibly do all of the things I was juggling AND care about lawn maintenance. The height of your grass shouldn’t be cause for anxiety. If it is, you may want to re-examine your life and look for another source of meaning.

For most of the time I have lived in this house, I have paid a man in my neighborhood $10 a week to cut my grass. Albert, and usually one of his sons, would show up bright and early on a Saturday or Sunday morning (depending on Albert’s full-time job schedule) and mow the lawn in about 10-15 minutes. They’d cut the grass, whack weeds along the fence, and occasionally make suggestions about what should or shouldn’t be allowed to grow in my yard.

Lawn_2

My backyard is essentially a plush carpet of weeds.

One of my favorite plants that grows wild in my yard each year, is morning glory. According to Wikipedia, the species growing in my backyard is the Ipomoea nil, or Japanese Morning Glory.

Morning_Glories

A staple of unintentional urban gardening.

I look forward to seeing the lush green leaves and dainty purple flowers each year. According to the website Useful Tropical Plants, “Japanese morning glory is a climbing, herbaceous annual or perennial plant producing stems that either twine into other plants for support or sprawl along the ground.”

Morning_Glories_2

Not only is this plant lovely, but it obscures the view of the neighbors I dislike.

The Japanese Morning Glory lives in harmony next to another weed that grows in my yard: Pokeweed. The dark purple, almost black berries complement the purple flowers and I enjoy watching the snaking tendrils entwine themselves with the pokeweed that grows 3 – 4 feet high next to my fence.

Pokeweed-berries-on-mature-plant

These berries are poisonous. No matter how delicious they look, do not eat them

One year, Albert decided that I didn’t need these beautiful wild plants and used a weed killer to destroy most of the growth. I typically don’t plant anything in my yard, except in pots — flowers or herbs. So, after he sprayed the toxic plant killer, my yard looked barren. I got really pissed about it, because he didn’t ask me if I wanted him to do it. He assumed he knew better than me and made a decision about MY yard. It was the gardening equivalent of mansplaining. The following year, I told him to just cut the grass and trim the borders of the yard. He asked me three times if I was sure.

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This year, I decided not to make use of his services. Now, it’s up to me to cut the grass, weed, rake, and whatever else I need to do to avoid a phone call from my stupid property management company.

I spent nearly 4 hours in my backyard on Saturday. Using the manual push mower was extra work, and I began to think about the fact that there isn’t anyone else in my life to share the day-to-day labor. I feel the same way every time I have to shovel the sidewalk and dig out my car after a big snow. I often think that it would be nice to have someone to help me, or just do those things for me. But, as I worked my mind wandered. It wandered through the usual things I worry about. It wandered through fears I have about possible futures. And then, my mind wandered into the realm of questions and creativity. It occurred to me that I usually drown out my own thoughts with background noise like music, audio books, or the TV. Saturday, I chose not to listen to outside noise and listened to my own thoughts instead.

I tried to remember the dreams I’d had the night before. I thought about possible story arcs for my next book. I thought about how fortunate I am to be meeting so many new and interesting people, and why I believe some of them were sent to me so I can learn more about myself and grow. (Thank you, Universe.) I thought about why I’m not making more of an effort to take better care of myself. I thought about how the hell I was going to write all the things I’ve agreed to write over the past few weeks and months. And, I thought about the fact that there are so many opportunities ahead of me — personally, professionally, and creatively. I thought about adapting a series of paranormal romances I’ve been trying to finish into a graphic novel or comic series that an artist friend of mine would illustrate. I thought about how excited I am about attending my first Camp Necon in July. I thought about what I would talk about with my friend Megan if we started a podcast. I thought about making drapes. I thought about applying what I had learned from Marie Kondo in order to lighten my material object load. I thought about first kisses and the awkwardness of being naked with someone for the first time. I thought about how wonderful and terrifying the prospect of falling in love can be.

And, I thought about my grandfather. I thought about all the hours he spent taking care of his own lawn. I thought about how much time he must have spent alone with his own thoughts. I wondered if he used that time to solve problems, or gain a better understanding of the people he loved and the world around him. I wondered if all that time working with his hands, caring for his own yard, alone with his thoughts, was the reason he always seemed to have such amazing insight into human behavior. I thought about how much I miss him, and I wondered if he would be proud of my accomplishments. I shed a few tears, and then I got back to work.

When I was done, I treated myself to a beer like my grandfather used to do, and enjoyed the beauty of my freshly mowed and weeded lawn.

Beer

I think I inadvertently created a sacred space.

My lawn will never be immaculate enough to be featured in Better Homes and Gardens, but it’s a space where I can think and work with my hands until I am too tired to do anything else. Something I had been dreading and putting off became one of the best meditative experiences I’ve had in a long time. I made peace with my thoughts and feelings, and completed a task that left me with a real sense of accomplishment. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere about finishing writing projects.

An Open Letter to Men on Dating Sites

As some of you know, I decided to dip my toes into the dating pool once again back in December. This isn’t my first foray into the wilds of online dating, and given the nature of my experiences, it probably won’t be my last.

In the time I have spent using dating apps to meet new people, I have noticed certain behaviors that either make me laugh, want to cry, or burn down the entire Internet depending on my emotional state.

Feelings

Before I launch into a psychotic tirade about the bizarre mating rituals of human males, I’d like to take a moment to address the men I am dating, have dated, and potentially will date. First, and foremost, thank you for being decent human beings (this is not true for some of you, and you know who you are…if you don’t, it isn’t my responsibility to enlighten you). If I have gone on more than one date with you and continue to maintain contact with you after we are no longer dating, that’s a good sign that you are “one of the good ones.” At some point in time, you have added something positive to my life and I have learned and grown from knowing you. If you are reading this and you haven’t heard from me in quite some time, it’s probably because you are dead to me.

Not Hearing

Now, on with the tirade…

I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for quite a while and in the process of thinking about what to cover and the tone I should use, I’ve spoken to a few friends who have also tried online dating. A close friend of mine is also currently wading through the dating pool, and on a regular basis we compare notes. This is especially true if the same man is interested in both of us. We laugh about it because our tastes are so different that we’d never need to worry about being in competition for the same dude.

A few months ago, when I began this process of meeting new people, another friend of mine joked about needing a dating resume after I expressed some of my frustrations about how difficult it is to find what I’m looking for in potential partners. At the time, it seemed like an absurd idea but the more I think about it, your dating profile is essentially a resume. And, first dates aren’t that different from job interviews. Except, you don’t usually get drunk during a job interview. And, I’m not suggesting that you should get drunk on a first date, but it happens sometimes.

If, after getting drunk on your first date, you get the chance at a second date, hopefully that person has enough of a sense of humor to accept that you don’t remember everything you talked about at that first meeting. Which will help you decide if you’d like a third date with this person.

Okay, maybe that wasn’t a tirade. But, stick around. I promise one is coming.

Dear Men on Dating Sites,

Hello! Thank you for your interest. Here are a few things I think you should know about me and why I’m swiping left on your profile.

First, I’m a bit cynical and have a rather dark sense of humor.

Humor

My response to the following question should clue you into these facts about me.

What I’m actually looking for…? A handsome alpha werewolf who owns his own home and business.

Yes. That exact sentence appears on one of my dating profiles. Clearly, this is meant in jest. However, several men have asked me to explain my response and have gone so far as to view the fact that they are not a werewolf as a strike against them. They aren’t wrong. I mean, who doesn’t want to date a handsome werewolf?

When I’m not fantasizing about sexy fictional characters, I’m actually looking for kind people who are able to appreciate my weirdness and hopefully recognize the kindness in me. Along with kindness, I’m looking for intelligent people who have something interesting to talk about. If you are actively pursuing your goals, creating something with your hands or mind (or both), and having a positive influence on the world around you, then even better.

wrongmf

I’m seeking comfortable intimacy. I want to talk about things that matter. I want to be held and kissed. I want to go on dates that become the inspiration for stories I’ll write in the future. I want someone to push my boundaries and encourage me to accomplish my goals. I want someone who will allow me to explore their body and mind without fear or the need to constantly be in control. I am seeking someone who thinks vanilla sex can be nice but doesn’t want it to be the norm.

Before we go any further, I need you to understand that the last statement in the paragraph above is not an open invitation for you to send me pictures of your favorite kink. Nor is it a thumbs up for you to send me dick pics. I’m not opposed to you sharing these educational materials with me, but only if you have my permission.

Thank you. Please continue.

Here’s who I am NOT looking for…

  1. Conservative Christians. Do I really need to explain why I’m not interested in dating a conservative Christian? If you aren’t sure, here’s one of my older blog posts that might help you figure that out. Praise Satan!Satan
  2. Collectors. Ultimately, I am seeking my person. A partner who is committed to building a life with me. Someone who takes a liking to me and decides to stay in my life for the foreseeable future. But, while I’m looking for that person, I’m not opposed to various flavors of non-monogamous relationships. However, if you are dating so many people that you need to refer to a spreadsheet to figure out when you can see me, I’m not interested. I do not wish to be part of your harem, and I am not part of the expansion package for your marriage.Deeply-Nin
  3. Racists. If you include the following statement in your profile, don’t be surprised if women aren’t dying to meet you: Willing to date outside my race. I also recommend avoiding any language that fetishizes women of color. Telling me you’ve always wanted to have sex with a (insert racist comment) isn’t a compliment. We’re now in the realm of microaggressions and straight up racism.Racist
  4. Perverts. If your profile picture resembles a glory hole, you aren’t looking to meet people for meaningful connections. And, I’m not sure if a dating app is really the most appropriate place for you to meet people. I recommend hanging out in the parking lots of truck stops and deserted rest areas.
  5. Serial Killers. I realize this seems like a crazy thing to mention, but some of the profile pictures men choose to share on dating apps leads me to believe they are comfortable with their lifestyle of meeting people, murdering them, and whatever else they do with the corpses before holding a quick roadside funeral. For example, if you pose for a photo while wearing your best suit and holding an assault rifle, after I’m done laughing hysterically, I’m going to swipe left. I understand the need for anonymity at times but if your profile picture is you wearing a clown mask, we won’t be meeting. And, thanks for the nightmares.

    Serial killer

    Actual profile picture from OKCupid.

  6. Hipster Know-It-Alls. If you’re in your 20s or 30s and your list of interests matches mine or possibly my grandfather’s, please don’t presume to know more than me about something we share in common. I mean, you’re cute and your beard is glorious but please don’t attempt to school me on the history of American music and how it influenced the British Invasion. I may not know everything, but I was raised on a steady diet of Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, the Mersyside Sound, Al Green, Little Richard, Otis Redding, Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, Robert Gordon, The Stray Cats and the Rockabilly gods that influenced them. I grew up in the 70s listening to radio stations that played entire album sides. On vinyl. I owned a rather extensive collection of music on vinyl that ranged from New Romantics to Punk to Post Modern and proto-Goth, with a healthy dose of British bands popular in the 80s. Please don’t speak to me like I’m stupid.Mansplain
  7. Trophy Hunters. If you have a picture in your profile where you’re wearing camouflage that isn’t government-issued or holding a dead animal, I’m swiping left. There’s only one kind of hunter I’m interested in.Winchesters
  8. The Tragically Boring. If your profile pictures consist of staged shots of you and your bros playing golf, drinking beer, hanging out with skinny white women, running a marathon, or getting pumped at the gym, I’m sorry to say that your profile is no different from the last 20 I swiped left on. Please make yourself sound interesting even if you don’t think you are. Everyone has at least one skill, experience, or goal that makes them stand out from the crowd. Tell me that story.

As many of my friends (and people I have dated) can attest, not all of my dating experiences have been bad. I’ve met some interesting people who I genuinely like and care about. But finding them often feels like looking for a needle in a pile of needles. I’m going to keep meeting people until hopefully, I find my person. I’m not sure I believe that there is only one person out there waiting for me to find them, but I’d like to think there are people out there who are interested in building something more meaningful that lasts longer than a few dates.

fuck-off

Eventually, I will add to this list of what I’m NOT looking for as I continue my journey through the realm of unknown expectations and vague statements about personality traits. So, wish me luck. And wish all the weirdos out there on dating apps luck. I’m rooting for them, but I’m not meeting them for drinks.

Demons

Anxiety is the New Black

About a year ago, I had a moment of clarity in which I realized that I have been suffering from anxiety since I was a child. What sparked this moment of personal insight? The fact that my son also suffers from anxiety and I began to think back on what life was like for me at his age. I’m sure that if you asked my friends and family, many of them would tell you that my childhood was good and they have many fond memories of me growing up. My memories aren’t always in line with theirs, and that’s okay as long as I’m allowed to remember things the way they happened for me through my perception of things.

Anxiety

I was born in Central Pennsylvania in 1972. My mom is a white woman who grew up in a small rural community that wasn’t really thrilled about her dating choices and in many ways shunned her after she decided to marry my biological father. While living with my father’s family, a group of migrant workers living near Chambersburg, PA, my mother grew up fast. According to her, my father fancied himself a ladies man, which actually translates as pimp in the real world, and when she found out she was pregnant with me, two things occurred to her: 1) At least three other women were pregnant to my father at that time, and 2) Her unborn child deserved a better life. She told me that she sat in the dark waiting for him to come home and thought about killing him. Knowing she had to be around to take care of me changed her mind. So, she left him that night and filed for divorce soon after.

When I was born, we lived with my grandparents in the same small town where my mom grew up. To say that the town I grew up in lacked diversity is quite the understatement. Aside from my mom’s boyfriend, Gene, and his family, I don’t recall seeing other people of color, with the exception of people on TV, until I was about four or five and we moved to a larger town, Carlisle, PA.

Gene

Carlisle was and is segregated. People who have lived here their whole lives aren’t always conscious of that fact, but when you meet people who move here, it’s one of the first things they notice about the place. Have things changed since I was a child? Yes. But to be fair, one of the changes I would be happy to point to is the fact that when I was a child, people felt completely at ease driving by in their cars and shouting “nigger lover” at my mother while she walked with me downtown.  No one has called me a nigger to my face since I was in an undergraduate in college, but I know some people were thinking  it while they spoke to me. It’s like Spidey senses, but for racists.

So, while I was growing up I experienced a multi-layered effect of racism and bigotry from strangers, teachers, friends, and family. Apparently, this isn’t uncommon for mixed race kids. I haven’t interviewed people or sent out surveys, but I know I am not the only person in the world who had this experience.

What idiot called it a human skull instead of an anxiety cabin.

— Doth (@DothTheDoth) December 2, 2018

Thanks to a series of unfortunate events in my life, I recently spent a year (August 2017 – June 2018) employed but underpaid, and lacking health insurance. During that time, when my anxiety levels were astonishingly high, I couldn’t afford medication to help with my chronic depression and anxiety. I couldn’t afford to see a therapist. Hell, I could barely afford to pay my bills.

But, Michelle, why didn’t you apply for assistance?

I did. And, I was denied assistance even though I was making $15 an hour working for a temp agency after I left another job where the owners of the business couldn’t pay me. They still owe me money, but much like the child support I keep hoping for, I doubt if I’ll ever see it.

A few weeks ago, I tried to apply for assistance again, because even though I am working full-time and have health insurance, I’m only making $0.82 more than what I was making at the temp agency. I was also working part-time as an online writing tutor for $11 an hour. Because I had made an extra $60 during the month of February from my part-time job, my income was considered too high to receive any assistance.

Yep, America is definitely great again.

I was told by a very sympathetic caseworker that if I quit my part-time job, and got a psych evaluation for my autistic child, we might qualify for assistance. So, as long as I make less money and can prove that my child is mentally ill, I’m allowed to receive help.

No wonder my anxiety levels keep rising.

Lavendar

The good news is that since I have health insurance again, I can take my medication. But, even though I have access to services like therapy, the co-pays are too high for me to afford even with insurance.

Where does that leave me? At the moment, I don’t have any good answers. I keep looking for higher-paying jobs, but I no longer have a reliable car. Transportation is an issue. Fortunately, I am able to share my mother’s car and have some mobility. But using her car to drive back and forth to work every week day isn’t an option. Especially since I would most likely have to drive to Harrisburg, Hershey, Lancaster, York, or elsewhere that would require anywhere from 30-60 minutes or more of travel time to and from work. So, I’m kind of stuck.

I try to appreciate what I do have while not focusing on what I don’t. Each day gets a little better, but I’m exhausted. Frustrated. Melancholy. Angry. I’m feeling a lot of feelings all the time.

Thoughts

But, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. I’ll share my good news with you later this week and you can help me celebrate brighter days ahead.

Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Life I Learned from InspiroBot

I’m not sure if you noticed, but there seems to be a surplus of inspirational platitudes out there to help us get through everything from bad break-ups to writers block to staying motivated while pursing our personal goals. Don’t believe me? Spend five minutes on Pinterest and let me know what you find. In fact, here’s the board I use to collect inspirational platitudes.

These tired, often recycled quotes that encourage us to keep our chins up and move forward, no matter how bad the reality of our situation might be, are for the most part well-meaning sentiments. However, if you’re a cynic like me, and have a dark sense of humor, or if you’ve simply been through some truly terrible experiences in life, traditional motivational quotes might piss you off. At the very least, they will inspire a need to mock them.

I’ve been going through some rough times lately. And, by lately, I mean for the past several years. As a divorced, middle-aged woman of color who is a single parent living paycheck to paycheck, I can attest to the fact that the struggle is real. This isn’t my first Everything is Going to Shit Rodeo. In fact, I have developed this uncanny ability to remain calm and keep moving forward in the face of every challenge that has come my way.

So far.

I have yet to curl up and die, but don’t assume that I’m a superwoman who doesn’t need anybody’s support to get through the tough times. That just isn’t true. I cry. I scream. I write.  I cry some more. And, I am blessed with an amazing network of people who want to see me succeed. Friends who want to help if they are able. Family who is always there for me. I’m not fighting these battles alone, but after a while, I get worn out from dealing with these challenges day in and day out. I’d like to be able to put down the plates spinning above my head without letting them shatter on the ground.

You may be asking yourself, “How does she cope?” To be honest, although my struggle is mainly the product of a lack of stability, I still have a roof over my head, enough money to pay most of my bills (my defaulted student loans not included), and as always, I have a back-up plan. Okay, one or two back-up plans.

There are people in this world, in this country, in my neighborhood, who are worse off than I am. Yes, I am struggling for stability, but I won’t have to go live on the street with my son, and I won’t have to do anything seriously demeaning to earn money. Like I said, I have a back-up plan.

As you might imagine, people who want to see me succeed have lots of kind words of support and encouragement, and yes, even platitudes. Again, all given with good intentions. And, I believe that people are sincere when they offer their words of support. But, the darker side of me, my cynical self, needs humor to deal with the struggle. Because, let’s face it, if I’m not laughing, I’m more likely to start shouting obscenities at people which only makes matters worse.

My taste in humor runs from absurdist to gallows. For example, last year around this time I was watching Twin Peaks: The Return and one of the funniest scenes in the series that made me literally laugh out loud, was in episode 11, in which Gordon Cole (David Lynch) makes the following assessment while staring at a man whose head exploded without explanation, leaving only the bottom half of his face: “He’s dead.” I replayed the scene three times and laughed over and over. Sometimes, gaping head wounds can be hilarious. In my opinion, overstatement of the obvious, especially in the context of the finality of death, can be extremely funny.

Around the same time last year, a good friend of mine introduced me to the AI inspirational meme generator, InspiroBot. Initially, I just laughed at the random  inappropriateness of the memes. But then I realized that this alternative to insipid, empty platitudes about finding happiness in the worst of times, was exactly what I needed in my life. In fact, I’ve been playing with InspiroBot almost every day since I became aware of it. And, I’m not the only one who’s enjoying the nearly Dadaist memes that range from the absurd to the eerily thought provoking to basic common sense. InspiroBot introduces itself like so:

I’m InspiroBot.
I am an artificial intelligence dedicated to generating unlimited amounts of unique inspirational quotes for endless enrichment of pointless human existence.

So far, InspiroBot has brought me hours of enjoyment, stimulated my own creativity, and reminded me that laughing at things that make most people uncomfortable is actually soothing to me. The memes it generates are funny enough, but the interface is also humorous in a scary science fiction sort of way. It reminds me of AI in films, like Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Skynet Corporation from the Terminator franchise, and David 8 from Alien: Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. The darkly humorous interface inspired Michael Walsh to write an article about InspiroBot suffering from an existential crisis for The Nerdist.

I don’t know if InspiroCorp©™® will be the catalyst for the destruction of humankind, but while I’m waiting to find out, I’m learning lots of interesting things from InspiroBot. As an agnostic who continues to search for meaning in the Universe, I’m open to finding meaning in places that might not make sense to others. At the moment, InspiroBot is one of my preferred forms of meditation. If meditation can be compared to a slot machine that generates bizarre Jungian Stream of Consciousness platitudes that either enlighten or confuse. Even if the path ahead for me isn’t clear, it’s clear to me that InspiroBot wants me to look at things differently. Here are five examples of wisdom I’ve gleaned from the AI meme generator.

Number 1: InspiroBot reminds us that our fear of dying alone may be the primary force that drives us to seek out romantic relationships. Marriage is the logical conclusion for most people who find love in this life, much like death is the logical conclusion to life itself.

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Number 2: Sometimes, you need to start with a clean slate. Which means, you need to learn how to not only accept the fact of change, but embrace it. Starting over can be scary, but it is often necessary to move forward to the next phase of your life. Whether that means quitting a job you hate, leaving a relationship that is sucking the life out of you, or literally setting something you’ve created on fire, like a short story or a painting, so you can begin again with a fresh perspective.

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Number 3: It’s okay to be weird. Being weird, especially in the company of fellow weirdoes can be an intense mood elevator. Getting together with like-minded people, whether they’re horror writers, furries, or goths, can really lift your spirits and remind you that you’re not alone in the world, and more importantly, you aren’t completely crazy. Unfurl your freak flag!

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Number 4: Life lessons aren’t always happy occasions. In fact, I often believe that the more traumatic the lesson, the greater the learning opportunity. People like to tell us to “move on,” or “suck it up,” or “get over it.” Bullshit. Embrace your bad times and learn from them so that you don’t have to repeat them in the future. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”

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Number 5: The previous meme reminds us that we can learn from our mistakes. One of life’s lessons I have to keep relearning is to not chase after people who do not have my best interest in mind. I have a terrible habit of finding myself attracted to people who will most likely cause me harm. I mean, honestly, my love of monsters relates to both fictional characters and literal people from my past. The idea of seeking out a partner who will either consciously or unconsciously hurt you due to who they are, their life choices, or a history of bad behavior in romantic relationships is almost always a bad idea. Breaking this habit is an ongoing project for me. At least when it comes to real people. My love of fictional monsters will probably never go away. Vampires, werewolves, and Lucifer just do it for me.

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Inspiration can come from unexpected sources. Some people seek enlightenment through religion, others seeks answers in Nature. For now, my answers come from InspiroBot. Laugh if you must, but don’t knock it until you try it.

Not All Heroes Get the Girl

It’s hard to believe, but today is February 1. My birthday is a mere 13 days away. Yes, that’s right, I was a Valentine’s Day baby. Like most people, I don’t really enjoy having my birthday on a holiday. I especially don’t like having my birthday on a holiday devoted to consumer-driven socially acceptable and cliched acts of affection. Since I am typically single on my birthday, I like it even less.

A few years ago I challenged myself to write a blog post a day during the month of February. Out of 29 days (it was a leap year), I wrote 21 blog posts. Not bad, huh? And, do you know what I wrote about? Fictional characters. You see, I’m a writer and as a writer, my first love was reading. Or, more specifically, narrative. I love stories. All kinds of stories. But my favorite stories are character-driven stories about people — real or fictional — that I can relate to or care about on a very deep level. Characters who make me wish I lived their lives, characters I wish were my lovers, characters so filled with pain that I want to help ease their struggles with love and friendship.

For an entire month, I wrote about characters that had had a profound effect on me in terms of how interesting and complex their lives were either on or off the page, in books, comic books, TV shows, and films. Characters who were written or performed so well that they seemed real enough to touch, hold, and um…well…fuck. You see, the characters I chose to write about during the month of February were fictional characters that made me feel especially amorous. Fuckable fictional characters.

I am going to attempt to do that again this month. There are only 28 days in February, but I’m not sure I’m going to be able to come up with 28 characters to write about. I will do my best, but I may need your help to complete enough posts to make this a worthwhile endeavor. If you’ve read my blog before, then you know what I’m talking about. As before, I encourage you to present me with challenges and make recommendations for characters I have overlooked or you think deserve the attention. If you haven’t read my blog before, welcome. I hope you enjoy the ride. You should be aware, that given the title of my blog, Girl Meets Monster, I tend to like dark characters and monsters, including vampires, werewolves, and a few serial killers. But, not all of my favorite characters are traditional monsters. Some of them are simply tragic characters with complicated back stories that make them far too interesting not to love.

A few years ago I read Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy, and became enraptured by one character in the series who has haunted me since I first met him in the novels. Originally, I planned on including him in the first series of Fuckable Fictional Character posts, but for some reason he didn’t make it into the mix that time. Maybe it was because I didn’t have a physical representation to share with you. Or maybe, it was because I wasn’t entirely sure what to say about him. Well, recently, I started listening to the audio books and have discovered that I am still very fond of him.

Casting has begun for a TV series based on the books that is currently being filmed, but since this character doesn’t show up until the second novel, this character has yet to be cast. Obviously, I’m not talking about Matthew Clairmont, the romantic lead. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t chase Matthew out of bed for eating crackers, but I’m more interested in a different vampire in this series of novels. I’m not saying that Matthew isn’t fuckable, because let’s face it, he is. However, some of the qualities that make Matthew the romantic love interest in this modern vampire romance, can easily be viewed as flaws in real-world relationships. Vampires do not make ideal mates if you have any sense of independence and this is especially true if you are not a vampire yourself. All vampires have their flaws, but some are more dangerous than others and despite Matthew’s good qualities, he is not what I consider an appropriate mate for a modern woman with a shred of self-preservation and a desire for autonomy.

The vampire who stole my heart in this series is Gallowglass de Clermont. While he isn’t the main love interest of Diana Bishop, he still plays an important role in her life, a role that forces him to put his own desires and needs on hold out of a sense of duty and loyalty, and spend centuries trapped in a situation that will only end in unrequited love. How can you NOT love a character like that?

Not All Heroes Get the Girl: Gallowglass de Clermont

Before I begin delving into why this character is indeed fuckable, I have a few ideas of my own about appropriate casting. So far, the casting that has been down for the All Souls TV show has left me a bit unsatisfied. The actor they’ve chosen to play Matthew isn’t…well, in my humble opinion he isn’t exactly fuckable. His build is too slight. There isn’t anything frightening about him. He just isn’t dark enough to be believable as Matthew. If I’m not satisfied with the casting choice for Matthew, you can imagine my worry where Gallowglass is concerned.

A few weeks ago, I was joking with a friend of mine about the fact that I had two perfectly good candidates to play Gallowglass and an equally good idea about how to decide which of them would get the role. Gallowglass is described in the novels as a blonde giant, standing at roughly 6’6” with extremely muscular arms and broad shoulders. He comes from Viking stock, part Norse and part Gaelic by way of Ireland, with a love of the sea and sailing, and hand-to-hand combat as his favorite sport. In the past he wore actual armor, but in the modern age he’s developed a fondness for biker gear — black, faded concert T-shirts, black jeans, leather jackets, a wild mop of wind-blown hair, and tattoos. What’s not to like, right? My top two picks? Jason Momoa and Chris Hemsworth. Duh!

I know, it’s a tough call. But there can be only one. And, I think the best way to decide which actor will play Gallowglass is to have them compete against each other in a traditional Greco-Roman wrestling match. Not only would they be able to battle it out to see which of them is more powerful, but the rest of us get to watch them wrestle each other. Naked. I think this should be a pay-per-view event where people can vote for the winner, and the money raised could be split between the charities of their choice. It’s totally a win-win situation for everyone on planet Earth. The winner gets to play Gallowglass in season two and three of the Bad Wolf production, money will be raised for charity, and we get to watch two stunningly beautiful men test their strength against each other while wrestling naked for our viewing pleasure. Great idea, right?

WARNING: SPOILERS, SWEETIE

Anyway, let’s get into the meat of why Gallowglass is such a fuckable fictional character. Well, to begin with, he’s a great big hunk of a man who appears to be no older than 30, but since he’s a vampire with Viking heritage he’s been around a lot longer. Given the fact that he’s Matthew’s nephew and Matthew is close to 1500 years old, Gallowglass is at least old enough to still harbor resentment toward the French king over the fact that his father, Hugh de Clermont, was killed with the last of the Templars. Gallowglass fought at Hugh’s side during the crusades, and his primary occupation is mercenary for the de Clermont family and the Knights of Lazarus. Since his vampire father is dead, his loyalty lies with Matthew as opposed to the head of the de Clermont family, Baldwin Montclair. But, to be more precise, Gallowglass’ loyalties lie where he can keep Diana Bishop safe.

We first meet Gallowglass in the second novel, Shadow of Night, when Diana and Matthew travel back through time to Elizabethan England, in 1590. Gallowglass is sent to find Matthew at the behest of the de Clermont family Sire, Philippe de Clermont. When Gallowglass arrives at the Old Lodge on the outskirts of London, he is shocked to discover that Diana is not only Matthew’s mate, but also a witch.

In their world, a covenant was formed to keep vampires, witches and daemons segregated and to minimize their discovery by humans. Witches and vampires do not mix, and they certainly aren’t supposed to fall in love and join up as mated pairs. When vampires choose a mate, they mate for life. Vampires are predatory and tend to stalk their potential mates like prey. Jealousy and a fear of losing the person they love drives them to develop unhealthy attachment issues that make them textbook control freaks and overly protective of their love interest. Let’s recap. Vampires are monsters who exhibit unstable behaviors in romantic relationships and in some cases would rather kill their own mate than allow someone else to come near them. Matthew Clairmont not only practices traditionally dangerous vampire courtship habits, but he also suffers from a rare psychological disorder called blood rage, which makes him even more dangerous. He is not an appropriate love interest, and yet he is our romantic hero.

While Gallowglass is prized for his brawn and willingness to kill enemies of the de Clermont family either in battle or more discretely as needed, we soon learn that he has a solid grasp of human behavior, a keen eye for detail, and an intuition that makes him an excellent judge of character. Family and friendship are important to Gallowglass, so he forms close bonds with the people he has sworn to protect. And, he is willing to risk his own life to keep his loved ones safe. He can be scary when it is necessary, but he is also incredibly kind, often placing the needs of others before his own needs. He has a great sense of humor and tries not to take himself or other people too seriously. Because he spent a large chunk of his life living like a warrior, he doesn’t need a lot of creature comforts and prefers a spartan lifestyle and tends to be nomadic rather than putting down roots anywhere for too long. He enjoys traveling alone and going on adventures. In the modern age, his favorite form of travel is by motorcycle, but he can still sail a ship and fly an airplane.

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Just in case you aren’t convinced that Jason Momoa looks good on a motorcycle, here’s further evidence to prove my point.

Jason-Motorcycle

Diana often describes him as being too large for his surroundings, and made to feel uncomfortable by delicate things and social niceties, even though he was often the one telling her the appropriate etiquette and expected behavior when at court in Elizabethan England, like when to remain quiet and when to curtsy. And, whenever he sensed danger or discomfort for Diana, his instinct would be to pick her up and carry her to safety or comfort, which he almost never did because he knew it would upset her. He understood that she needed to feel independent and control her own surroundings.

We get to know Gallowglass more intimately in the third novel, The Book of Life, because he spends more time in the company of Diana without Matthew. It is in this novel, through Diana’s observation of Gallowglass that we learn that not only was he given the job of watching over her from childhood through adulthood so that she could eventually meet Matthew, but also that he has fallen in love with her. And, through his own admission, his feelings for her began when he met her in the past, which means he has been carrying a torch her for more than 400 years.

Because Matthew and Diana alter time by traveling back to 1590 and through the discovery of their time travel, Philippe de Clermont makes sure that they will be safe in the future before they meet and when they return to the present as a couple. Gallowglass was given the job of literally stalking Diana from the time she was born until when she and Matthew meet in the first novel. As a vampire, his instincts to mate with her would be strong given the length of time he spent watching over her and keeping her safe. He ignores his own instincts to mate with her, because he has been keeping her safe for someone else. Matthew. And he has done this nearly impossible task without either Matthew or Diana being aware of it. That is, until Diana realizes that Gallowglas was the one watching her throughout her life, and all the pieces fall into place when he allows her to see his tattoos that tell her story, including a tattoo of a siren with Diana’s face and her firedrake, Cora.

Here’s another vote for Chris Hemsworth in case you think I’m favoring Jason Momoa a bit too much.

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I want to be fair about the selection process.

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When I first read The Book of Life, I couldn’t help thinking that Gallowglass was a much better choice as a husband. He sacrificed his own happiness to ensure that two people he cares about can be together, ignoring his own instincts and desires to become mated with the woman he loves. In fact, Gallowglass has no other lovers that are mentioned in the book. He has lived a mostly solitary and possibly celibate life so that two other people could meet and seal their fates.

Diana feels guilt and pity toward Gallowglass when she realizes how he feels about her and she fiercely believes he is worthy of love. Just not hers. There are moments when I was reading the novel that I hoped something terrible would happen to Matthew so Gallowglass would have a chance at finding the love he deserved, but I realized that wouldn’t be fair to him, because he would always be second best. No matter how amazing he is, no matter how much he loved Diana, he would always live in Matthew’s shadow. Gallowglass is doomed to the realm of unrequited love, and when Matthew becomes aware of his nephew’s feelings for Diana, rather than remaining in the company of his family, Gallowglass leaves and continues his solitary existence. His role as Diana’s protector is no longer necessary in the present with Matthew there to take on that role full time. His instinct to protect her is no longer viewed as an asset, but rather as a threat to Matthew’s dominance.

Matthew is interesting, complex, emotionally unstable, attractive, sexy, violent and scary, so he makes a great vampire. He even has an accent that fluctuates between British and his native French. And despite the fact that he’s typically everything I’m looking for in a monster lover, I’m still on Team Gallowglass. Gallowglass is kind, funny, loyal, ruggedly handsome, strong, loving, protective, gentle, and always seeking adventure. And most importantly, selfless. Not all monsters are monstrous.

And sadly, not all heroes get the girl. I’d like to think that eventually Gallowglass will meet someone deserving of the love he has to offer who will return that love threefold and shower him with the affection he has been denied. At the very least, I’d like for someone to climb on top of him and ride him until his knees buckle and he screams uncle.

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