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Smile Therapy

Having a big sister who married into the Movie Moghul family of Burlington, Vermont means that I’ve had almost unlimited access to free movie posters for the last thirty years. They covered my room growing up — all over my walls (Die Hard II, Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade) and, much to my mother’s chagrin, all over my ceiling. I saw them every time I laid back to dream: Crybaby, Sidekicks (RIP Jonathan Brandis), Enemies A Love Story, Pure Luck, Twins, and Taking Care of Business. I hadn’t actually seen all of the films, but I loved the poster art. What drew me to Taking Care of Business was the tagline: You are who you pretend to be. It just had this amazing ring of truth about it.

In my twenties, after I moved to Tennessee, I started watching that show Ally McBeal, where Peter MacNicol’s character introduced the concept of “Smile Therapy.” It’s a real thing — studies have shown that if you force yourself to stand up straight and smile like an idiot, you’ll actually feel happier. Happy is as happy does, essentially. MacNicol had great fun with this on the show…but who says life can’t imitate art?

When I started girling-up — wearing dresses and makeup and acting the princess that I am today — I first thought about it as a costume. It was easier that way. I pretended going to work was like going to a convention — something I did all the time. I never hesitated a moment to walk out in four-inch corset boots or full Neil-Gaiman’s-Death makeup…how different was a skirt and some eyeliner?

I remember the first time I effectively took Smile Therapy on the road — it was the very first Hypericon. I was in the throes of exhaustion and only days from taking myself to the doctor (a rare occurrence, to be sure). In my bag I brought two sets of clothes: one set to wear if I just felt more horrible than horrible, and one set if I decided to be cute and act the part.

The jeans and t-shirts never saw the light of day, and I had one of the most memorable weekends of my life.

Several years later, at the same convention, I remember riding down to the lobby in the elevator on Sunday morning in my maroon halter-top dress and having someone ask me where I found the energy to be so consistently cute and amazing. That’s not to say that I never crashed — oh, I did and still do (especially after Dragon*Con) — but I just put on the attitude with the outfit. Call it Method Acting or Smile Therapy or whatever you will…it certainly does the job.

This all occurred to me last night, at part one-of-two of the Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers concert last night. (Last night they performed the Glassjaw Boxer album; tonight is The Bear.) Happily, one of my favorite songs is on Glassjaw Boxer — it’s called “In Front Of The World.” Stephen wrote the song for his little brother before he went off to college to impart some worldly wisdom (which, Stephen told us last night, his brother summarily ignored). The song starts out:

Well, it’s hard to live in front of the world.
There’s only so much that you can pretend.
Write down what it is you’re thinking.
Take each day as it comes.
You never know what’s hanging ‘round the bend…

I’ve been feeling a bit in the doldrums lately — I’ve had nothing but major changes in my life for almost nine months now, and the hits still keep on coming. Nothing particularly impossible, and plenty to look forward to, but every step has been pretty darned life-altering. Some days I feel like I’m drowning in a state of exhaustion from which I’ll never surface. Like last night, for instance. I broke out the big guns — curled hair, cute dress, Alice in Wonderland shoes. I ignored the rude people behind us who talked to their kids through most of the show (thank you for leaving before the encores), and when we were allowed to get up out of our seats and dance, I be-bopped my little heart out and sang (when I knew the words) with my Fairy Goddaughters until my voice got husky.

I felt cute and wonderful (and very warm) all night long, and I had a great time. But when Stephen sang the first verse of that song, the pathetic little me underneath all the Smile Armor perked her ears up and listened. It is hard to live in front of the world and, coincidentally, I keep an ongoing list of things I need to do beside me at all times. The only thing keeping me from marking things off that list is me (and timing the DMV so I don’t have to renew my car tags until August).

If I can put on the smile and go to a concert, I can certainly wake up in the morning, put on that same smile, and get my ass to work. I’m not one of those folks who “needs to be inspired” or “needs to find my Muse” — the Muse is in the momentum. But nothing started is nothing finished, and the less I get finished, the longer this pseudo-depression might last. You guys know me enough to know I’m not a big fan of that apathetic crap. I’m more of a “take each day as it comes” kind of girl. And that’s exactly what I plan to do.

Tomorrow there’s a Kontis-Mitchell family reunion (the Greek side). I haven’t been to one of our reunions (when they’ve occurred) in five or six years. I now live close enough to attend. It’s been so long since I’ve lived so close to family…I miss them all immensely. I can’t wait to see them all. But that’s tomorrow. For now, the sun’s rising, and today has come. We’ll take this one first. Happy Friday to you all. Smiles on, everybody!

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The Year of Steves

When you’re the survivor of a heartbreaking soul-crushing really bad break-up, the first thing you ask is, “How long does it take before I’m over this asshat jerkhole person who was not worthy of me?” You will ask many different people this question, and you will receive many different answers. Ultimately, it depends on a lot of things. It depends on how long you were together, how badly you were hurt, and how much future contact you will have with this person. Ultimately…it depends on you. Like Mr. Stafford says: You Are The Only One Who Can Make You Happy.

But even when the wound’s scabbed over, there are those little things that’ll jump out of the woodwork and rip the bandage off every time — the sweating of the small stuff, as it were. Quoting a certain film. Saying a phrase with a certain inflection. Using a certain endearment. Hearing a certain name.

The biggest bastard person moron who was not worthy of me in my whole entire life was named Steve. Even after I had gotten over the crushed dreams and the stupidity and the massive amounts of debt whatever and gone on to date other people, I still flinched whenever I heard someone say “Steve” outloud.

Now…this is an unfortunate thing, since Steve is the 146th most popular name in the US. I knew quite a few folks named Steve. I even dated two other guys named Steve in the past. (My mother will never again let me date anyone named Steve now — sorry, gentlemen.)

Last year, Murphy apparently decided that I needed to get over my damage with this whole “Steve” thing. In February 2009, I spent a week with one of the most amazing guys I’d ever met…named Steve. It was tough, but I forced myself to say the word outloud and hear it be said without reacting.

Four months and five Steves later, I realized that it was going to be a “Year of Steves” — 365 days of therapy on behalf of the Machines of the Universe where I was gently reminded that one bad egg shouldn’t spoil the whole basket.

February 2009 – Steven Gould: As mentioned above, Mary Robinette Kowal had a bunch of us crazy writers to her house for a week-long writers retreat, Steampunk photo shoot, Iron Chef competition, and birthday party. The first person I met? Steven Gould, author of Jumper. There was no way on Earth I was going to escape without hearing or calling or yelling or typing his name about a billion times that week…and multiple times in the 360ish days since. Little did I know, this Steve was only the tip of the iceberg.

March 2009 – Steven Saus: A little over a month after Mary’s soiree, I finished my novel. As a reward to myself, I drove up to a little convention called Millennicon. There were many old friends to be met and new friends to be assimilated enjoyed: including a lovely writer named Steven Saus who helped me avoid crazy traffic and find an alternate route out of Cincinnati…and for which I will be eternally grateful.

March 2009 – Stephen Leigh: When David B. Coe originally introduced me to Stephen Leigh in passing at WorldCon in Denver, I did a doubletake. I dated a “Steve Lee” in college, and this guy looked nothing like him. This Steve writes awesome novels, contributes to the Wild Cards series, and pronounces his last name more like “lay.” It was great to be able to spend some time with him at Millennicon, getting to know him and hearing him speak on panels.

May 2009 – Steve Eley: Coincidentally enough, only a few short months after Mary hit the big 4-0, it was John Scalzi‘s turn. A bunch of us flew up to Detroit to surprise him at Penguicon — a convention I had never been to before that brought even more fun new faces. The Genre Chicks had just started podcasting our “Tea in Space” program, and I was eager to learn about the new (to me) world of recording oneself. I was thrilled when Mary introduced me to the very gracious Steve Eley, whose voice I was all too familiar with from many hours spent listening to Hugo-nominated stories on Escape Pod. I had a fangirl moment.

May 2009 – Steven C. Gilberts: Skip ahead two short weeks to Mo*Con, the convention over which I officially reign as Princess Supreme. We had a new venue this year, a gorgeous place that afforded us a lot more wall space to display more art — including that of our artist Guest of Honor Steven C. Gilberts. He and his wife were both soft-spoken and lovely. I’ve seen them several times since now, and I’m honored to call them my friends.

June 2009 – Steve Burns: This blog could have also been called The Year of Mary, as I spent more time with Mary Robinette Kowal than anyone has a right to (and yes, I appreciated every minute of it). She invited me to crash on her couch while I was in The Big Apple for BEA, and she showed me around the fair city when I wasn’t at the Expo. We had great “subway-foo”, as the trains would arrive the second we stepped on the platform. Of course the first time we had to wait on one, Mary ran into someone she knew. She introduced me, and we chatted about his band and the house he was building. He was fun and personable…but Mary’s friends usually are. After we parted she said, “That was Steve from Blues Clues.” I just laughed and added him to my list.

September 2009 – Stephen Segal: In July I was too busy finding soulmates at Necon…shockingly none of whom were named Steve. But September reunited me with my favorite Steves of all time — Stephen Segal, former non-fiction editor of Weird Tales and newly-appointed editor at Quirk Books (congrats, Steve!) who is made of Awesome from his head to his toes. He also drove an hour out of his way to spend some time with me at Horrorfind in MD at the end of September — another con that brought me another round of close friends (of whom I would soon be in desperate need), and I was crazy happy to have Steve on hand.

September 2009 – M. Stephen Lukac: When, at Horrorfind, Lukac turned around and introduced himself as “Steve,” I had no idea who he was. I’d seen him online as “M. Stephen Lukac” and heard of him when Kelli was referring to the “Drew & Lu Show,” but nobody had actually told me a story about him and called him “Steve.” So my initial reaction was: Dear God, not another one… Of course, by the end of the con we had laughed together, cried together, shared glow-in-the-dark bracelets, and were married for as long as it took the drunk guy hitting on me to go away. I am a very lucky woman. In appreciation of that rescue, I named my character from “Black Hole Sun” (my upcoming Dark Futures collaboration with Kelli Dunlap) Erica Lukac (pronounced “loo-kosh”). You should follow her on Twitter.

October 2009 – Steven Fuller: This Steve was a present from the wayback machine — Fuller was my boyfriend’s roommate in his first year of college. I remember him being so awesome that I wondered if maybe I was dating the wrong sort of fellow. Thanks to places like Facebook, Steve and I have been able to keep in touch over the years. When I was trapped all by myself on Devil’s Night at Sherrilyn Kenyon’s cabin, Steve and I exchanged some great catch-up emails. I told him all about the hell I was going through at my dayjob and he told me to hang in there…and reminded me that I always had a place to run to if it all became too tough to bear. Less than a month later, I ran. Now he’s 45 minutes away. HEY, STEVE!! I owe you a new email.

…and what with one thing or another, 2009 ended. I thought I was done with the Steves. I put off writing the blog. And then I realized…a “year” is 365 days. And mine started in February. There was one more Steve to come.

January 2010 – Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers: Middle Tennessee has Bonnaroo, and D.C. has Shamrock Fest. St. Patrick’s Day and a bunch of bands. I found out about it from Tomo, who was checking out this year’s guest list and Tweeted a song that he dubbed “the perfect theme song for The Breakfast Club”. It was by a guy named Stephen Kellogg. I instantly became a fan. There was another link on the side from the same show, for a song called “In Front of the World.” Looking back on all that this last year has brought me — and what I’ve made of it — it seemed like a perfectly good theme song for me.

Thanks, Steve.

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