This Week in Self-Publishing: On Intuition

This Week

Books sold: 1 ebooks, 0 paperbacks

Money earned: $2.79

Money spent: $0


Books sold: 332 ebooks, 136 paperbacks

Money earned (book sales): $1,241.14

Money earned (Patreon): $6,909

Money spent: $4,820.71

I just have a few more Volume 2 revisions and rewrites to make this weekend, and then I’ll be ready to move on to the next phase of the publication process.

You’re going to ask me “how do I know that the revisions are done?”

The short answer is that I made a list of everything I wanted to revise.

The longer answer is intuition.

In non-self-publishing news, I’m thinking about moving from Seattle to Cedar Rapids. This is where I should explain that it’s close to my parents and there’s a community arts scene and the cost of living is much more affordable and the Iowa Writers House is nearby and I just wrote two whole books about growing up in the Midwest and etc. etc. etc.

But this is what I want to tell you instead.

For the past few months, I’ve been carrying around this feeling that I finally named “evolving,” because I didn’t know what else to call it. (Also, I am well aware that evolve is an action and not an emotion.) It’s hard to describe—which is to say that some of it is very easy to describe, like the urge to purge my social media of all the people who aren’t actually part of my current social/professional circle.

(You know the joke about how our phone numbers represent the places we lived in 2008? In my case, my social media accounts represent the person I was in 2013.)

Anyway, evolving made me prickly and disinclined to do much besides work and read, and if you’re thinking “that doesn’t sound like the optimistic and cheerful Nicole I’ve been experiencing in person and online,” I will remind you that we contain multitudes and my optimism will always be part of me. Or at least I hope it will.

(My favorite jokes are the subtle ones.)

And then I went to the Safeway to get a roll of quarters so I could do laundry and I saw a copy of the Seattle Times that had a front-page article about just how much it costs to live here (we are now the third-most expensive city after New York City and San Francisco) and in that moment I knew I was going to leave Seattle.

I wasn’t even supposed to be in the Safeway that afternoon; I had gone a few days before to get groceries, and I did the thing where I paid with debit and asked for an extra $10, and then I asked if I could have it in quarters, and both of the register clerks were out, so I had to come back.

Then I bought a tarot deck.

Specifically, I bought Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven’s Prophecy tarot deck, because I still haven’t been able to get the Raven Cycle out of my head, it’s like all I want (in addition to all of the other things I want) is another five days to read the whole thing again, and even though I had thought I was a person who was VERY UNINTERESTED IN THIS KIND OF THING I got my deck and opened the book that came with it and read this:

To me, [stories] are the soul of tarot. Every spread is an opportunity to shape our current life events into a story with ourselves firmly installed as the hero at the heart of it. Stories are a way of imposing structure and control, and tarot is a way of imposing structure and control on our own spiritual growth.

And I was like yes, this aligns with my heart. 

(Also the part where Stiefvater writes that this particular deck is about being an artist.)

Having the deck first felt like having a toy, and it’s been a long time since I’ve actually had something in my hands that I could play with. I took the unshuffled, straight-out-of-the-package deck and asked it to show me my card and I pulled out the Queen of Coins and laughed, because I am currently the Queen of The Billfold and also please see that ACTUAL SPREAD OF COINS AT THE TOP OF THE POST.

Now, obviously, that’s a very literal reading of the Queen of Coins, but I didn’t know that then. The cards showed me what I needed to see at the time—or, if we’re going to get technical about it, I pulled out a card and gave it a personal meaning, but I do not want to be technical about this.

What I want to do is tell you that I played with the tarot deck like it was a toy, and then I figured out that it was one of those toys that could make you cry. Or guide you towards emotions that you might have been avoiding. Or help you draw connections between ideas.

Or, in my case, help me realize what all of this evolving was for. What could happen when I came out the other side. What I should move towards—and what I should move away from—to get there.

(Again. The subtle ones.)

I’m not going to share the full spread I did—or the question I asked when I did it—because that is way too personal. But I will share three cards I recently drew. They represent past-present-future, and you don’t need to know the more nuanced meanings of these cards to get the jist.

I used to play the piano—like, at the concerto-competition-winning level—and one of the reasons I am excited to potentially move to a place where I could rent a better apartment or an actual house (or eventually buy a house) is that I could have a piano again.

I know that if I move into an apartment I’m likely to have to get one of those headphone-capable electronic pianos with the weighted keys, the kind of piano that comes with apps and firmware updates, and I was trying to figure out why I felt so badly about my piano being a computer, because I certainly don’t mind my Kindle being a computer, and I won’t mind that whatever used car I end up getting will also be a computer.

So I was watching YouTube videos of people playing these pianos, listening to the just-like-a-real-piano sound and appreciating that somewhere, a real pianist created all of the actual piano samples that were shoved into the computer, and then I understood why I didn’t want one.

When you play a real piano, you’re playing both the instrument and the entire room. You are choosing how to touch each key to make it sound in a specific way that is unique to the space and how well you’ve warmed up and how recently the piano has been tuned and even what the weather is like outside. It’s magic in the Lev Grossman sense, and it’s worth noting that he was also a musician.

But you can’t mentally work out all of those circumstances before you sit down to play. (Some, but not all.) You have to listen, and you have to use your intuition.

I’ve been reading those essays and interviews with Philip Pullman, all the ones that say La Belle Sauvage is the best new book ever, and I keep thinking that I don’t want to know what happens to Lyra.

[Spoilers ahead.]

The end of the His Dark Materials trilogy is perfect. Not just because I have this like-an-animated-GIF memory of where I was and what I was wearing when I cried over Lyra and Will. (There have been exactly three books that have made me cry: The Last BattleThe Amber Spyglass, and The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2: 2004–2016.)

The ending is perfect because Lyra learns that it’s going to take her “a whole long life” to learn how to read the alethiometer, and as a reader who also experienced childhood prodigity that faded into adult have-to-work-for-it, my automatic response was to think of Lyra working—and then to think of how I might work, in my own whole long life, towards similar wisdom.

I don’t want to know what Lyra did next. I want both of us to keep working.

The question Lyra asks at the end of The Amber Spyglass is, honestly, “how do I make art if I’m just an ordinary person after all?”

It’s also “how do I interpret the symbols on this emotion-reflecting, future-predicting toy?”

The answer is work.

And evolution.

And intuition.

And love. ❤️


On Reading the News While Reading Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle

I checked Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys out of the library for three reasons:

  1. I love her posts on writing.
  2. I love her rules for living.
  3. Her background appears to be similar to mine in some interesting ways.

Supernatural/paranormal YA is not usually my genre, but character is my genre and feelings is my genre and mythology was definitely my genre when I was a teenager, and I ended up reading all four Raven Cycle books in five consecutive days.

I’m not sure that reading is the right word, though. More like actively hallucinating. I remember taking this pause, looking away from the page, and realizing that my bedroom looked wrong because it wasn’t the kitchen in 300 Fox Way. (Then I asked myself: Nicole, can you mentally walk through every room of that house the same way you could walk through the rooms of any place where you’ve actually lived? And I could. It was weird. I’d also created a memory map of Monmouth Manufacturing.)

Even though I love my adulthood much more than I ever enjoyed my teenagerhood—which can be emotionally, though not factually, summed up in The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1: 1989–2000The Raven Cycle made me wish I could be a teenager again.

It’s like… I wasn’t just seeing the walls of everybody’s houses, I was also inside those houses—and caves, and cars, and characters’ perspectives. Although I had a very different adolescence, I still had a moment with a guidance counselor and I still had a smile that I put on in public and I still had so many questions about love.

So I felt all of these emotions that are so vividly associated with youth and then I had to put the book down and be in my thirty-five-year-old body. Which was just as jarring as seeing my own bedroom and not the kitchen at 300 Fox Way.

But here’s why I’m actually writing this post:

If you haven’t read The Raven Cycle, I don’t consider it much of a spoiler to say that there are several primary characters and each character is involved in at least two or three intersecting plotlines. Sometimes one of the plotlines will be experiencing some stress, shall we call it—you could also call it property destruction, demon possession, or occasionally blood—but then you get to the next chapter and it’s about characters learning how to trust each other or finding joy in a cup of Dannon “Fruit on the Bottom” Yogurt.

(I don’t have time to write about the role that socioeconomic class plays in The Raven Cycle—and anyway, it’s already been written—but that cheap cup of fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt struck me right in the lived experience. Also the sentence describing the bookshelf that also holds cooking stuff. That bookshelf is in my apartment right now.)

Anyway, by the time you get to the fourth book in the series, all the plotlines start experiencing stress. You turn the pages and there is no relief; you keep turning the pages and things start happening that can’t be undone. You watch a few powerful people make choices that you know are going to hurt so many other people and there is nothing you can do to stop them.

And then you take a break and make yourself a cup of Celestial Seasonings tea and check Twitter or the Washington Post as the electric kettle on your bookshelf heats up, and you feel like you are still in the book.

The trouble is that I’m not a teenager, and I’m certainly not a YA teenager who is crucial to the narrative. I haven’t even figured out the love thing to the point that I could—well, now I am getting dangerously near spoiler territory, but what I mean is that I feel very unpowerful right now.

I’m not the Chosen One and I’m not young enough to feel like I could be someday. I’m a background character and I have to watch the monster or the earthquake or the government or the corporations and wonder if the heroes will show up—or if the only person who can fix this is off doing their homework, leaving me stuck within the boundaries of my single paragraph. Calling my reps and saying my one line of dialogue.

There is a section at the end of The Raven Cycle that addresses what we can do when we don’t know what else to do; when we feel powerless and afraid and the bad news keeps coming. I don’t want to spoil it, but I read it I felt so grateful that it had been included. You don’t have to be the Chosen One to do it, either.

Of course, the drawback is that it doesn’t really change anything except yourself. But you already know how I feel about magic only working when it’s applied to your own actions.

Maggie Stiefvater’s #1 Rule For Living is this:

Decide life is going to be great. All other methods will fail without this prerequisite. A decision that life will be great allows a terrible event to turn into a plot twist along the way, not a confirmation that your life is shit.

I love that it begins with the word decide, and I love that it implies that we can write, though not necessarily control, our own stories. Mostly I love that it’s about keeping on, moving forward, doing the work, pursuing happiness if you want to describe it that way—even when, to borrow a phrase I learned when I was an executive assistant at a DC think tank, the situation on the ground has changed.

The situation on the ground is changing faster than I can turn the pages, these days.

I don’t know what to do when all the plotlines start falling apart.

I really want to end this with “I guess I’ll write my own,” which feels like the most selfish and honest thing I could possibly say.

But I’m going to keep doing the work, which is to say doing what I can for the world and then doing my work, which is to say doing what matters to me BECAUSE IT MATTERS TO ME and that is enough reason to do it.

And because, as I wrote earlier this month, I feel emotions through stories—which means that if it does in fact come down to love, this is how I create and share it.

Now go read The Raven Cycle.❤️

Photo credit: Andrea Pokrzywinski, CC BY 2.0.

On Revising My Novel While Reading Meg Howrey’s ‘The Wanderers,’ or: Books Are Supposed to Make You Think and Feel, Right?

I read Meg Howrey’s The Wanderers last week. To say that it was a book that made me forget the rest of the world existed might be a little on the nose, if you know what the story’s about, but I haven’t been this fully absorbed by a book in… I don’t even know how long.

I’ve loved a lot of books this year; Jane Smiley’s Last Hundred Years Trilogy, Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1, Ali Smith’s Autumn, Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others, and Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn stand out as some of my favorites. But in many cases I’m studying the language along with the story, which means I am both in the book and outside of it.

In The Wanderers‘ case I was all in.

I empathized with all of the characters—important, in a character-driven book—but felt the strongest pull towards Yoshi and Helen; with Helen, in particular, I felt like Howrey was writing truths about my own life that I was not yet ready to admit to myself.

But hey, it’s been a week. So here we go.

Mild spoilers, if you want to skip the rest of this post: Helen is an astronaut. She values her ability to perform complex tasks on command and knows that doing what she loves—that is, going to space—depends on her being able to function at top capacity at all times. This means discipline of body, of mind, and of emotions both internal and projected. Which is to say she cannot be misperceived, especially in public. Astronauts represent things, after all.

Helen is proud of her ability to maintain this discipline and geniality. The discipline, at least, comes naturally. If she had not become an astronaut she would have found another job that utilized similar skills.

I put the book down partway through—because I am also disciplined, and it was time to go to bed—and thought about how remarkable it was to be reading this story about a woman who has chosen a career that comes with certain requirements and constraints, is honest about what she has given up in order to work within those constraints, and admits that the choice is worth it.

It was also remarkable to finish the book and understand that Howrey had written a story about characters growing and changing and learning from each other without having to give up their discipline. This isn’t a story about uptight astronauts learning how to love before floating around in zero-gee soap-and-ketchup bubbles because it’s okay to be messy now, aren’t you glad we learned that?  (Not saying being messy is bad. Saying that’s the cliché.) This is a story of highly qualified people who do know how to love, who share an intense experience that teaches them how to be more specific with their love and with themselves.

I made the burndown chart for The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2 today. It’s divided into the following sections:

  • Revisions
  • Rewrites
  • Checks
  • Permissions
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Prep
  • Reviews
  • Publicity
  • Awards
  • Promos
  • Ads
  • Appearances
  • Longterm
  • Maybe

For the book to publish in May 2018, I need to get Revisions through Prep done by March, in addition to my writing and editing work at The Billfold and my work for other freelance clients.

I write about 40,000 freelance words a month and edit 40 pieces, which might not require the same discipline as an astronaut but certainly requires me to function at top capacity at all times. (Or, at least, never drop below 85%.) Part of me thinks this isn’t anything worth remarking on; don’t all careers assume that we’ll show up on time, ready to go?

But other people, when I mention what I do, tend to remark on it. Generally along the lines of “I don’t know how you do it.”

I do it the same way that Helen does it: discipline, skill, compartmentalization. (And, by this point, years of practice.)

I also know what I am giving up. Not necessarily to have this career, but definitely to do all of this and get The Biographies of Ordinary People ready for publication. To do all of this, get Biographies ready, and prioritize the exercise-nutrition-sleep required to do all of this and get Biographies ready means a lot of saying no—whether it’s out loud, or internally before anyone has even asked.

This is where I’m supposed to write something about how I feel a little badly, the way the characters in The Wanderers occasionally remember to say that they feel a little badly, about this choice.

But the truth is that I want it more than anything. I have structured my entire life to have this choice. My job is to be good enough to get to keep making this choice for as long as I can.

Now I do feel badly, because I’ve written something that is both true and could be perceived as callous or careerist or lacking love, and part of what I do—you knew I was going to bring this up—involves not being misperceived.

This is both the literal definition of writing and the more contemporary definition of not being disliked. I know that telling you something true about myself is actually more likely to make us feel connected to each other, but I also know that admitting that I avoid some types of typical everyday stuff in order to focus more fully on my work might make you feel disconnected from me.

I could try to reconnect us by saying that we all make choices like this; we choose what we want to move towards and we choose what we want to move away from. (Sometimes we wish we could move towards or away from something, but there are circumstances or obstacles preventing us.) But that runs the risk of being doubly misperceived; in this case, the assumption that I’m saying my choices are better.

They’re not. I’m writing this because I’m putting a lot of intense focus on my novel right now, so I’m very interested in the choices I’m making.

I’m also writing this because I know that other people like to read about how writers work, and this is how I do it.

Mostly I’m writing this because I can’t get The Wanderers out of my head.

Back to the revisions. The reason that I am fairly sure I can complete everything on that list by March—assuming I keep the health stats up—is because this part of the writing process is mostly about discipline. It’s about me thinking critically about my writing: Is it clear?  Is every word the best possible choice, within some kind of 80:20 Pareto Principle? (Knowing which words for sure need to be the best possible choice is also part of revision.) Do the characters move in understandable ways through the narrative?

The most difficult part of that checklist will be REWRITES, which is the list of scenes I need to either rewrite in full or create from scratch. That requires emotion and sense memory and a presence of mind that is very different from the part of me that thinks “is this person a minister or a pastor?”

Which means that for the next several months, I have to be ready to jump on REWRITES on the days that I feel most emotionally capable of doing them. I already know that I’ll only have certain times free to do REWRITES (and everything else on the list), and I’ve blocked those times off on my calendar the way you’re supposed to, and I’ve already told multiple people that I won’t be available on certain weekend days because I need them, a month from now, for Biographies.

This is part of what it means to structure your life to be able to make the choices I am currently making (and knowing what you’re giving up in the process, like being less available to family, friends, the non-profit at which I tutor, etc.).

I know this isn’t the only way to revise a book. But it’s the way I’ve figured out how to revise mine. This is the second book revision process I’ve ever done, and it’s different from a lot of other writers’ first because of the way Biographies is published and second because all writers are different. We aren’t all Helens, or Pearls, or Berts, or any of the other characters that have ever helped me understand myself.

(That’s a terrible way to wrap up this post, though. Let’s revise it.)

I do want to be more specific with my love, and with myself, and with my work. I could tell you, if I weren’t coming to the end of this post, about the time I did an intensive class with Anne Bogart and learned how very specific a person could be when telling a story—and how much work it takes. (And how much love.)

And specificity requires choice, which means saying no to something in order to say yes to something else.

And now I will admit, honestly, that I do feel regret—or, more specifically, disappointment that I cannot be everything to everyone, that I am failing both them and my ideal version of myself—about the things I say no to. Right in this moment, as I write this, of course I do. ❤️

Photo credit: Ian D. Keating, CC BY 2.0.

Thoughts on Disneyland

I’ve always been the kind of person who feels emotion through stories. This isn’t to say that I don’t experience more immediate emotions, but that the two best ways for me to process my emotions are by thinking and writing or by thinking and reading. 

So when I thought of where I wanted to go on vacation—a vacation that I decided to book because I thought of the part in Ballet Shoes where Pauline says “we need a holiday, the other two are crying,” which is to say that I thought of that part instead of crying myself, and then read the entirety of Ballet Shoes to process that emotion—there was only one place I wanted to go. It might have been the only place in the world that would have counted as a vacation for me, and by the end of this you’ll know why.

I had a friend who once said that if you go to a new place by yourself, you’ll understand yourself better. I went to Disneyland alone because I hadn’t gone to a new place by myself in a very long time. I hadn’t taken a vacation that was just me in years. I’m lucky to have family and friends to visit, or to go places with, but this time I needed to go somewhere by myself.

I wanted to see who I was, as my former friend put it, when I was somewhere else.

I also went to Disneyland alone so I could take as long as I wanted to look at things.

Of course I was going to Disneybound, because I love dressing up and because there’s always something fun in perusing a group of characters—or wizard boarding school houses—and deciding which one of them is most like you.

When I was very young I imagined myself as Alice; once the Disney Princesses became a thing everyone assumed I was Belle, because she liked books, even though I more strongly identified with Ariel, who decided what she wanted and made the necessary sacrifices to go after it.

But I don’t feel like Alice or any of the Princesses, anymore. I’m not dreaming of a different life, or going to the ball for the first time. I’ve been to the ball, I’ve worn the dresses, I’ve had the kisses. (I’ve read the part of War and Peace that describes that phase of life as a brief moment that only some people get and been sad because it doesn’t last forever; I’ve thought about it later and felt happy that I had it at all.)

Now I am a thirty-five-year-old bespectacled spinster who is focused on improving her craft, which is why I Disneybounded as Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ Eglantine Price.

Which, by the way, no one recognized except one person on Instagram.

I remember not liking Bedknobs and Broomsticks as a child because it was mostly about adults. Now I’m exactly the right age for it. I love that Eglantine’s “I want” song—which was cut from the film, but it’s on the soundtrack—is actually a “keep trying” song, because she’s at a point in her life where she doesn’t have to wish that she lived in a different town or with a different species or whatever. Instead, she wants the same thing I do: to get better at what she does.

And… she does end up at a ball, eventually. Wearing a gray suit with box pleats. (If there’s one thing that should have given my Disneybound away, it was finding a gray dress that had box pleats. I had to scroll through so many Amazon listings.)

I paid the $10 extra (per day) with my tickets not for the MaxPass part, but for PhotoPass. I know how to take selfies that make me look like the vision of myself I have in my head; I wanted to see how the Disney photographers would view me.

That’s about right. I squint when I smile, and I look more boxy when I’m not leaning forward to do the “head slightly bigger than it should be because we’re used to seeing those proportions in art” look. (Or the “drop the jaw to make your face less square” look.)

I’m less pretty when I don’t craft my own photographs, in the same way that I’m less engaging when I’m not writing something or talking on a podcast. It is disheartening to pay $10 (per day) to know this, but I came to Disneyland to understand myself, which means understanding how I appear to others.

On the plane ride over, I sat in front of a mother and her two children (the dad sat across the aisle). The kids wanted to touch and look at everything; they wanted to talk constantly; they didn’t want to sit down even after their parents and the flight attendant told them, multiple times, that the plane was about to land.

I thought of myself at that age. I liked to look at things, and I’d been taught not to touch things, and if my parents had told me to sit down and be quiet I would have sat quietly and thought about things. (I spent so much time, as a little kid, sitting quietly and thinking.) It occurred to me—and this assumption may be completely wrong—that these kids experienced the world externally and I experienced it internally.

I’m not sure I know what experiencing the world externally is like. I do know that’s one of the reasons I wanted to go to Disneyland instead of, say, staying home and reading another book—or even, like, going to a national park, because that’s another place that would prompt me to be quiet and think about things.

Going to Disneyland engages the entire body, all the senses, and—as I found out—every single emotion. You can climb things, you can fall, you can walk for miles, you can hug characters or sing along with the Dapper Dans, you can be sprayed with water or doused with scents, you can buy a slice of pineapple that is so juicy that a stranger to whom you’ve just started talking will get up from the table and bring you a stack of napkins.

The thing that bothers me about the Disneyland renovations is the way they lose some of this engagement by removing the rider from the center of the story. Take the Alice in Wonderland reno, for example; the original ride was constructed as if the rider was seeing the world through Alice’s eyes—or, more specifically, through their own eyes, imagining themselves as Alice. (Or, if they were the kind of child I was, imagining themselves as themselves, in Wonderland.)

The renovated ride asks the rider to watch Alice. It’s a three-dimensional movie, made explicit by the loops of Alice animation that weave between the animatronic cards and flowers.

The Pirates reno, although it keeps some of the first-person-POV by having characters address the riders directly, no longer allows riders to build their own interpretation of what they’re experiencing. It’s the strongest memory I have from my first trip through Pirates of the Caribbean—arguably the strongest memory of that entire Disney visit. The two drops, and then the ride opening up into this space that felt like I was inside a dream. The lights weren’t bright enough, and the scenes kept changing. (I would later learn that this dream sensation was, perhaps, Disney’s intent.)

Now it’s about spotting the Pirates of the Caribbean characters. You don’t get to fill in the gaps with yourself, because they’ve all been filled in with Jack Sparrow.

Here’s my other thought about Pirates of the Caribbean: they’re removing the “buy a bride” auction scene and replacing it with a scene in which pirates with guns—including the infamous Redhead—force townspeople to “surrender their loot.”

So they’ve removed fat-shaming, lust, and subjugation of women and replaced it with… armed robbery! But hey, the Redhead has agency now? (Arguably she had agency before; it’s clear that she’s making her own choices in that bride auction scene.)

It’s hard for me to read the claims that Disney no longer wanted children to see the bride auction and think that buying/selling/leering at women was okay, because the inverse is “but we’re fine with them thinking that threatening people with guns is okay.” Pirates has slowly stripped away all of its non-Johnny-Depp sexiness, including a number of scenes involving dubious consent, but there’s still an extraordinary amount of violence; at one point the pirates burn down an entire town, and I’m pretty sure none of the residents consented to that.

I don’t even bother with the renovated Star Tours.

My favorite ride, officially, is Mr. Toad. The first time I rode it I was expecting to be safely pulled away from every danger at the last minute, the way rides (and stories) usually worked; learning that the ride actually killed you and sent you to Hell—and this is a first-person-POV ride, you are not watching Mr. Toad from a distance—was as formative an experience as seeing the Narrator get killed in Into the Woods.

I ride Mr. Toad again and again because when I was young I didn’t know stories could do that. I keep worrying that they’ll renovate it, or tear it down.

I brought three pennies to Snow White’s Wishing Well, because I was thinking about how many pennies I could bring, all the wishes I might want to make, and then I decided that three seemed like the only fair number.

And yes, I took my wishes very seriously. I don’t believe in magic but I do believe that people can create magic, which is to say they can imbue items or people or experiences with meaning. They can imagine, to borrow what seems to be the theme, something more—and then it exists.

I stood across from a woman who crossed herself after she tossed in her coins, and it was comforting to know that she and I both, as the Disney T-shirts like to put it, believed.

I dropped my first coin, and I will not tell you what I wished for but I will tell you that it came true instantly. (Think of The Magician King, and Asmodeus asking for a scar to be healed.) I dropped the second coin, and we’ll see what happens with that. I dropped the third one, and it hit a metal bar at the center of the well and made a noise like The Price Is Right trombone sound, which is to say it sounded nothing like that at all, but I knew that wish would probably not come true.

It was the kind of wish that relied on someone else’s actions, anyway. Maybe you can’t make those kinds of wishes in a well that you only believe is magic because you’ve decided to believe it is magic. (Or, at least, more important than other wells.) Maybe the best wishes for that kind of well are the ones wished on yourself and your own actions, since you’re already in the position to believe they’ll come true.

When I read the news the next morning I thought that of course I should have wished that we wouldn’t have a nuclear war. (If I’d read the news two days later I probably would have felt guilty for not wishing that we would have fewer devastating hurricanes and wildfires—or that we would successfully prevent future damage, and mitigate the damage done by, global climate change.)

I spent my second day at the park, when I remembered to check, scanning the ground for dropped pennies. I figured if I found one, it could count as a bonus wish—but I never did.

A short list of Disney Magic:

  • Discovering the Rose Court Garden and sitting in the wedding gazebo
  • Everything about the Grand Californian Hotel, from the architecture to the lounge pianist
  • Walking into the park at 8:05 a.m. and feeling like I was one of the only people there
  • Hearing Maynard give the safety instructions in the Tiki Room
  • Eating my first Dole Whip
  • Stopping to listen to the Disneyland Band and watching the very precise drum major
  • Walking into the perspective shift at Toontown
  • Coming around the curve on the Storybook Land canal boats and seeing a near-full moon
  • Walking through Pixie Hollow after dark and catching the Matterhorn, perfectly framed, between two blades of grass
  • Riding the Jungle Cruise after dark
  • Riding Peter Pan’s Flight for the first time and being once again amazed at the way Disney can blend both story and craft while still leaving enough space for emotion and imagination; I love Mr. Toad but Peter Pan’s Flight might be the one perfect ride currently in the park, in terms of what it provides and what it asks of the rider

And of course as soon as I say that Peter Pan’s Flight is perfect I remember that the way the film presents Native people isn’t that great, and even though that song isn’t in the ride it’s still part of Peter Pan—and when my gondola swung by the cliff where the Native chief was drumming, my imagination briefly dropped out so I could think “fuck, that song.”

I also don’t know how to emotionally respond to Small World; I spent the entire ride alternating between optimism, fear that our various political leaders would not heed the song’s message (which reminded me that I needed to look for that penny), and a feeling called are they seriously flying on magic carpets?

I’ve been to Walt Disney World, but I love Disneyland best. It’s small enough that you feel like you can know it, the whole thing; in two days you can do everything you want and still have time to ride your favorite rides twice.

One of the reasons I booked this vacation is that I kept thinking that if I won some big prize or a bunch of money, or met a magician who would sing about my charms while pushing me around on a library ladder, I would go to Disneyland. Then I decided I didn’t have to wait for someone else to give me a reason to go.

In two days, I did everything I wanted.

The second time I rode Pirates I sat in front of two parents who were enacting the familiar familial bitch: you should have done this, I told you I did, well I would have done it this way, and so on.

When we went into the tunnel, and everything became dark, I heard the woman say “this is Mommy’s favorite ride.”

I didn’t turn around to look at who she was talking to. For all I know, it could have been an infant. But it could have been a young child like me: sitting quietly, taking it all in, and thinking about it.

I left Disneyland feeling like I’d had all my emotions, all the way through, to the end. (I know the word for this is catharsis, and it is literally the Aristotelian goal of storytelling. Disney is really good at what it does.)

We don’t get to have emotions to their end very much anymore. I didn’t realize it until I opened Twitter and was hit with rising blips of FEAR! INDIGNATION! ANGER! SHAME! that changed as fast as I could read.

But being in Disney was like dreaming, both in the “lights too low, flowing between scenes” sense and the “clear all the gunk out of your brain” sense.

I left Disneyland in a state that was beyond happiness. Full and empty; satiated and clear-headed. (Also, sunburned. Despite multiple sunscreen reapplications.)

And yes, I know myself a little better now.

I hope you do too. ❤️