United States, Ranked by Shape

Ohio has the most pleasing shape, but Florida is a dick.

Kansas ranks slightly above Colorado, because Kansas has a wonky corner and Colorado is just a rectangle.

Alabama has actual balls.

Minnesota IS A DALEK.

Michigan WTF.

West Virginia also WTF

Louisiana looks like that BECAUSE IT IS MADE OUT OF SWAMPS WTF

New York is so perfectly shaped that it is disqualified for ruining the curve.

California is bent. Like a peen.

New Jersey is a literal bowel.

Massachusetts: wtf is up with Cape Cod?

Maine: I appreciate the way you have bullied Canada and taken up lots of space that clearly belongs to her.

Vermont and New Hampshire, you aren't fooling anyone. You are the same state, upside down and backward.

Wyoming may be even more rectangular than Colorado.

How to Shop for Jeans

Pull out the packet of photos from college (you know the one). You always meant to put them into an album. Gaze longingly of the photo of yourself, age 20, at the bowling alley. You bought those jeans at a thrift store, maybe, or borrowed them from your friend and never gave them back. You don’t even know what brand they were. They fit perfectly. A little too long, maybe, but they were made back when straight leg meant straight leg, and you cuffed them just so.

They don’t make jeans like that anymore.

Think of your college roommate. Not the first one who you hated, the girl who’d never been away from home before and went a little too wild when given the freedom of dormitory life. You don’t have to forgive her for having loud sex four feet away from you, or for locking you out the next time she wanted to have sex. Not her, but the girl you moved in with the next semester; the one who was your roommate during your internship, who loved Led Zeppelin and called you “Pixie” because you were so much shorter than her. Remember the time you borrowed clothing from her, and how funny it was. She never wore jeans. Maybe you should stop wearing jeans.

Reluctantly go to the mall.

Wonder who it was that you went bowling with that day. The boys from down the hall with the car that smelled like leaky exhaust? The girls from upstairs who you sometimes played cards with? Remember playing cards? Maybe it was the terrible roommate and that’s why you don’t remember anymore.

Your choices are the popular chain with inexpensive jeans that stretch out, the department store with mom jeans, or the expensive trendy place. Spin the wheel of fortune to choose where you’ll try first.

You’ll be tempted to just go to the popular, inexpensive store and call it a day. You wouldn’t even have to try them on. $36 and you’re out the door ($20 if there’s a sale on).

The department store won’t have anything that fits. You’ll bring a couple of styles in a range of sizes into the dressing room, but nothing will fit. You’ll try the men’s department. You used to wear men’s jeans. They will be comically awful, the pants equivalent of clown shoes.

The trendy store will be a disaster. It’s out of your price range, the salesgirl won’t help you, they don’t carry your size range, or everything will be so low rise you might as well be naked.

Go to the cheap chain store.

Now you’re angry. Why didn’t you just go here in the first place? You always wind up here. You decide to try on different styles. Maybe you have to replace your jeans so often because you just aren’t buying the right style. You try boyfriend jeans again. You’ve tried them before. They never fit like actual boyfriend jeans. Oh, that’s where the college jeans came from! You remember now.

This time they fit perfectly. And you can fit your entire hand in the pocket. Miracle. You buy them. Full price, but you don’t even mind. You’ll buy a second pair next pay period.

They are the perfect jeans for 1.5 days. Then the 10% spandex gives up the ghost and they stretch beyond recognition. You wash and dry them in the machines, hoping to return to the perfection you had so briefly. It’s no good.

You go back, thinking you will buy a size down this time. You can’t get them over your hips. You look all over for jeans without spandex. You find them in the men’s section. The legs are a foot and a half too long. Your arm goes into the pocket to the elbow. They’re $42 but will cost $70 to have tailored. You think about those college jeans again.

You buy a skirt instead.

Sorsha, Warrior Princess

She has always known that she will never be as much as her mother. Not as good — good is a word that few would use to describe her mother — but as much. Her mother is everything.

She can’t stand the thought of being a pale imitation of Bavmorda, so she trains to be a warrior. Her mother fights with words and magic; she will fight with might. She trains her whole life and becomes her mother’s most trusted ally—but never the leader of her army; that honor goes to Kael, even though she is the superior fighter. She does not question it but buries the disappointment down deep and works to show her mettle.

Then comes the prophecy.

Bavmorda imprisons all pregnant women and orders all midwives to her dungeons. Sorsha oversees the inspection of the babies, looking for the one with the birthmark that spells doom for Bavmorda. She questions nothing.

And one day, the child is born with the mark on her arm. The prophecy is true, and Sorsha goes straight to Bavmorda to tell her. In that time—so quickly!—the midwife steals the baby and escapes. It takes months, but Bavmorda’s wargs find her. The baby eludes them still, but Sorsha is determined to find her; to make it right with her mother. Bavmorda, angry that all she’s seen is the remains of the midwife, orders Kael to help Sorsha in her quest. Sorsha tries to object, but Bavmorda doesn’t listen.

Then one rainy night Sorsha raids a tavern. There's something off about the woman in the rose-colored dress holding the baby. Why do none of these men question this absurdly buxom lass? Oh. That’s why. Sorsha, who has no time for men and their foolishness, reveals his disguise with a flip of her wrist. But she never saw Lug coming, and the man in the dress escapes with the baby and a Peck. Her men give chase, but somehow the baby’s protectors luck out once again.

Finally Sorsha catches a break and captures the baby, the man, and the Peck at the lake’s edge. Slowly they caravan back toward home. The man is impossibly saucy with her, but she notices that he cares for the Peck when they encounter snow and the Peck falters.

At camp, Sorsha triumphantly shows Kael her prize. Now, at last, her mother will be pleased. The very next morning, her prisoners somehow escape their cage and the man finds his way into her tent, no doubt looking for the baby. But he can’t resist stealing a kiss. She pulls a blade but he says terrible things, claims to love her. He isn’t afraid of her. This is new.

Kael hears the disturbance and bursts in, breaking her reverie, but it’s too late. He distracted her and the baby is gone. Slipped through her fingers. And worst of all, Sorsha wants to be distracted. She can only watch as the trio escapes.

When she catches up, he’s waiting for her. He ambushes her and takes her prisoner. Perhaps it was all a trick. His friend Airk speaks freely in front of her, and Madmartigan and Willow explain their plan to take the child to Tir Asleen. Surely she is dead now that she knows the plan. He uses her as cover for their escape, taking her with them.

He holds her too tight on the horse, and says he doesn’t remember declaring his love. He says it just…went away.

“I dwell in darkness without you” and it went away?

She runs. He catches her. She sees in his eyes: it didn’t go away. She runs again. He watches her go. It didn’t go away.

She reunites with General Kael and leads him and their men to Tir Asleen. It’s crawling with trolls, but there’s only Madmartigan to mount a defense. The men aren’t as afraid of the giant troll as they are of General Kael. Why can’t she be as commanding as he is?

She watches Madmartigan fight off her men left and right, then catapult himself across the moat to save the Peck. What inspires such loyalty? Is it the Peck? Or is it the baby, who they are still protecting? He slays the monster and she has the chance to catch him, to kill him—but she finds herself kissing him instead.

In the fracas, Kael grabs the baby and rides to Bavmorda at Nockmaar, even as Airk and his men arrive. Willow seems broken, and Madmartigan promises they will rescue the baby. Sorsha finds her allegiances in question. She does not leave them.

She approaches the castle at Madmartigan’s side and watches as her mother turns the men into pigs. She begs Bavmorda to stop, and is rewarded with terrible, blinding pain. Being transformed into a pig is the pits. She is surprised to find herself a woman again, transformed by Fin Raziel, who Willow has somehow returned to her true form.

Time is of the essence. She knows her mother has already begun the ritual. Willow has a plan to get inside the castle; the men do not agree with it, but Raziel believes in him and Madmartigan comes around quickly. It’s time.

Kael laughs when Willow and Raziel call for surrender. He orders the gate lowered, and her men—his men—ride out to kill the sorcerers.

After what seems an age, Willow bangs the drum and they rush from their ferret holes and storm the castle. Inside the walls, Airk leads the troops and Sorsha leads Willow and Fin Raziel to her mother and Elora Danan. Her mother's men attack, but Sorsha cannot be so easily defeated. Bavmorda herself tries to kill Sorsha, her own child. Everything goes black and Sorsha’s allegiance is changed forever.

Sorsha comes to in time to see Bavmorda send herself to the netherworld. She learns later that Fin Raziel saved her; Willow saved Elora; that Kael killed Airk and Marmoartigan killed Kael to avenge his friend. Sorsha would like to have killed Kael herself, but if she could not, she is glad it was Madmartigan.

Everything changes. Sorsha no longer has to be as much as her mother. She can be as good as herself. She can care for Elora Danan and rule the kingdom fairly, the way her mother never could. She can make Madmartigan take a bath. He cleans up pretty good.

Grease 2 Is The Word

What if Grease 2 got right everything that Grease got wrong?

Grease was written as a satire, a fact that most people — who have, most likely, only seen the 1978 film — forget, because the movie got it wrong.

Grease takes itself so seriously that it’s hard to remember that we aren’t reallysupposed to root for Danny & Sandy. 1982’s Grease 2 never allows us to believe we should root for (or against) anyone, because they are all in on the joke. And that is the key difference between the two movies, and the reason that Grease 2 will win any contest between them that I might be asked to judge.

(Please ask me to judge a contest between Grease and Grease 2.)

In Grease, good girl Sandy pines for bad boy Danny, who showed her his softer side at the beach over the summer, but performs some sort of masculinity in front of his friends, keeping them from being together. Sandy finally sheds all sense of self and puts on a bad girl costume to attract Danny. Also there’s singing and dancing.

In Grease 2, Michael tries to get Stephanie’s attention, but Stephanie is busy having a crisis because she’s realized she has no interest in being some guy’s chick, and wants to be her own person. She tells Michael her fantasy of the perfect guy, and he tries to become him, but she ends up falling for the real Michael as well as the handsome stranger he pretends to be. Also there’s singing and dancing.

So yes, Grease 2 has the less offensive/more progressive plot, arguably, but that alone is not why it’s the better movie. It’s the better movie because it knows what it is.

Grease abandoned its original 1959 setting to incorporate as much of the latest big thing — disco — as possible, but did so without actually changing the setting, combining greasers and bobby soxers with disco and spandex (which didn’t alarm me as a child but is incredibly jarring now); Grease 2 doesn’t really care when it’s supposed to be, yet remains faithful to its cold war setting without jarring modern audiences (even Dolores’s skateboard — though it reads as quintessential 1980s — is almost period accurate, as is Michael’s motorcycle; both existed in ‘61, even though the props themselves are from slightly later dates).

Maybe it’s a coincidence that Grease is directed by a man and Grease 2 by a woman. I don’t think so, though. The difference between the way Sandy’s and Stephanie’s stories are told is so vast that it’s disingenuous to ignore it.

When I started writing this last year, there were no other voices online speaking up for Grease 2. In the time it’s taken me to put my thoughts together, a few have popped up. It’s nice to feel less alone, but I can’t help noticing a common theme of tearing Sandy down to prop up Stephanie. Sandy is a stereotype, yes, but the only thing wrong with her is the way she is treated. (I was going to link to one of them, but on a re-read it is too cruel to Sandy, and pits the other female characters against each other, too. Pass.)

It’s easy to brush off Grease 2 as “silly,” but isn’t that the point?

Not Gen X, Not Yet Millennial

A Ballad for Generation Y

I used to think
I had the answers to everything
But now I know
That life doesn’t always
Go my way, yeah
Feels like I’m caught in the middle
That’s when I realize
I’m not Gen X
Not yet Millennial
All I need is time
A moment that is mine
While I’m in between
I’m not Gen X

Those of us born between (approximately) 1976 and 1985 are stuck between two generations. As young adults we were called Generation Y, but when late 80s/early 90s-born kids started coming of age, they were dubbed Millennials and we were retconned in with them, though we couldn’t relate (some media forced us into Generation X, who didn’t want us, which is almost worse since X had defined parameters already).

An aside: Millennials are wonderful, and apparently single-handedly taking down capitalism. I write none of this to disparage their generation.

There are a small number of extremely petty hills that I will die on. They are, in no particular order and with room for additions:

  1. Leia Organa is the main character of Star Wars.
  2. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a great Indiana Jones movie.
  3. 1976–1985 babies are neither Gen X nor Millennial.

Some of the defining characteristics of Gen Y were addressed in the Wonderfalls episode “Karma Chameleon,” in which main character Jaye defends her choice to be over-educated and under-employed because, essentially, putting out the minimum effort makes her happiest. (Jaye, of course, puts out considerable effort over the course of the episode and the series, making her slacker preferences mildly ironic and her disinterest in other people semi-tragic. But I digress.)

The rule that is generally cited when defining Millennials is that they grew up with internet access. Not so Generation Y. Our college dorms were not yet wired and we had to go to computer rooms to connect to our e-mail via dial-up; we know how to send faxes; we remember the early AOL chat rooms, long distance charges, getting call waiting for the first time and the way an incoming call could bump you off your on-line session; we got our first cell phones as adults.

Gen X were adults, or very nearly, when home internet became part of everyday life. We were teens and tweens. Millennials grew up with the internet and were the first generation of children with cell phones.

We remember before. We know where the before/after line bisects our personal history.

I did not actually play Oregon Trail, but I like the school of thinking that assigns us the name The Oregon Trail Generation, because it is a game that everyone remembers, and the height of its popularity falls at the exact right time in history. (I myself would most likely assign our generation the honorific of The Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing Generation. Released in 1987, Mavis Beacon taught a generation touch typing on computer keyboards.) The Oregon Trail computer game was released in the 1970s, making it a less apt symbol of my generation — we played it at the right time not because of the game, but because of the increased commonality of the home computer. We are the generation whose computers had to be retrofitted for the internet.

Look. Does it matter what our generation is called? Maybe not to anyone but us. Perhaps the true defining characteristic of my generation, now 40-ish and unmoored, is our insistence on defining ourselves. It’s Toxic, baby.

Spy Stuff

Women are using secret codes right under your nose.

  • I love your boots.
  • Thank you; they were on sale.
  • I love your sweater.
  • Thank you; the pattern is on Ravelry.
  • I love your dress.
  • Thank you; it has pockets.

Leia Organa, Double Agent

Hope Prevails

I was 37 years old the first time someone told me that Star Wars (my favorite movie) is the story of Luke Skywalker. I was blown away. What movie had they watched? Star Wars is the story of Princess Leia, the hope of the rebellion. She is, after all, the only named character in the opening crawl. This is her story.

She was adopted as an infant, this much she has been told.

Her adoptive parents were her real parents, this much she knows.

Her mother — her real mother, Queen Breha of Alderaan — died when she was small. She remembers her in flashes of memory, uncertain which parts are real memories and which are stories she’s been told so many times that her mind created memories. She remembers a kind, beautiful woman overwhelmed by sadness — but she has been told so many times that her mother was joyful and strong; is she remembering her birth mother, Amidala? How could that be?

Her father is Bail Organa, former Galactic Senator and friend to her birth parents. He teaches her to read, teaches her to fend for herself — but he also tells her great stories of adventure and of the Jedi, brave knights who protected the old republic. Her father knows that she is more than the sum of her parentage, but he knows, too, that she comes from noble lines by birth as well as by adoption. She is a royal princess on Alderaan but a Jedi princess too. She is the daughter of a Senator and Queen and a Jedi Knight, and sooner or later that will matter to her destiny.

The force is strong in Leia, but she is guided by her mind.

Only a teenager when she begins working with the rebellion, Leia takes her father’s seat in the senate to get close to the enemy. When her father secures documents that will eventually enable to rebellion to take down the Empire’s greatest weapon, she is the one he trusts with them. She is on her way deliver them to the rebellion when the Emperor’s puppet, Darth Vader, captures her ship. But Leia is ready. She remains calm while formulating a Plan B, hiding the only hard copy of the plans in her colleague’s astromech droid and dispatching them off-ship, hoping that their escape would go unnoticed.

“I’m a member of the Imperial Senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan.”

She stands up to him without flinching, hoping all the time that the droid she sent off in an escape pod to the nearest planet will make it to Obi Wan Kenobi, an ally she has only ever heard of in her father’s stories; hoping that he is a friend; hoping that he is still there. She puts thoughts of her plan failing out of her mind and worries only about distracting Vader long enough for it to succeed.

But then she is taken to the great weapon itself and Grand Moff Tarkin changes the rules and threatens to shut down the rebellion and kill her father and millions of innocents. It almost kills her but she doesn’t break; she names Dantooine, a former stronghold of the rebellion, hoping to buy time.

Tarkin destroys her home planet and makes her watch.

She doesn’t let herself cry; there is time for that later, maybe, if she survives. Instead she formulates plans and calculates contingencies until, finally, sleep wins out.

She wakes up to a rescue attempt by a little boy disguised as a stormtrooper. Surely she is still asleep. But no, he says he is with Kenobi; these men always think they know what they’re doing and now here he is, the last place that droid should be when it contains such valuable information. She knows it is a waking nightmare when the rescue is joined by a smuggler and a Wookiee.

They have no plan.

She takes charge and manages to get them off the detention level. Of course they complain that the only way out was down a trash chute.

Impossibly, they escape the Death Star. The smuggler’s ship is worse than she could have imagined, but he is brave and impulsive and the Wookiee is loyal to him.

The kid acts on emotion, which might be dangerous. Not only that, but he thinks he is going to become a Jedi knight now that he has lost his family and his mentor. Leia knows a thing or two about losing people, and she knows that he knows nothing, but she is too kind to tell him so, and instead comforts him. Something about him is so familiar.

When they are chased by fighters, the smuggler and the boy take the gunner positions, even though she is the best shot. And when they succeed, they take credit for an escape that Tarkin clearly allowed. She knows the empire is tracking them. Keep your enemies closer. She lets them follow her, hoping that the plans will reveal a weakness her people can exploit.

Hope is what gets Leia through.

The smuggler smells good; she must resist distraction. His greed makes that easier than it might otherwise be.

They make it to Yavin, with the Death Star swiftly approaching on their tails. Hyper speed travel bought more time, but time is a commodity with an expiration date. Her engineers analyze the stolen plans. Her mission is complete, if the pilots can execute the plan in time. She readies no escape ship; if the rebel base is destroyed, she will be destroyed with it.

She doesn’t allow herself to be disappointed when the smuggler takes off to save his own skin.

She does allow herself to rejoice when he comes back in time to save Luke, who fulfills her mission and blows up the Death Star.

Leia takes no credit but gives it where it is due: to Luke, Han, and Chewbacca.

Leia Organa won the battle by relying on the right people. Leia Organa never stops fighting, even once the war is won. She knows that she can never let her guard down, so she doesn’t. She allows herself love, she allows herself family, but she also becomes a General and keeps resisting.

Leia Organa is the hero we need, but we don’t deserve her.