Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Meeting Brandon Mull

A disclaimer: This post was written over the course of three nights; most of the writing was done after two in the morning. Coherence is not guaranteed.

Last week I went to get some books signed by Brandon Mull. It gave me serious flashbacks to my first Really Good Day after moving to Utah. I was a timid nineteen-year-old, dizzy with the possibility of Salt Lake City, hanging out at my grandma’s house because I didn’t have a job. Oh, joy. Clearly these were frugal times, so when I saw the special section in the Desert News about a free Utah Book Festival, I was all over that. It was my first solo outing in Salt Lake. I felt like a Real Adult attending alone.

Let me be clear—I will always be an introvert who struggles with social anxiety, but in some ways it was much worse then. Events like this had to be mentally scheduled within an inch of their lives—when would I depart, when would I move from booth A to booth B, how much money should I bring, and what if—horror of horrors--  I couldn’t find parking? Potential disasters loomed everywhere. But this was free, and involved books. Brandon Mull, author of the Fablehaven series, and Obert Skye, author of Leven Thumps, would be there. If I was going to make in the city I had to leave the house sometime, why not now?

So, on a Saturday morning in September, the following happened: (abridged because I also met Obert Skye, who got his own four paragraphs of raving)

September 10, 2011 Saturday
OH MY GOSH. ONE OF THE TOP FIVE DAYS OF MY LIFE. The Utah Book Festival is A-W-E-S-O-M-E. AWESOME. I drove down to Salt Lake this morning, found the campus, found a parking lot that is free on Saturdays (oh, yeah) and proceeded to find the festival itself. LOVE. When I came in, David Osmond was playing on the teen stage, so I sat down to watch him. He is SUPER good. Then I walked around for a little bit, because the next person that I wanted to see, Brandon Mull, wouldn’t be up until 12:25 (I got there at about 10:45), so I checked out some booths. I was on the phone with Bethany when I saw some storm troopers walking around. STORM TROOPERS. LOVE. 

Then I walked around and looked at the rest of the booths. There was one from KSL TV, one for an orthodontics place (?), a giant air slide, Seagull Book, some grocery store place, whatever. I went back to the teen stage to see what was going on. There was a balloon guy who was really good with balloons but not very entertaining. After him, R. William Bennett, who wrote a version of The Christmas Carol from Jacob Marley’s POV went on. He was better, and he had a guy dressed like Marley, complete with chains, give the “Business? Mankind was my business!” speech. It was awesome. On the main stage was a magician who did great stuff. My favorite quote: “And what lesson did we learn today? Don’t eat toilet paper.” 

At this point I was getting so excited to see Brandon Mull. I left as soon as the magic guy was done and skedaddled to the teen stage and found a seat. Brandon Mull just looks like a regular guy on the street, thinning hair, shorts, you know. But he was so funny! I loved it. He referenced Narnia, Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland. He was in Green River a couple of days ago and went to see a haunted library. He says his books are usually done about eighteen months before they are published, which, as he pointed out, sucks. I would hate not having the fans up to date with what’s already happened in your head. One of the questions asked was how he thought up Kendra’s character, and he said that he would be “dead” if he was expected to understand how all thirteen year old girls act, but he could handle one. Then he said, “I daydreamed about her a lot,“ which obviously sounds strange, it was so funny. He says his favorite character is Seth, who I don’t like. Authors and I are just destined to disagree (JKR’s favorite character is Harry Potter.) Also, when he asked about heroes, I said “Jane Austen,“ and he said, “Picking a great writer is a great choice…" Haha I love him. Bahaha, “I love when heroes die in awesome ways. Which is terrible, but cool." He says his favorite Fablehaven is the fifth one. “I was in Utah the other day. Well, I’m always in Utah, because I live here."

After he was done, I went over to the book tent. Talk about a line! I tried not to worry about missing Obert Skye’s time on stage, which was in forty minutes, but that line was not moving. In the first fifteen minutes I probably moved six inches. I don’t know what took so long, but when it got moving, it was better. I got up there, and it was like, “I’m talking to BRANDON MULL. SQUEEE.” He was SO NICE. I gave the volunteer next to him my book, who opened it to the title page. He asked if I was Bethany, and I told him no, I was Rebecca, Bethany was my sister. He signed the cover page and wrote “HI BETHANY” and put a smiley face under his name. He asked how old I was, and I told him. I had asked the lady in front of me if she would take a picture, so I turned around for it, and he was like, “I’ll look up in just a second.” He held up Fablehaven and I have a picture with Brandon Mull! I told him that he needed to write more about Bracken, because I miss him. He said “If I go back into Fablehaven, Bracken will definitely be in it.” I GOT TO TELL BRANDON MULL TO WRITE MORE BRACKEN. SQUEEE!!! I thanked him and he thanked me (it seems so strange that they thank me. It’s like, “You wrote this! You’re amazing!)  and I was done.
I’m now sunburned, but it was totally worth it. :D :D :D

Me, in 2011, if that's not clear

It was a truly wonderful day. I remember shaking and having a permanent grin on my face. It was, in a sense, my first convention, albeit on a much smaller scale. Comic Con, for example, doesn’t lend itself easily to having all the booths examined in two hours. Sprawled on my grandmother’s guest bed later that night I kept opening the books to see where “my” authors had signed the cover page. 

As I waited in line for an hour to meet Brandon last week (some things never change) I reflected on  the last four years. Four years I’ve lived in Utah. More than a thousand days. That’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around. I remember when I couldn’t figure out how to navigate the grid system and had to use my GPS everywhere. Four years, huh? I could have received a bachelor’s degree or started my own family in that time. I didn’t, but, you know, I could have.

Honestly, I almost don’t recognize myself from four years ago. Several of my “personality islands” (#InsideOutReference) hadn’t been unlocked. I’d never seen an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yes, that is  a part of my personality now. There is a clear Before Buffy and After Buffy divide. In 2011 I wasn’t deeply in love with John Oliver, Passenger, or James Madison. Four years have taught me (or perhaps forced me) to increase both caution and boldness. Funny how we’re all a bundle of contradictions. My family visited at the beginning of summer. I wasn’t in the best of places. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, except forget that first part because it was definitely the worst of times. In an evening conversation my dad told me that I seemed much more grown-up than when I'd moved out. Four years will do that to you. Four years of dating and working and trying and learning. It changes you, moment by moment, and you don’t notice it because you're too close to the situation.

When I first moved to Salt Lake I could count on one hand the number of people I knew, and all of them were related to me. Factoring in natural introversion, access to a new library system, and the aforementioned social anxiety, my social calendar stayed, by choice, completely empty for *three months*. Contrast that to this week, where I’ve had four separate social engagements on my calendar. I have friends! To be honest, that still catches me off-guard sometimes. I have awesome people who want to hang out with me! This week I had a really hard day where everything I touched crumbled and I could only stare at my life with the horrified expression usually reserved for literal trainwrecks. Then my old roommate randomly texted me and I went over to her house to eat chicken noodle soup while watching Miss Congeniality. Friendship is beautiful.

When I met Brandon Mull last week, my hands didn’t shake. My smile wasn’t plastered to my face as I walked away from the table. I didn’t ask to take a picture, and our only conversation was his complimenting my shirt. (Star Wars/Calvin & Hobbes crossover. The coolest.) I had the oddest urge to tell Brandon how he had been so impressive to me four years ago. I didn’t. It was a long line, and the little boys behind me were bouncing off the walls with excitement. Walking back down the library halls I stopped to look into the now almost empty presentation room. Sitting on the floor next to the rows of collapsed folding chairs and abandoned Fablehaven posters was a little blonde girl, nose buried in a book. I felt I was looking through a window into my own past. Ten year old me never imagined the life that I live now. Honestly, I’m not sure what I expected to do when I grew up, but it wasn’t this. I do remember planning to have my first baby at twenty-one, so, whoops, my bad, dropped the ball on that one. My twenty-third birthday has come and gone, and I’ll admit I feel like my youth is slipping through my fingers. The cavalier attitude of “I’ll be able to keep living like this forever” is in a seriously endangered place. I don’t think they make a game preserve for that type of stuff. Anyway. That’s not the blog post I set out to write. The point is—well, I’m not sure what the point is. Maybe I should put up that warning at the beginning of a Mark Twain book: “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How Lucky We Are to be Alive Right Now!

If you’ve spent any amount of time with me since last Tuesday, odds are good that you’ve observed me running around obsessing about a new musical called Hamilton. It’s kind of taken over my life, ruining it in the best possible way. One review I read called it “a hip-hop masterpiece,” and I completely agree. Honestly, I didn’t expect to like it. My historical circle of enmity has long included Alexander Hamilton, and hip-hop isn’t usually my scene. But this show is GENIUS. It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before, and talking about it results in me exclaiming, “It’s too good to express in words!” and screaming.


One of the repeated lyrics is “Look around/ Look around/ At how lucky we are to be alive right now!” This sentiment has been echoing through my own life lately. I love being alive! I have been very busy and haven’t had the opportunity to blog about the whirlwind of joy that was The Drowsy Chaperone.

This show has been one of my favorite ever casts, and performing an upbeat soundtrack with them three times a week was wonderful. I played a character I named Olga Moloscovitz: a gangster undercover as a pastry chef, who used to be a golfer. They called her Hole-in-One Olga. I wore fantastic green argyle socks, which I got to keep as a souvenir. I carried a giant frosting gun, which I referred to backstage as a murder carrot. It was pretty legit.

While delivering food-based puns was fun and I always love singing my heart out (“Toledo Surprise!”), the love flooding my soul is derived from the time spent backstage. What a cast! I was tortured with more fish puns than one would think it possible to make. The women wrote funny quotes on the mirrors in our dressing room. (It was dry erase marker, don’t freak out.) We built marble towers, went to Village Inn, and speculated on putting down yet another coat of paint to cover the glitter still appearing on the stage from the previous show.

I had my first experience with performing improv during Drowsy Chaperone, thanks to several cast members who were willing to teach me some games. (I am a natural at ones like A to Z and Hecklers. Anything involving charades, however, is basically death.) I entered a sports bar for the first time. (Too loud. Too many televisions. Good mozzarella sticks.) And I met Emma Martin, who is basically an extension of my soul. Fans of LM Montgomery will recognize the phrase “kindred spirit.” Emma is my kindred spirit. Many cast members commented that we were like twins, and able to communicate in a language no one else spoke. What can I say: we’re pretty great. I could gush for paragraphs, but suffice it to say that I am #blessed.

“Look around/ Look around/ At how lucky we are to be alive right now!”

It’s General Conference weekend. Three new apostles have been named. Jeffrey R Holland’s talk on the majesty of motherhood inspires me to keep working on myself. Let’s be real, many of the talks inspire me to keep working on myself. I have so far to go. But as one of the speakers said, “It’s not your speed that matters. It’s your direction.” And I’m determined to keep my heart and life pointed towards Christ.

While driving down the interstate the other day I saw one of those light-up message boards used to relay messages about construction or delays. It said: “Buckle up. You are loved.” It was a beautiful message in a simple setting. I’d like to repeat it here. You, gentle reader, are loved. Don’t ever forget it.

That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Love. There are so many different types of love beyond romance. My love for fictional characters, for example, is pure and strong. Friendship can be transformative. Family bonds are uplifting. My love for the gospel of Jesus Christ keeps me struggling to move forward on even the darkest of days. My love for passionate people has been well documented every time I go to Comic Con. Dating, right now, basically makes me nauseous, and that hopefully will pass. Eventually. In the meantime, McDonalds has announced it will serve breakfast all day. This is the day I have long dreamt of.

Recently it’s come to my attention that several of my friends are going through trials I was previously unaware of. You know the saying: “Be kind, everyone is fighting a hard battle.” Due to this I’ve been thinking, and there’s something I have to say:

I don’t know what struggles are going on in your life. You may not feel lucky to be alive. But I know that there is a reason you are here, and you are loved. Wow, this post got a little more serious than I intended. Whoops. Go listen to Hamilton. (They’re all the best song, but this one, sung by King George, is the first one I heard, and I think it’s perfect.) Or watch The Guild. (Season four is my favorite.)