Category Archives: Life

Lessons of Holly

Melissa_and_HollyI don’t remember when I first met Holly. She just always seemed to be part and parcel of the Butt-Numb-a-Thon experience. Every year, when I’d go down to Austin, TX, chances were pretty good that Holly was also there, having traveled from Atlanta. Holly was always a burst of energy. She’d instantly befriend the new folks. She’d remember you even if she’d only met you briefly years ago. She’d wrap you up in a hug when you arrived, and she’d hug the hell out of you when you left.

I’d run into Holly several times per year. I’d run into her at Dragon*Con and at Fantastic Fest. She’d always have a story to tell. She’d introduce me to random people she’d just met. She’d always have a different hair color.

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I remember one Fantastic Fest where I had just seen a film named Love, which was set on the International Space Station. The screening was followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers, led by none other than video game designer/astronaut Richard Garriott. I sat through most of the Q&A baffled by the fact that I was in the same room with Lord British from Ultima, and that Lord British had lived in space.

After the Q&A, the audience got up and started to leave the room. I saw Holly near the front of the theater, so I walked up to say hi. She was chatting with some other folks, but when I arrived she said, “Oh, I want you to meet someone!”

I was then led by the hand to up to Richard Garriott, who’d she’d just met and of course immediately befriended.

“Richard! This is my friend, Melissa! She’s an amazing person, and you two should know each other.”

Dumbfounded, I shook the hand of Lord British. The part of my brain that still functioned had an internal dialogue that went something like Holly what the fuck why are you talking me up as awesome to somebody who has LIVED IN OUTER SPACE?

But Richard was totally cool. By the time five minutes had passed, I had learned a lot about how people poop in space, all because Holly talked me up to Lord British.

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Holly loved people. She was a main driving force of the BNAT Facebook group. She would welcome the new folks. She kept the fires of discussion stoked during the year. She was one of the reasons that the BNAT family of attendees really is like a family. She was like that one fun, wild aunt who would always keep the conversation going at Thanksgiving.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say anything mean about another human being.

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#ff2013 has marked me for life.Last year, at the closing party of Fantastic Fest, I was one of the lucky folks on the short list to get a free tattoo. It was a long wait, but Holly would drop by every now and then to make sure I wasn’t dying of boredom. I think she even brought me a beer at one point.

When I was called up by the tattoo artist, Holly was there like a shot. See, I’d chosen the top of my foot as an excellent place for this tattoo. I’ve gotten tattoos before, so I knew what to expect, but I knew that running a tattoo gun over the tiny bones of the foot would hurt like the dickens. I was prepared to grit my teeth on my own, but Holly would hear none of that. She was determined to keep me distracted while I got jabbed thousands of times by an inky needle.

So, all during the procedure, Holly held my hand and told me stories about when she worked as an abortion clinic escort. They were a mix of serious and funny stories, told with the pace and speed of a machine gun. She just talked nonstop until the tattoo artist was done.

At the end of it, I knew she must have been an amazing clinic escort.

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Just before BNAT last year (if I remember right), Holly announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Throughout the last year, she has been a paragon of positivity and good humor. She’d make Hulk jokes about the radiation treatment. She was very open about posting photos of her various operations and treatments, and yet she always found something light to say about the damage her body was taking.

She made it to Fantastic Fest this year, which means she was deemed healthy enough to travel. I took it as a good sign, especially since whenever I saw her flit by, she looked great. She had a radiation burn across her upper chest, and her build had changed since the last time I’d seen her, but otherwise, she looked great. Even her super-short cancer recovery haircut looked great on her.

She was maybe a touch less full of energy than usual, but the difference was slight. It honestly looked like she punched cancer right in its goddamned face.

The last time I saw her at Fantastic Fest was at the final party. She was waiting to get one of the free tattoos. As she sat in line, everyone was dropping by to say how great it was to see her. A common refrain was Goodbye, see you at BNAT!

I unfortunately had to drive other folks home early, so I was unable to wait very long with her. I did get to have a nice, long goodbye, and got a hug, as always.

I was sure I was going to see her at BNAT this year, because Holly is always at BNAT.

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After she got home from Fantastic Fest a couple weeks ago, she learned that the cancer had metastasized. She was riddled with the stuff.

Yesterday, I learned that Holly has been unconscious since Tuesday. Last night, I learned that she’d been taken out of the ICU and moved to hospice. This morning, I learned that she is gone. The tired goodbye at Fantastic Fest is the last I will ever see of Holly.

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She was effervescent. She was an unstoppable dynamo of activity, a fun-seeking missile, a maelstrom of energy. It’s hard to believe that her own body betrayed her. That there will be no more Holly.

All of us who saw her at Fantastic Fest are kicking ourselves. We should have skipped a movie and had lunch with her instead. We should have hugged a little longer. I should have just waited with her for that tattoo. But really, how could we have known? Hurricanes can’t be stopped, so how could we expect that Holly could be stopped?

And as I pen this, I realize that I am doing this all wrong. Holly had it right. Holly was in the moment with everyone she came into contact with. You felt appreciated and welcomed at all times. Meanwhile, here I am, expressing gratitudes into a machine after the person who should be thanked and praised can no longer hear them.

Oh, Holly. I thought there was more time. I was certain there would be more movies and karaoke and free tattoos.

May we all live with your zeal.

HollyMeghanMelissa

The D after the OC

EI have a Google Doc Spreadsheet called Pack List. Whenever I have to pack for an out-of-town excursion, I create a new tab and take notes for the week prior to departure. Then, anytime I think, “Oh, I need to remember to bring a water bottle / a gift for a distant friend / a gorilla suit,” it all gets jotted down.

In preparation for this week’s trip to Austin, I copied my tab from last year’s Fantastic Fest trip. My first thought was to list ice packs and leg braces for my recent ankle injury… and then I saw they were already on the list. With bemusement, I realized that I’d also sprained the same ankle just prior to the same trip last year.

Then I noticed the other things I’d noted for last year’s trip. Notebooks and copies of forms and a long, detailed meal plan that I’d put together with the help of a nutritionist and a counselor, so I could enjoy the eight-day film festival without having a full-blown freak-out about what I was or wasn’t eating.

It has been a little over one year since I first went into treatment for an eating disorder and, by extension, the underlying obsessive compulsive disorder. Last year’s list was an artifact from a woman who had just started down the path of naming the monster.

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Remembering Nick Post

I woke up this morning thinking of an evening about a decade ago, when I was having beers in Chicago with Nick Post and a whole slew of comics creators. It was a hilarious evening, and it brought a smile to my sleepy face.

Then I rolled over and turned on my phone… and found out that Nick had passed away yesterday.

Coincidence? Yes, of course it was. Really, more days should start with a fun memory that involved Nick Post.

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Nick Post — aka Dominic Postiglione — was at the heart of the Midwest Comic Book Association, and was a partner at The Source Comics & Games in St. Paul, MN. During my years as a comics colorist, I saw him around pretty frequently.

He was this big, Italian guy with a boisterous voice and a larger-than-life personality. He had a big heart as well as a shrewd sense of business. Whenever Chris Jones or I needed business advice about getting a foothold in the comics business, he always knew how to guide us.

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My first foray into the business of comics started innocently enough in 2002, when Chris Jones, who’d I’d just started dating at the time, took me to one of the MCBA comics conventions. For the last couple decades, MCBA has hosted two comics conventions per year — one in the spring, and one in fall. I’d attended sci-fi conventions for years by this point in my life, but MCBA gave me my first comics show experience.

I discovered quarter bins. It was glorious.

But aside from the delight of raiding boxes for bargain-basement comics while Chris ran his table, the thing that struck me about MCBA is how well Chris and I were treated. Chris was hardly a big name at the time — he’d just worked for smaller publishers, and had just started getting single-issue jobs from DC Comics — and I was merely his girlfriend. Yet the MCBA folks always treated all of the comics talent equally, no matter how established they were, and I was always treated as more than just Chris’ female attache.

Also, after the convention closed on Saturday night, MCBA fed us free steak. All of us. Every person who worked the show got free steak.

That happens at every two-day MCBA show, by the way. Nick liked to keep us well-fed.

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A few years later, I was at Wizard World Chicago. By this time, I was an actual comics colorist.

Late one night after convention hours, I was hanging out in the hotel bar with a whole slew of comics creators: inker Terry Beatty, inker Mark Stegbauer, inker Barb Schulz, writer Terrance Griep, and of course Chris Jones. Suddenly, an anonymous donor sent a round of free beers over to our table. We were curious, but didn’t quite know who it was. The bar was stuffed full of pros from the convention (including, bizarrely, Jason Mewes).

A couple hours later, Nick Post joined our table, and it was eventually revealed that he was our Beer Benefactor. He got quite drunk with all of us, which means I learned that he owned the original art for nearly every single issue of House of Mystery. (Wait, was it House of Mystery? Maybe it was The Witching Hour. This was many years ago.)

When bar close happened and the tab arrived, Nick and I battled for it. I didn’t make a whole lot of money at the time, but I was drunk and boisterous enough to spring for a $200 bar tab. Nick, however, wasn’t having any of that. We argued a bit, which finally culminated in Nick leaning forward across the table and glowering at me.

“Look,” he said, with just a hint of alcohol in his words, “I’m rich.”

And then he snatched the bill from my hands.

I don’t know if he was rich, in the usual monetary sense. He was definitely rich with generosity, though.

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That reminds me of another story.

I was at San Diego Comic Con a few year after that. I was wandering around on the dealers’ floor, which is larger than the deck of an aircraft carrier and holds just about every desirable nerd artifact in existence. I once found a life-size replica of the beetle typewriter from Naked Lunch in that dealers’ room. I’m serious.

Anyway, that’s where I was, and I turned the corner to find a mountain of geeky stuffed animals. It contained all of the plush Monty Python toys from Toy Vault, stuffed 20-sided dice, toy Cthulhus, etc. I was fascinated by the scale of the thing as well as its contents. I started poking around.

Suddenly, Nick Post appeared from around the fuzzy mountain. It turns out that the booth belonged to The Source.

Nick and I chatted a bit while I prodded the toys. Eventually, I happened upon a plush Godzilla.

I said something akin to, “Squeeee!” because it was adorable. And then I hugged it…

…and it roared.

The thing had a sound box in it, and I’d accidentally discovered it. I squealed with delight.

Nick laughed and said, “That Godzilla should be yours.”

I dove for my wallet.

“No,” he said, waving his hand and refusing my money. “It’s clearly yours.”

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I mentioned earlier that I was always welcomed with open arms at the MCBA, no matter where I was or wasn’t with my own comics career. I think this was largely because of Nick. His belief of treating every professional and fan with respect was infectious, and he gathered people around him who also shared that respect.

There’s a lot of talk today about the treatment of women in the comics industry and in geek circles in general. I am lucky to live in the Twin Cities, because over decades, Nick helped build a comics community that respected women and diversity and kids. I think that respect bled over into the other local geek communities, too, because this is a town where many of the big conventions are at least 50% women.

Nick always treated me like a pro, even after I broke up with Chris, and even after I stopped coloring comics.

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The last time I saw Nick, it was at the MCBA Springcon this year. He was selling tickets at the door.

I started to give him money, and of course, he refused it. I started to argue with him, since I now have a sweet corporate job and I’m happy to give my sweet corporate money to support an organization that has helped and delighted me so much over the years.

This was a few days after the new American Godzilla film came out, so he eventually asked, “What did you think?” We then proceeded to full-on nerd-out about the atomic breath bit at the end of the film.

A few minutes later, after I walked into the convention, I realized that he’d distracted me with Godzilla so he could give me a ticket without letting me pay.

I’ll miss you, Nick. You were a gem. I wish I’d had a chance to say goodbye.

Slaying the EDNOS: Seven Months Later

EEDNOS: a medical acronym that stands for “Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified”

On August 3rd of last year, I finally started treatment for Binge Eating Disorder. I wrote about my trepidation and my decision at length on that day.

I’ve come a long way.
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Ruminations About Bad Entertainment

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been watching TCM’s The Story of Film, a 15-hour documentary series about cinema history, as told by Irish film critic Marc Cousins. If you have the time to crank through it, I highly recommend it. The series is Film History 101 in a jar, and it’s currently hanging out on Netflix Streaming, just waiting to be binge-watched.

Anyway, I was watching one of the episodes this morning, and the subject of Fellini came up. I thought about watching La Dolce Vita for the first time, just a couple of years ago, and remembering that I hated it. It’s clearly a very well-made film, and even an important one, but I didn’t like it.

A previous episode touched upon Leni Riefenstahl, too. I’ve seen Triumph of the Will more than once, even though it is Nazi propaganda, because it’s a truly amazing piece of history and filmmaking. I don’t enjoy the film, but I feel it’s an important film to know well.

And a couple of weeks ago, Peter O’Toole passed away, and a lot of people talked about Lawrence of Arabia. I adore Lawrence of Arabia. (I’m talking Top 5 Favorite Films of All Time sort of adoration. Seriously. I LOVE IT.) However, I had to agree with a lot of the backlash noise on Twitter: Lawrence of Arabia, for all its fine qualities as a piece of filmmaking, still boils down to a story about a White Guy Savior who goes to a Brown Person Country to save the noble savages. And women are nowhere to be seen.

And I also have this deep love for some really terrible films, such as The Apple (a bizarro post-disco glam musical by Cannon Films, circa 1980) and Miami Connection (which is what happens when a Tae Kwon Do master decides to make a 1980s action movie, complete with motorcycle drug ninjas). I partly love them because of their earnest terribleness, because they have failed so spectacularly that they become a different sort of joy. (Both of those films are currently on Netflix Streaming, by the way.)

Because of the Megalist project, I watch a lot of movies I don’t particularly instinctively want to see. I wind up seeing a lot of films that are deemed good or important by other people, and I do my best to walk into each one with an open mind. Films like The Shootist with John Wayne or Tom Jones with Albert Finney would never have been selected as viewing material if I’d just randomly seen them on a shelf somewhere. I didn’t particularly fall in love with either of them, but they certainly weren’t bad, either. They just didn’t fall within my sweet spot of taste.

Where is all this going? Well, here it is: I think it’s important to experience “bad” entertainment. I’m picking on movies here, but this applies to all art and media. We live in an age where so much is available at our fingertips, and we forget that we can be incredibly selective about where we spend our time. These digital tools can winnow down our selection list to such a laser-honed, tailored machine that we can easily forget the vast ocean of ideas that fall outside of our taste zone. If we don’t wander outside of our taste zone, how to we learn about new things? How do we find the gems in the rough, the nuggets of wisdom buried under crap, the moments of unexpected joy?

You can learn a lot from media you don’t enjoy. La Dolce Vita is a good example, in my case. Like I said above, I hated the movie when I saw it, because I have a great distaste for people who find life boring… and it’s an entire movie about such people. That’s not the movie’s problem; that’s my own taste as applied to the movie. That said, La Dolce Vita has stuck with me. I keep thinking about scenes and learning from them. I’ve only seen the film once, but it keeps bringing me insight. I’ve probably thought more about that movie than 90% of the films I’ve watched since. I’d even recommend other people watch it.

You can learn a lot from media that fails. I think it was Quentin Tarantino that said you can learn more about filmmaking from a bad movie than from a good one. Watching good movies is a nearly effortless task: a movie that successfully engages with a viewer sweeps them along. A movie that fails in its efforts wears its flaws on its sleeve. Most viewers don’t notice editing until it doesn’t work. Same goes for soundtrack, foley, acting, writing, etc. Once you’ve seen how the machine breaks, it becomes more impressive to see a machine that works flawlessly.

All media is problematic in some way. There is no such thing as a perfect movie. Even a movie with an enormous budget and a great team will be limited in scope. There will never be a movie that fairly encompasses characters from all races, all walks of life, all genders, all ages, all sexual orientations, and all philosophical leanings, simply because there is only so much time, and only so many angles that can be approached without making a mess of the story. Stories, as a necessity, are exclusionary. You can improve the film industry as a whole by ensuring that a year’s output of filmmaking is more representative of diversity, but there is no way to do that in a single film. Beyond that, cultural norms change, and there certainly is a lot of filmmaking that happened before our somewhat-more-enlightened times. I’m sure future generations will likewise look back on much of our work with disgust.

You can learn a lot from problematic media. A film can be downright reprehensible and still have something to say, even if it’s just being a talking point about its particular breed of reprehensibility. Triumph of the Will makes my skin crawl, but it’s a shining example of just how seductive Nazi propaganda was. It’s important to understand that sort of thing if you’re interested in preventing such things from happening again.