Embarrassing Things that Happened to Me in 2015

Mixed up my coworkers who have the same first name or similar hair (and didn’t recognize some people I’ve met multiple times)

Got on the subway going the wrong way, switched to correct line, was so lost in my own thought that I missed my stop by TWO stations, switched again, finally got off at the right place, and got lost. Was 20 minutes late to a half-hour appointment

Came dead-last in a casual axe-throwing tournament, was too bad at it for the instructor to give me advice for improvement

Facebook arguments

Left my bag checked an event, left the event, was about to get on the subway when I remembered

Ignored people at a party to blog angrily about superheroes

Started but completely stopped going to the gym

Loud, extended crying over the phone – in a Second Cup

Bought my 7th copy of Frankenstein

Verbal diarrhea

Nearly died after inhaling a cookie laughing at something on Parks & Rec

Coworkers astonished and slightly offput by my knowledge of sci-fi (which is like, the least intense genre for my geek love, although it’s ahead of video games)

Celebrity crushes

Dragging my mom to see a figure skating show because no one else would come with me NO you know what, that was awesome

Got some trivia questions wrong

Cut my hand trying to close a standing banner because I was doing it super wrong. Continued to injure my hand throughout December for some reason

Bought Penny Dreadful magnets, maybe the most useless thing I’ve ever spent money on (#noregrets)

Apparently miscommunicated with the person leading a Ghost Walk, ended up missing it after organizing my whole birthday around it (I state again that I am 24)

Broke my favourite mug at work by inadvertently smashing it against the counter. The replacement I bought briefly disappeared after I accidentally left it in the kitchen for a couple of hours (it was returned)

Got a bunch of wrong-number texts because the dude who used to have my phone number never updated anyone, and the ridiculousness hit its apex when a stranger texted me a picture of his dog without comment, so I said he had the wrong number but asked if I could pet the dog, and he called me angrily so I had to explain all of this to him over the phone

But some cool things happened in 2015 too.

Jason Loo’s The Pitiful Human-Lizard, which I edit, is now being published by Chapterhouse Comics. I wrote some mini-comics for the series, and started working editing (and writing for) The Toronto Comics Anthology Vol. 3, due out in 2016. I became the Art & Lit editor at Paper Droids.

I got a new job and new glasses.

I went on awesome trips to Seattle and Montreal and Los Angeles with fabulous friends.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (B) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (A+++) weren’t horrible disappointments like The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (F—) was in 2014. I really liked It Follows, Mad Max: Fury Road, Inside Out, What We Do in the Shadows, The Witch, and Magic Mike XXL. I didn’t see Tangerine, Sicario, Clouds of Sils Maria, Spring, or Ex Machina but I would like to. I wanted to like Crimson Peak more than I did. I marathoned all 3 Lord of the Rings movies in one sitting for the first time with another superfan and cried a lot about hobbits.

(Edited to add: I also loved Jupiter Ascending and I won’t apologize for it).

I saw some cool shows including The Roots, The Fratellis, Possible Worlds, 3 Beckett plays, Guillermo Del Toro give a lecture on the Gothic, and Marvel Universe Live (IT’S FOR GROWN-UPS TOO). I sang in a drop-in choir and painted a picture.

I made a point of reading some biographies this year – I enjoyed them and learned a lot. Some of my favourite books that I read this year were Wagner the Werewolf by George W. M. Reynolds, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter, The Hair Wreath and Other Stories by Halli Villegas, Posthumous Keats by Stanley Plumly, The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather, and Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson.

I liked iZombie, Gravity Falls, Orange is the New Black, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Steven Universe, Rick & Morty, and the 2 Marvel Netflix shows, but I liked Penny Dreadful most of all.

I made new friends who are unreasonably talented – seriously the comics talent in Toronto blows my mind – as well as being kind and smart and supportive.

I was published on The Toast and one of my blog posts here, on crediting artists in comics criticism, went viral on Twitter and appeared on Freshly Pressed (my second time!).

And even though I sucked at it, axe-throwing was kind of amazing.

Here’s to 2016. I’m going to keep learning (starting with some basic coding and then some tech and design) and try to keep a more generally positive/glass-half-full outlook. I’m going to get back to the gym, and have my name on my first comics anthology. I’m gonna kick 2016’s ass and not let it kick mine.

I hope that your 2015 was more up than down, and that 2016 is even better.

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This seemed worth reposting here – I’m published on The Toast today! Enjoy!

Saying Goodbye to Leslie Knope

I knew I was going to have a pretty strong emotional response to the finale of Parks and Recreation last night, but it ended up hitting me harder than I expected. Alasdair Wilkins captured my feelings in his review of the finale for The AV Club:

As the episode moved back and forward in time to plot out the rest of its characters’ lives, I felt keenly aware of how tonight was just one small moment in my life, one built on past experiences both good and bad, and one leading to some unknown future destination. Don’t worry, I’m fully aware of how silly that sounds, and my own presence in this observation is beside the point.

Part of the reason the episode resonated with me, I think, is that I’m on the precipice of changes in my own life. I’m less than a week away from starting a new job, possibly a new career, in an industry that’s completely foreign to me. I’m excited for a new start and the opportunities this job will bring, but I’m also anxious – as anyone is when trying something completely new. Add on all of the editing and writing I’m doing on the side, and I could really use a flash-forward to assure me that I’m going in the right direction. Even if that’s impossible for me, it was comforting to see that the characters we’ve come to love after 7 seasons of Parks and Recreation will go on to be happy. And I appreciated that not every one of them has a straight path to success; April isn’t entirely confident that she wants to have kids, and Tom has to lose everything once more before he can find his true calling. This being a sitcom, there was never any doubt that thing would turn out just fine for everyone, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying to watch. Even if only briefly, I felt like everything in my life might be okay too.

sobEven beyond resonance with my specific current situation, Parks & Rec has always seemed much more real to me than most sitcoms, despite its often broad humour. I think that this is largely due to its heavy reliance on character growth and relationships, and even under the cartooniest characters lay grains of recognizable emotional truth. Much of modern comedy relies so heavily on nastiness, whether that be raunchiness or plain mean-spiritedness, that the essential optimism of Parks & Rec has always felt refreshing. This last season was careful to give happy moments even to the hapless Gerry/Larry/Garry Gergich, a character who in some ways would have been more at home on a more cynical show like 30 Rock. The source of that sense of heart has always been the characters and the variety of unique groupings of character relationships the show produced. As someone who has largely grown weary of romance being shoved into every story out of some sense of obligation, I appreciate how organically most of the Parks & Rec romances developed. Even more than that, I loved the friendships on the show. Ann and Leslie mirror friendships in my own life (to the point that Ann’s departure last year and her reappearance in the finale had me weeping uncontrollably), and I value the different forms that friendships could take between, say, Ron and April, Donna and Tom, or Chris and Ben. These were characters with different goals and personalities (not to mention the diversity the show incorporated), but they found ways to support and relate to each other.

leslie and annIn a show that gave us Galentine’s Day, the “child size” soda (it’s the volume of child, if liquified), and Knope compliments, the most important thing Parks and Recreation gave the world was probably Leslie Knope herself. Moving past the first season, Leslie was an optimistic and determinated machine, and nothing could stand between her and what she wanted (and what she wanted, much of the time, was to make her friends happy). She had her flaws, of course, but in the end she was a woman who never took “no” for an answer. Given their real-life friendship, it’s difficult not to compare Amy Poehler’s character to Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon. We can all see ourselves in Liz Lemon, but it’s often ourselves at our worst, especially as the series progressed. As much as we love the idea of shotgunning a whole pizza, Liz’s poor dating skills and alleged unattractiveness were frequently invoked, although anyone with eyes can see that Tina Fey is a bombshell. I love Liz Lemon, and I don’t mean to be down on her, but the show frequently emphasized her flaws more than was maybe necessary for a woman struggling to hold together a team of unmotivated weirdos and have a life on top of it. As this article at Medium points out, Parks and Recreation gave us more that that. Leslie had her own flaws to make her relatable (who hasn’t desperately wanted to intervene when we think our friends are making bad choices?), and if you can’t relate to her, maybe you see yourself in Ann (who shares Liz’s awkwardness in the dating scene, although not to the same extent), or in April or Donna, or maybe Ben or Tom. Even if Leslie’s manic ambition isn’t her most relatable characteristic to everyone, she gives us something to aspire to – you can bet your ass she never held her bra together with tape.

This could be another case of right timing, but Leslie Knope is probably the most important TV character to me since Buffy Summers. I watched Buffy when I was 16, which was the perfect age to get caught up in her supernatural melodrama, but Leslie leaves our screens while I’m an adult. Unlike Leslie, I wasn’t writing my career aspirations in my kindergarten dream journal, so I’m still looking for direction, but this new job is a start. I felt a bit guilty leaving my old team in the midst of organizational changes, but Leslie reminds me that when I find something I want, I should go for it and shouldn’t apologize for my passion or ambition. Beyond that, she would tell me not to take shit from anyone, especially dudes who don’t like what I have to say (her brief shut-down of some men’s rights activists in a recent episode was truly inspiring). But on the other hand, Leslie is always there for her friends to help them problem-solve with detailed binders, or just to give them the best birthday present ever. No matter what, Leslie will support the people closest to her. I see myself in Ann’s awkwardness and Ben’s nerdiness, but Leslie is the person I want to be. I may not share her political ambitions, but I strive to emulate Leslie’s enthusiasm, her compassion, and her perseverance.

yes on knopeYes, I am aware this is a fictional television program, but as Wilde once said, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” We are far more affected by the plight of our favourite fictional characters than some of us might like to admit, but if that means that I absorbed even a little bit of Leslie Knope, I’m perfectly okay with that.

11 Questions – Liebster Nomination

WordPress user alyssabethancourt nominated me for a Liebster! Wow! I’m late on this, so I’m just going to answer the questions that were posed to me and leave it at that:

1. What is your favorite book, and why do you love it?

Frankenstein probably takes that cake (although Les Misérables and Lord of the Rings are up there too). I’m a bit obsessed with the second generation Romantics, and I love how steeped in that tradition the novel is. I love that a lady wrote it. I love that every time I read it, I discover new motifs, new images, new questions to ask. I engage with it on a different level every time I read it, and I’ve read a number of different adaptations and interpretations (to say nothing of the films, many of which I also love). There’s so much going on in that book and I love unpacking it in a different way every time I read it.

2. What book did you chuck across the room (or want to chuck across the room) because it was so terrible?

People will hate me for this, but the last time I can remember being aggressively angry at a book for being bad was the first book in the Dresden Files series (I don’t remember the title but I’m not even going to look it up). I think the issue wasn’t so much that it was terrible, but that people had been telling me how great it was for years, which made it seem more egregious – that said, it’s one of few books I put down halfway through and never again picked up. I love anti-heroes, but I found Dresden so far from likeable (especially in his interactions with women) that I gave up reading his smarmy internal dialogue. I wanted the series, if it wasn’t good, to at least be readable, but it ended up reading like a shitty watered-down Hellblazer without any of the charm that makes that series’ protagonist likeable.

3. What common word or expression drives you up the wall every time you hear it?

Any permutation of “Menism” or other MRA bullcrap. There are so many men’s rights issues that should be addressed – the rarity that fathers get custody of their children, the wage gap between white men and men of colour, and the unwillingness of society to acknowledge male victims of sexual assault – but these guys are too worried about having to pay for a woman’s dinner or hold the door open that any actual problems that men face get completely drowned out. Men’s Rights Activists will argue that they should be allowed to hit women. That’s messed up. Feminism attempts to dismantle the flawed system that is the source of problems for women and men so we should be working together to create a new system that’s truly equal, and stop giving any of our attention to these GamerGate manchildren.

4. If you could live with any kind of pet, assuming as given all of the necessary permits, supplies, housing, training, cleaning crew, etc. to make it happen, what animal would that be?

A bulldog. I love dogs so, so much so I really just want to live with dogs forever. Bulldogs (French and English, equally adorable) have a lot of health problems, so I don’t know if I could get one from a breeder unless I felt like they were bred to avoid common issues, but even then I’ll probably end up rescuing a dog when I am able to take care of one.

5. Ideal vacation: go.

I can’t find it now, but I found a bike trip through the Alps from Chamonix to Geneva, which would be scenic and also be a route taken in Frankenstein, so that’s cool. I don’t know that I have one ideal vacation though… I want to go back to England and the UK, I want to visit Australia and New Zealand (Hobbiton!!), I want to go to New York Comic Con, I’d love to see authentic Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico (if actual Mexicans invited me to participate, of course). I like traveling.

6. Where do you come down on the all-important chocolate vs. vanilla question?

Chocolate. It’s the most delicious.

7. What musical instruments do you, or would you like to play?

I sing, and yes that counts. I’ve been singing ever since I was a kid, doing musical theatre and I directed an a cappella choir in university. It was more of a social club but we had a good time, and from what I’ve seen my girls are a million times better now, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.

8. Do you think dolls are cute or creepy?

CREEPY. You’ve probably heard of Annabelle by now (the real doll was way spookier than the film version) but have you heard of Robert the Doll? I love spooky things, but creepy dolls makes me poop my pants.

9. What particular smell never fails to evoke a specific fond memory for you?

Probably baking? It says holidays and nice times and nice things. Baking means friends and family. So I love that stuff.

10. Have you ever cosplayed, or would you ever? As what?

Lots of times! The one I’ve worn most is still my Scarlet Witch, of which I’ve shared pics before, but if you’re curious, here’s a great gallery of a photoshoot I did with Hey Bad Cat Studios. One of my cosplay goals for 2015 is Cruella De Vil!

11. Do you think you would have made a dashing pirate, and what would your pirate name have been?

Oh I would have, and my name would have been my own.

—-

So that’s that – if you have any questions you’d like to ask, please do! Now that I’m writing for other sites, I don’t this blog as much to express my many, many opinions, but I still have them and I still will share them from time to time.

One more new and hilarious thing that’s new in my life – I am now cited on the Hellblazer Wikipedia page. So even if I’ve neglected this space, something good came of me rambling on elsewhere on the internet.

As always, follow me on Twitter and like me on Facebook for more frequent updates on my life. I’ve also got Instagram if that’s more your jam.

May 2015 bring you all productivity in your work and fulfillment in your personal relationships.

And hopefully more than 2 updates on this blog?

Recent Writing Round Up

The past month has been unexpectedly crazy, so let me begin by apologizing for/explaining my absence. I went to Fan Expo Canada at the end of August, which required a preparation (and then recuperation) period. I wrote up the Mike Mignola panel and the Women in Comics panel, if either of those subjects are of interest to you.

photo cred: quiddatively.tumblr.com

I’m the Scarlet Witch in the centre of this dream team

I then took a week off to visit Chicago; it’s incredible how much you can do for free if you look hard enough (and have connections – a friend of a friend brought us up to the lab at the Field Museum). We stumbled onto art exhibit The Happy Show, a definite trip high light (and not only because it was free). When I came back I had some family stuff to deal with, and I’ve spent this week catching up on writing.

I’m bad at updating this blog at the best of times, but I’m good at having opinions, so I have been doing some reviews! At Paper Droids I do a weekly column called Gender Issues where I look at the representation of women in comics. I was hoping to get conversation going with this instalment especially but maybe this audience will be more receptive to talking than the site’s – what’s your view on problematic humour?

I also enjoy comics events, and I attended the launch party for Sex Criminals #1 the other night. It was weird, to say the least. If you’re not a comics fan, you might like my review of The Conjuring or my celebration of Mako Mori from Pacific Rim. I’ve also got this article about why you should read a series called Saga even if you’re NOT a comics fan, and I’ll be doing some “comics for newbies” articles soon as well.

For any horror fans in the audience, I keep writing horror comics reviews for Haunt of Horrors Press, if you’re looking for recommendations. You should also like us on Facebook; you can get our content and links from around the web, as well as info on a Kickstarter, and hopefully a print magazine soon! I’ve written about horror a number of times before on this blog too, if you’d like to hear my thoughts on the genre in general, vampires specifically, or other misc stuff. With Halloween just around the corner, you might also enjoy this bizarre collective comic about a skeleton. I’m addicted to this surreal, choose-your-own-adventure style webcomic.

Now that we’re on the subject of horror, the first season Hannibal came out on DVD this week, so you might like to check that out this October (if you’re not squeamish). It’s more psychological horror than a procedural about catching serial killers, so check it out if you like spooky stories, not so much if you like things explained and logical. This isn’t that kind of show. Todd VanDerWerff of the AVClub wrote this spectacular piece on the show but it’s full of spoilers. This kind of article is what made me want to write about pop culture (incidentally, their review of the Dexter finale also reminded me why I gave up on the show after season 5, and stole all the points I was going to make in a blog post on the subject, so blame Joshua Alston for robbing you of a better update).

Over the next while I’m going to start looking for a real job so I’ll continue to be very busy, but my best posts (such as the post on satire) tend to come out of flashes of inspiration rather than determination to write something down. If inspiration hits maybe you’ll hear from me soon, WHO KNOWS. For now, I’m sorry I don’t have a better update for you, but hopefully I’ve provided something interesting for you to read! For more frequent updates, follow me on Twitter, @AllisonMOToole.

Hello new followers

Wow, I guess being on Freshly Pressed does wonders for publicity, doesn’t it? I update this blog when I can, and hopefully now that there are more of you here, I’ll be more motivated to do so! But in the interim between updates, feel free to check out my more regular writing for other sites – you can find links on the “My Writing Elsewhere” or follow me on Twitter @AllisonMOToole for updates.

Thanks for following, and I hope we can get some good conversations going soon.

Tonight marks my final night at Queen’s

The housemates are gone and the internet in our apartment is off, so I’m sitting in the mostly empty student centre so I can use the internet

I can hear people downstairs on their way to the final Throwback at the campus club

I was looking forward to having a night to pack by myself, but forced solitude always bums me out a bit

I’ve had a pretty incredible time for the past four years, both here and at the Castle in England

I’ll miss my housemates, being able to see them whenever I get home, when we would tell each other about the minutiae of our days

I’ll miss my choir, the constant in my life, singing every Sunday night

I’ll miss the Castle, experiencing Wales and Morocco and France and many parts of England for the first time, and getting to take itty bitty classes in a court yard

I’ll miss some of my English classes, having the free reign to discuss literature however I wanted to with people who wouldn’t be frightened off by big words or uninteresting subject matter

I’ll miss walking down to the lake on sunny days

I’ll miss trips to Dairy Queen in the rain and late night runs for Froot Loops and Classic Rock nights and Halloween with friends from Ottawa and choir rookie nights and housemate fashion parties and pre-drink sessions before a messy night at Ale or Stages

I won’t miss the arts-based budget cuts and Conservative, pro-rich-white-men attitude that pervades this university

but I’ve had some pretty incredible experiences and I wouldn’t trade them for the world

Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Because it needs to be said: I am a Wes Anderson fan. I don’t think enjoying his films is a case of ‘getting it’ or anything like that, but I can understand why some people wouldn’t like them – he uses the same aesthetic in every film, regardless of settings of time or place. His characters can seem interchangeable from film to film; the adults act like bored children, while the kids are tiny adults.

 

All of that said, something about most of his films really works for me. I love his single aesthetic, and I think it adds to the worlds he creates for every film. His obsessive attention to detail makes his work a visual treat even on repeat viewings; his literary and filmic references are a nice nod for nerds like me, and I find I can relate to most of his characters – even if they are mostly disenchanted rich white guys. So that’s why this weekend, instead of seeing Snow White and the Huntsman or Prometheus, I trekked to the only theatre in Toronto playing it to see Moonrise Kingdom.

The story is simple enough: a small island town is uprooted when two ‘troubled’ 12-year-olds run away from home to start a new life together having fallen in love. Drawn into the search for the young couple are the local deputy (Bruce Willis), runaway Sam’s Scouts master (Edward Norton), young Suzy’s attorney parents (Bill Murray and Frances MacDormand), and child services (personified by Tilda Swinton), called in when Sam’s foster parents no longer wish to care for him.

 

Newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as the star-crossed lovers are fabulous, and perform perfectly within Anderson’s style. Anderson showed in Rushmore that he could get wonderful performances out of young actors, and that ability is on in full form in this film. There are a number of impressive performances out of the many young actors. I had some reservations about how well Bruce Willis would fare within Anderson’s world, but he musters a quiet earnestness that feels right at home. The same can be said for Edward Norton, whose passionate Scouts master is at once pathetic and highly endearing. Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, and Frances MacDormand all do well with their supporting roles, giving their antagonistic characters some sympathetic qualities. Look out for fun cameos from Bob Balaban and Harvey Keitel, as well as regulars Jason Schwartzman and Eric Anderson. (Surprisingly, neither Wilson brother appears).

 

The story of young love against obstacles is not a new one, but it is hard not to get invested in it. What sets this story apart is the world going on beyond the central figures. Comparative little time is spent developing the supporting characters, but we still get a sense of their lives and relationships – in standard Andersonian fashion – through a glimpsed conversation, a casual line of dialogue, or a photo placed on a desk. The relationships, as always, are central, but this film has more action than Anderson’s previous live-action films. Like The Fantastic Mr Fox, Moonrise Kingdom feels like a storybook, perhaps one of the fantasy stories loved by the heroine. Aesthetically, Anderson’s films all resemble ornate dollhouses, this one with pure love at the centre. Even their names, Sam and Suzy, seem picked out of a book for children. There is something reminiscent of Peter Pan and Wendy about the leads in their more childlike moments – they try so hard to be adults, but with so many unhappy adults in their lives, why would they want to grow up? And like a storybook, it ends with a flood, a chase that ends on a rainy rooftop, and softening villains.

Moonrise Kingdom fills the checklist of things to watch out for in a Wes Anderson film; if that won’t get in the way of your enjoyment, and if you’d like to watch a not-so-quiet character comedy about young love and flawed people helping or hindering it, then I highly recommend this film.

My Nerdy Weekend Extravaganza!

Sorry again that I was so late with my post about Morocco, but to make up for my tardiness, you can have two posts in one day! This weekend was equally, if not more exciting than the last. I did a lot, and I almost feel like I should be making two separate posts, but I think there was some continuity to the weekend, in that I spent most of my time immersed in fandom despite being away from the Internet. Confused so far? Me too. I’ll just start at the beginning.

This weekend was a long time coming, and much planning went into it. My friend Michelle and I have been calling it our romantic weekend getaway, because we’re inseparable at school, and we decided to go and see an “anti-Valentines” show on the most “coupley” weekend of the year, then stay together in a private room. The show was part of a series at London’s Criterion Theatre called Stories Before Bedtime, featuring actors reading short stories at 10:30 at night. My reasons for being there: Tom Hiddleston reading Tennessee Williams’ “The Kingdom of Earth” and Russell Tovey reading Ovid’s “The Art of Love.” For all two of you who aren’t yet aware, I’m nursing an embarrassingly large celebrity crush on Hiddleston, which started when I saw him play Loki in Thor. Tovey played George on one of my very favourite shows, BBC’s Being Human (which sadly just jumped the shark, but that’s a post for another time). Both men are immensely talented, so needless to say, this was a big deal for me. We all know how I get with my obsessions.

Anyway, we headed into London on Friday morning, but due to train delays only arrived in the afternoon. After burritos for lunch, we checked in at our very classy hostel in Soho – the gay area of London, of course. We went first to pick up our tickets (which had been hastily purchased by phone in Cambridge weeks before), and asked as nonchalantly as possible where we could find the stage door. The guy at the box office was really calm about telling us, and didn’t seem to think that we were creepy, obsessive fangirls for asking – although he wouldn’t have been too far off the mark if he had. Afterward, we walked around London, got some shopping done, as well as some photos of Westminster Abbey and the surrounding area at sunset. We decided to dress up for the occasion, so we got ready, and headed out for dinner. We found this really funky little vegetarian restaurant off Regent Street, and after dinner walked down to the theatre.

Our excitement is written on our faces here

My first impression of the theatre was that it is gorgeous. Old architecture, gold embossing, and tiled walls make for a very Victorian atmosphere. My second impression was of the crowd: “oh my god, we’re all from Tumblr.” The audience was probably 85% female, and while I hate to stereotype, it was simple to pick out the bloggers, especially since they made up most of the population. I suppose I should explain that Mr. Hiddleston has an enormous and very passionate following on Tumblr – so passionate that he received most of the questions in the Avengers panel at the New York Comic Con, surprising the panel and most of the reviewing journalists at the event.

Russell Tovey signing for someone else… and also my face.

We were seated in practically the centre of the third row. The seats went right up to the stage (there was no orchestra pit), so we were maybe 10 feet from the stage. The stage was dressed more than I expected, with two chairs front and centre, a writing desk to my right behind them, and a bed to the left. I noticed that the young woman next to me was also alone, and learned that like most of us, she was there for Hiddleston. Shortly after introducing ourselves, the lights dimmed and without any introduction or fanfare, Tovey and his co-star from Him & Her, Sarah Solemani came onto the stage, and read the introduction from Ovid. They read three times throughout the show, and were absolutely hilarious. I knew Russell was funny, but Solemani probably got the most laughs of anyone in the show. Some of her jokes were apparently spontaneous, like when she paused after saying that “women should come late.” The mostly-female audience exploded into laughter, and it took Russell a moment to see why – then he too started giggling. She also demonstrated women’s “purring” during sex with a “meow.” But Russell was great too, even when he flubbed a line and confessed “I have no idea what I’m saying.” They moved around the building (doing one section from two boxes), and played off each other very well, so they kept the show lively. They spoke on the subjects of obtaining a partner, keeping said partner, and of course, sexual positions. It was hilarious and I was hugely impressed.

While we’re on the subject, here’s me with Russell

After the introductory bit to Ovid, Niamh Cusack read a sort of modern re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast. It was the story we all know, only with references to telephones and cars. It was pleasant, and more like what I was expecting – she read us a story. I felt a bit bad for her though, since she was soft spoken and not adequately mic’d, so you could hear the audience shifting in their seats, as well as the subway going by beneath the theatre while she spoke. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that she was sitting behind the desk, which makes it difficult to connect to the audience. That said, she did read well, and did it by candle light, which was terribly atmospheric. The story was more something I’d like to be read before bed, so she actually conformed to expectations.

After another Ovid interlude, the lights went down and “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow” from O Brother, Where Art Thou? came on. Excited whispers went through the crowd as Hiddleston walked out in what I could immediately tell was a tank top and coveralls, the arms of which were tied around his waist. The lights came up, and happily excited gasps erupted when we could see that he was covered in dirt. He opened his mouth and rather than his usual gentle, posh British voice came a surprisingly accurate Tennessee accent. This story was in the first person (so essentially a monologue) about an uneducated man who falls for his dying brother’s “loose” wife. Given the erotic subject matter, I thought I kept my composure with remarkable tact, although Michelle insists that I was squirming. I was better off than the woman hyperventilating behind me, and the one falling over in front, at least. Aside from my fangirling, he was excellent. He read with his usual expressiveness, and was completely in character the entire time, changing his voice and body language the few times he spoke as different characters. Telling a story as the woman, his body language was absolutely hilarious, and he got a few unexpected laughs. He is an immensely talented actor, and he was on in full form. I had a great time, and was completely absorbed in the story.

This is the best picture I could get of Tom – and it isn’t zoomed in at all

After a group bow, Michelle and I headed to the stage door along with our new friend – and a huge crowd of girls already waiting there (all of the people I had picked out earlier, I have to say). Russell came out fairly quickly, and I managed to get a photo with him. Michelle, whose love for him is evidently stronger than mine, was way less cool about it than I was, despite all of our friends expecting the opposite. She asked him to sign an advertisement for the event without his name or picture on it (which confused him hilariously), and then got a photo wherein her eyes are closed. She calmed down after that spaz attack, which was good, because we had to wait around for about 40 minutes. In the crowd, we befriended another fan, who happens to go to school with a friend of mine from Tumblr, and who was also on exchange in England. It’s a small world.

To give you an idea of the crowd

When Hiddleston did finally come out, it was obvious that he was exhausted and just wanted to go home. Even so, he did sign a few things with a smile, and the crowd was remarkably quiet. I felt too guilty to ask him for anything, so I just flashed a camera light at him a few times. He got in a car and left, so Michelle and I walked home, our new friend Natalie helping make sure we got there. We tried to go to bed, but in our excitement just talked about the night for about an hour before we could even think about sleeping.

Wow, this post is already stupidly long, isn’t it? Well, it’s only halfway done! The next day, Michelle and I caught a train to Brighton, where she met up with our classmates who had a field trip there, and I finally met some of my “Buffy Friends,” about who I’ve spoken before – Janet, Kelly, and Shaun. They were all just the best people, and exactly how I imagined they would be. I mean, I’d being speaking to them since 2007, so obviously I knew what they were like, but it’s different when you can attach an actual voice and body to a person. We met up in the mall, where I was greeted by a sign written in yellow crayon, proclaiming the event “Allison and Wee Frosty’s 1st International Buffy Convention.” (Janet had assumed correctly that I would be bring my Loki bobblehead, who I’ve named Wee Frosty, and has been the subject of many photos of my trip that I’ve been posting daily on my Tumblr.) Everyone signed the poster afterward, like a yearbook, and I put it up in my bedroom when I got home. They took me to Harry Ramsden’s, apparently a popular fish and chips joint in the UK. After lunch, we went back to Kelly’s hotel (an adorable B&B), and played an old Buffy boardgame, which was ridiculously complicated, but fun. There’s not so much to tell that makes a good story to anyone else, but we were all able to catch up with each other in person, which was new and exciting.

After the board game, out came the presents. I still feel horrible that I brought exactly nothing to the event, but they insisted that since I was the visitor to the UK that I was the subject of the party, so they all brought incredibly thoughtful gifts. Janet made this unbelievable cake, decorated with blood and the logo for Joss Whedon’s production company, Mutant Enemy. She also made a wooden stake out of chocolate icing, and put a heart shaped hole (filled with icing) inside the cake – so it was a stake through the heart! So clever! Kelly brought a bunch of things, like perfume flavoured of orange blossom (my general moniker online), a book of Buffy quotes, and some lovely British tea (which I drink as I write this). Shaun added to my Loki obsession with some toys, and (I still can’t believe this) gave me his copy of the first Buffy comic, along with a yellow crayon. I barely kept myself from crying after all of this. The internet can really bring people together, and here is proof.

Unfortunately, we only had time to watch Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, since Shaun hadn’t yet seen the whole thing (*gasp*) and then depart. Janet graciously took all of us to our destinations for the night, including bringing me back to the castle. It was so hard saying good bye to everyone after so little time, but I really hope to see everyone again one day, even if not together. Another member of our little group was unfortunately sick, and unable to attend, so I hope too to meet you one day too, Laura!

I wish the second part of this entry could have been longer, as it was just as amazing and special, but it’s so hard to explain lunch with friends, you know? For those who haven’t had a friendship like this, the explanation is literally impossible to explain. I mean, we’d known intimate details of each other’s lives for years, but occupying the same physical space seemed to solidify something about our relationship. I’ll miss all of you terribly, even though we will continue to speak to each other online, the way we always have.

Look at my prezzies!

This weekend was just incredible. I’m sorry this post had become so long, but I need to write all of it down so I don’t forget anything.

Fandom is the best.

Morocco: An Over-reliance on the Kindness of Strangers.

So I’ve been here for awhile, and I’ve done a lot, much of which has been school. I’ve been into London a few times (in fact I’m headed back tomorrow, but you’ll hear about that next week), I’ve seen Cambridge and Rugby and some adorable British towns, but the most exciting weekend trip I’ve taken so far was to Morocco.

Two friends, Brenna and Diana, organized the whole thing, and flew to Merrakech in the hours between Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Ji, Jesse, and I flew out to meet them on Friday afternoon. Our plan was to meet them in a fairly prominent location, Jemaa El Fna square, and walk together to the hostel. However, once we got there, we couldn’t find our friends, none of our cell phones were working, and we had no idea where the hostel was. We decided to wander the square and have some dinner, but eventually anxiety began to set in. Payphones weren’t working, none of the locals had heard of our hostel, and eventually the shops began to close. Luckily, a man in a shop let us use the wifi on his iPhone, so we found directions to the hostel from the square, and his friend brought us to a notable landmark. We apprehensively started down the indicated alleyway, when another man found us and showed us where our hostel was. We ran in, found Brenna and Diana, and much hugging happened. We all went out and had excellent late night mint tea, then headed to bed.

Ji, Jesse, Brenna, and Diana enjoy some mint tea and the view of Jemaa El Fna

We were up early the next morning for the tour, but realized that we hadn’t quite taken out enough cash – on top of that, the closest cash machine was broken, and no one spoke much English, so we were a bit short, and knew we’d have to worry about it later. Thankfully they still let us do the tour, despite being 13 Euro short, and let us pay later. We took a bus tour into the mountains, saw a gorgeous Kasbah (where parts of Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia, among other movies, were filmed), snowy mountains, expansive desert, and much local colour. The tour bus had a soundtrack consisting solely of Moroccan music (which frequently sounded very traditional), Bryan Adams, and Phil Colins. It was an interesting mix. We took many photos, and I’ll just throw some onto the end here, because I’m feeling lazy.

Snowy mountains! I almost felt at home!

The high light of the trip though, was that night. We were dropped off in front of some camels, which we rode for about an hour in the moonlight. In theory, this should have been lovely, and it was, with the exception of some fears regarding my camel. He was much rougher than the others, so I was in pain in some already tender areas by the end of the trip. To make matters worse, he seemed to be dying. I know nothing about normal camel behaviour, but periodically, mine would make a groaning sound, then throw back his head, and he would make an awful gurgling sound in his throat while his tongue lolled out of his mouth. I thought he was in the death throes, and my friends would not stop teasing me for killing my camel, especially since he was the only one the guides took away when they dropped us off at our Berber tents. Thankfully, Bubbles (as I aptly named him) was reporting for duty the next morning, but I rode a much calmer camel, so my morning ride was much more pleasant.

This was basically me the whole time I rode Bubbles. Actually, I was much like Bilbo for the whole trip – curious and excited, but always a bit nervous.

The night in the Berber tents was phenomenal. We were immediately given dinner, with a Moroccan soup, chicken Tagine, and orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon. After dinner, both tour groups (all in all around 20 people) crowded around a fire and listened to some African drumming. Once the group was down to about 10 of us, they taught us the refrains of a few songs, and even a few drum beats. We then piled into our tents, and slept in about 5 layers of clothes under 3 blankets each. The 5 of us were all in one tent, and stayed up talking for a bit because Jesse insisted that we tell her stories before she went to sleep. I slept quite well, considering, although I had a bit of a fright when I woke up to the sound of wild dogs barking.

Sunrise in the Zagora desert

The next day started off very well, with the aforementioned camel ride at sunrise. However, we realized around 12:30 that there was no way we were going to get back to Merrakech in time for our flight. We were able to communicate this fact to our bus driver, who managed to arrange to have us take a taxi back – a 4+ hours ride. With 5 people in a 4-seater car with doors that didn’t lock. With no seat belts. With a driver who didn’t speak a word of English. That was probably the most memorable part of the trip. I was one of 4 people jammed in the back seat, and it was a little cramped, but the ride was just gorgeous. We had to get back through the mountain, and we stopped for a bit in this tiny completely non-tourist village. The trip was dirt cheap, considering, and we got to the airport in good time for our 8 pm flight… Only to learn that it had been delayed because of snow. None of us had any substantial amount of money left, so we just got what food we could, and tried to get some work done – or in my case, some sleep.

The Death Cab, as we affectionately called it afterward

Eventually we did get a plane, and the taxi picked us up when we finally got in around 5:00 am. I got to bed at 6:00 am, and was exhausted the next day, but overall it was a pretty incredible experience. I’m glad we did the tour, because it let us see a lot of stuff we wouldn’t have otherwise, and I got to ride a camel to sleep in the Zagora desert. However, I would never go with that tour company again (don’t use I Go Morocco, is what I’m saying), and I think the sketchy cab ride was probably what all of us will most remember in 20 years. We all agreed that the other stuff had been amazing, but you do tend to better remember your more authentic experiences, and anything that happens because of desperation like that is bound to be much more memorable than what a tour sets up for you.

Look at your man. Now back at me. I’m on a camel.