no choice at all: the subtle feminism of captain america: civil war

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a number of articles floating around about the politics of Captain America: Civil War. From its US-centric viewpoint on global conflict resolution, to its potential signaling of a conservative swing in Marvel’s messaging, to its friends-turned-enemies similarities to Hamilton (fortunately without any of the emotionally shattering Hamilton-lyrics-imposed-over-Marvel-gifs images that are all over my dashboard on Tumblr), it seems like half the internet has an opinion on the deeper meanings that can be found within the script. As a comics geek and a political junkie, I’m 100% here for it, and hope to see a lot more of the same as more people see and discuss the movie. The Russo brothers did a fantastic job of creating a film that, despite previews suggesting that it might be a too-busy mess, explored a multi-faceted conflict with a complexity and attention to character over witticisms, which isn’t something you see a lot in superhero movies.

There’s one viewing of the film that I haven’t seen discussed, though, and considering how clearly it stood out to me, I’m surprised.


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#saturdayscenes: 4/9/16

a sample of today’s writing:

Mari carefully wove her way around the edge of the ballroom, smiling at the occasional bow or curtsy. She met her mother’s eye across the room and inclined her head toward the kitchens. The Queen arched an eyebrow, but Mari had told her in no uncertain terms that she was expecting to be able to take the occasional break to get some air and check on Sofia. Her mother gave a nearly imperceptible nod before returning to her dance with her brother, the King, laughing easily at something he said and cuffing him playfully on the arm. Mari shook her head in amusement. She knew that rumors abounded that her mother and uncle secretly hated each other and only played at their friendly relationship in public, but she knew that Uncle Tomas was her mother’s best friend as much as Daniel was hers.

She slipped her way through the servant’s entrance to the kitchens, gracefully dodging a liveried kitchen maid carrying a tray of champagne flutes through the door. The kitchens were bustling with activity and she kept carefully out of the way, edging along the walls to where a tray of water glasses sat on a counter, waiting to be carried out. She plucked one off and sipped at it, grateful for the way the cooks and their assistants ignored her this time around—the first few times she’d snuck in, they had tried to see if she needed anything, but now they seemed content to let her stay out of the way and drink her water.

A familiar head of curly auburn hair caught her eye, and she raised an eyebrow as one of the guards disguised as general servants came towards her, leading the way for a woman in a dark blue dress. “Emilia?” she asked. “What are—”

The woman behind Emilia came fully into view, and Mari caught her breath.

She had hoped, when she caught sight of Ella on the stairs, that Raya wouldn’t be far behind her, but after the first dance she shared with Daniel it seemed clear that she had come alone. But here she was, standing in the kitchen, resplendent in a midnight blue gown that glittered like starlight and clung to her perfectly, and Mari felt her mouth go dry.

Raya stared back at her, just as wide-eyed, and Mari found herself amazed at how strange it was that she hadn’t really realized how bright the other woman’s eyes were when they’d met a fortnight ago. “Princess,” she said, seeming too surprised to even duck a curtsy. “What are you doing in the kitchen?”

She sounded utterly dumbfounded, not that Mari could quite blame her. It probably was odd for her to be hiding from her own ball. “I needed a break,” she admitted, and raised her eyebrows. “What are you doing in the kitchens?”

A soft flush darkened Raya’s cheeks. “I was worried I’d trip down the stairs,” she said, her smile soft and sheepish.

It was such a genuine answer that Mari laughed honestly for the first time that night. Her laughter seemed to relax Raya, and Emilia shook her head with a fond roll of her eyes, dipping a bow and leaving the way she had come. Wiping surprised tears of mirth from her eyes, Mari set her water glass down on the tray. “I was thinking I’d go to the gardens and get a bit of air,” she said. “I don’t suppose you’d like to join me?”

Raya looked surprised, but the smile that spread across her lips transformed her face from lovely to gorgeous. “Princess, I can’t think of anything I’d like more,” she said, and she took Mari’s hand.

#saturdayscenes: 3/19/16

a sample of today’s writing:

After a job in Turkey that goes tits-up so quickly Natasha had spent the rest of the mission doing damage control, she stalks into Fury’s office the minute Medical releases her with fresh stitches itching along her shoulder blade and a bandage around her knuckles. “I want a new partner,” she snaps, kicking the door shut behind her.

Fury snorts. “Hello to you, too,” he says, leaning back in his chair. The DC skyline stretches out behind him, glittering and gorgeous in the late afternoon sun, and Natasha wants to glare at it for daring to be lovely when she’s so annoyed. “You just missed Rogers. He came in with the same request.

“Good,” she says, crossing her arms over her chest, not even wincing at the tug of her stitches. “Shouldn’t be hard to do a transfer, then.”

“It’s as hard as I decide to make it,” he says, narrowing his eye at her. “And I’m of a mind to make it damn tricky for you, since you seem to be forgetting that I’m the one who makes those assignments around here.”

Natasha glares. “I want,” she repeats, “a new partner.”

“Tough shit.” He gets up, crossing to the table against the wall and pouring her a generous glass of an amber liquor, holding it out to her pointedly. Natasha sighs and takes it, and he points her toward the black leather couches in the center of the room.

When she’s sitting, her shoulders tight and the glass held loosely in her hands, he brings the decanter with him and sits down across from her. “How’s Barton?”

The abrupt change of topic should probably phase her, but she’s known Fury long enough that it doesn’t. He might be down one eye, but he’s been able to read her too well from the beginning. “Better,” she says, running her thumb along the smooth crystal of her glass. “He’s shooting again, but not with a SHIELD bow. One of his old ones. Not sure where he dug it up.”

That’s not quite true, but Fury doesn’t need to know that. The last time she’d talked to Clint over Skype, he’d shown her the fresh bowstring calluses on his fingers, telling her about the bow Laura had unearthed for him in the attic in one of the boxes Natasha had brought from her old New York apartment, and his grin had reached all the way to his sparkling eyes.

“That’s progress,” Fury says, and extends his glass to her. “To an absent friend,” he says, and as irritated as she is with him, she leans across the table and clinks her glass to his.

the light at the end of the tunnel

There’s a weird sort of thing that happens when you get close to an ending that’s still just out of reach.

Right now, I’m very close–but not quite there–to arriving at a number of big accomplishments. I start a new job two weeks from today. In just about a month, my family is going to be moving to a brand-new city, leaving behind the roots we’ve put down in Western Massachusetts over the past year. I’m just about 12,000 words from the ending of the first draft of the novel I started for National Novel Writing Month back in November 2015.

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and won. because I’m great.

It’s weird to be coming up on so many changes at once and to not be rolling in absolute anxiety attacks 24/7. That’s not to say I’m not totally freaking out (so many freakouts, team. so many.) but rather that I’m trying, actively, to remind myself that this transitional time is temporary, and is going to end in things I’ll be able to be proud of and excited about.

That said: Endings suck, a lot. I’m coming to the end of a job where I’ve met amazing people and been able to make a visible difference in the lives of kids and their families. My husband and I are leaving our first “real” home as a married couple, and the first place we’ve lived for more than a year since we both left our parents’ houses at the end of high school. I’m inching closer and closer to completing a novel draft (something I haven’t done in…yikes, four years? and that last one was a mess, so we won’t even count it). I’m excited about moving on to what’s next, but saying goodbye to these people and places and projects is hard. Perhaps the hardest part is that these endings are close, but haven’t quite arrived, and in a lot of ways, I’m still in the slugging, logistical drudgery of transitions: finishing all of my paperwork and client transition documents, looking for new apartments and making packing lists and booking travel arrangements, outlining scenes and cross-checking character arcs to make sure everything gets at least wrapped up at least moderately nicely. Hardly the romantic wrap-up I like to daydream about, where I step out of one section of life and into a beautifully set-up and organized next section.

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If this picture represented me, I would crash into the far cliff and fall down.

A gal can dream.

In an attempt to deal with all of these transitions and keep my eye on the light at the end of the tunnel of these projects rather than getting stuck in the muddled middle of the tunnel, I’ve been trying to find ways to bring a bit of that end-of-the-tunnel light to where I am now. Because I’m obsessed with planning and lists, part of what’s keeping me sane is just keeping track of what needs to be done by what point helps me to not only look see what I need to be working on, but also how much time I have to complete each task (and, of course, gives me that thrill of victory when I cross something off the list).

I’ve also–and judge away, y’all–finally caved and indulged myself in a Pinterest account and started pinning all manner of interior decorating things. Part of this is because I am absolute trash for Apartment Therapy, but I also just really like to be able to visualize spaces. The down side of this is that we actually don’t have a new apartment/home yet (which makes me do this a lot) so I really have no idea at all what kind of space we’re going to be in–so any kind of design planning is pretty hugely premature. But whatever, guys. It makes me feel better. Picturing a new home with our own furniture and books and blankets and dog toys, maybe with a few new design pieces or bits of art, helps the interim anxiety of packing and moving and unpacking feel a little bit overwhelming.

As much as I’ve been trying not to indulge my inner packrat, I’ve also started looking for mementos–solid, actual ways to commemorate these places and experiences. Going through my office, I’ve found pictures that my clients have drawn and asked me to keep, collages that I made with them as we explored the therapeutic process together. I’ve started looking at key memento ideas as a way to hang on to our house after we leave, and my inner crafting brain is already hard at work.



But most of all, and as odd as it sounds, I’m trying to enjoy this process. This point of almost-but-not-quite-there in a transition is usually the point where I start regularly looking longingly at bottles of wine, but this time around, I’m making a conscious effort to step back and listen to what my body and feelings are telling me. My goal isn’t to cruise through these endings, but rather to savor them: to be present in each moment, listening to my clients process their transition between clinicians, appreciating the textures and sounds and scents of my house before it’s time to say goodbye, enjoying the time I spend working on this novel and getting to know these characters and settings as their stories come to an end. I’m hopeful–not positive, but hopeful–that leaning into the transition and listening to my limits as I go through it, I’ll be able to enjoy the process, rather than burying my head in the sand and just waiting frantically for it to be over.

I’m not going to be the kind of person who learns to enjoy transitions overnight. But I’m trying. I’m trying.

And maybe that’s a light in the tunnel all on its own.

#saturdayscenes: 3/5/16

a sample of today’s writing:

The servant led the way down a wide hallway, and the sounds of music grew louder as they walked. It was a full orchestra, Ella realized, playing a full waltz, and she felt her heart begin to beat faster. They stopped in front of a pair of huge, open doors, the room beyond clear source of the music. “The main entrance to the ballroom is here,” the servant said. “You’ll enter at the top of the stairs, and make your way down. The herald may introduce you, if you’d like your names announced.”

Raya stopped dead in her tracks. “Is there a side entrance, maybe?” she asked, her tone nervous. “Something like that?”

The servant blinked at her. “A servant’s entrance, my lady? Why would you…?”

“I…” Raya cleared her throat, managing a nervous smile, uncertain enough that Ella, who knew Raya better than nearly anyone, believed it. “I have terrible ankles on stairs,” she said. “If I’m going to slip in this gown, I’d just rather do it somewhere where half the peers of the realm won’t see it.”

“Oh, of course.” The servant actually smiled at that, a real smile, not the placid one she’d greeted them with. “You’re actually not the first person to ask.” She dropped her tone, conspiratorial. “Believe it or not, the Princess tried that earlier, but the Queen wouldn’t stand for it.”

Raya laughed, and Ella couldn’t help a smile. Another point in the princess’s favor, she thought.

Still—Raya wanted to blend into the background of the ball, but Ella wanted to be noticed—by a specific someone. “I don’t mind the stairs,” she said, surprising herself with the sudden boldness. “Can you go on without me?”

A hint of surprise flickered across Raya’s features, but she smiled. “I can,” she said. She reached out and tugged Ella into a hug, and Ella held onto her tight. “Good luck, baby sister,” she whispered, and Ella pressed her face into her shoulder. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She pulled away, straightening her shoulders and raising her chin. “Do I look all right?”

“You look perfect,” Raya said, just a hint away from tearful. “Knock them dead.” She glanced at the servant, who was waiting patiently. “Servant’s entrance?” she asked hopefully, and the girl smiled, holding out an arm to indicate the direction. With a last glance over her shoulder at Ella, Raya followed her down the hall.

Left alone, Ella took a few deep breaths, waiting just out of sight of the open doors. You can do this, she told herself. It’s just a party. You’ve been to parties before. She inhaled and exhaled slowly, steeling herself for bravery. Closing her eyes, she pictured the prince’s face the way it had looked that day at the market place: open and friendly and kind, looking into her eyes like his soul had somehow recognized hers. That was why she was here, she reminded herself—to see that face again, even if only for a night.

With another deep breath, Ella moved forward, and let the light of the ballroom wash over her as she stepped through the doors.

(belated) #saturdayscenes: 2/13/16


Sorry, team.

A sample of yesterday’s writing:

“I’ve heard of Torvan,” Daniel told Gaius. “I thought he was a politician.”

Gaius snorted. “He’s a war-lord,” he said, not nearly so courteous with his eyes as Daniel had been as Lucia took a small embroidery kit from a saddlebag and began to close the gash on Jana’s thigh with quick, neat stitches. Jana caught him looking and flashed a sharp grin, all teeth. Gaius returned it, and then glanced at Daniel. “He styles himself as a man of letters; it gives him credibility to foreign leaders.”

“But he’s just one steading-master,” Daniel said, frowning.

“A steading-master sending slave-takers into the mountains,” Jana said, narrowing her eyes. “How far is this Torvan’s steading by the main road?”

Gaius looked thoughtful, stroking a hand over his greying beard. “A day’s journey from the border at a hard clip,” he said after a moment’s calculation.

“That’s farther than any man needs to send a patrol,” Daniel said, a horrible sinking feeling settling in his gut. “You said this pass is mostly used for smuggling?”

Jana’s frown deepened. “Yes.”

“And we used it during the war,” he said, his mind racing now, even as a terrible dread grew in his chest. “To get soldiers into Dolonde.”

Jana nodded. “Yes,” she said again, slow, quiet realization blossoming in her eyes.

“So if we could get soldiers across the pass into their country…”

“They can get soldiers into ours,” Jana finished, her eyes fixed on Daniel’s, not so much as flinching as Lucia put another stitch through her skin.

Lucia tied off her stitch and looked up at them. “Dolonde doesn’t have an army,” she said, a frown tugging at her features. “Even if this man was planning some kind of attack, it couldn’t go far.”

“We don’t have an army either,” Daniel remind her grimly. “The troops we took into Dolonde last time were pulled from the Palace guard and border defense. We’ve never kept a standing army, it goes against everything we stand for as a non-violent country.”

“Might be time to re-think that,” Jana muttered.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Tae said, wincing as he opened his eyes and looked at them. “But we’re just guessing here, aren’t we? We don’t have any proof that this Torvan’s going to try something like this.”

“Right,” Daniel said, but a nagging voice in the back of his mind told him not to drop the idea completely. “It’s just a feeling I had,” he said, feeling uneasy.

Jana looked steadily at him. “We could send someone back,” she said. “Have them warn your mother and uncle, just to be safe.”

Daniel set his teeth. They could split up, he knew, but they would be safer in numbers. Either they all went back, or none of them did. And who knew what the extra delay could cost Ella and her sister, not if Dolonde was slaving. “It’s just a feeling,” he said again, slowly. “We keep going. All of us.”

“Great,” Tae said. “Glad that’s settled. Now someone take Isi so I can throw up again.”

beating the block

Allow me to share with you, dear readers, my expectation for my literary productivity this past weekend:


And now, allow me to share with you the reality:


I think we can all agree that writer’s block sucks. It sucks, like, so much. Every writer has experienced it at one time or another–the story in your head sounds great, but the process of putting that story onto paper or into a word document just…doesn’t work. Or, even worse, you get the words down onto the page, and what you thought was going to be the next amazing bestseller is just…kind of meh.


Every writer has their own methods for dealing with writer’s block, and I won’t pretend that mine are the best (because let’s be real, they probably aren’t). That said, I’m a sharer by nature, so here we go: Shelly’s Tried and True Tips to Kick Writer’s Block’s Square Ass.

1. Write Something Else (Seriously. Anything Else.)

Sometimes a scene is just determined to give us trouble, and if it’s really kicking back that much resistance, maybe that’s just not the scene you’re meant to be writing right then. Step away from that scene and try something else. If you want to stay with your character but that scene isn’t working for you, write her grocery list. Write a letter from her to a friend. Write her first memory or her first kiss or her first time leaving her hometown. Don’t force the scene that’s not happening–you’ll get frustrated, the scene won’t work the way you want it to, and nobody’s going home happy.


Alright, maybe killing someone isn’t the way to go–it depends on the type of story you’re telling. But something’s gotta give. Maybe someone needs to leave, or someone new needs to alive. Maybe someone needs to learn something new. Maybe a dog needs to suddenly start talking. I don’t know what your story needs, man, but whatever’s happening now isn’t working. So change it up.

(This, by the way, is why I sometimes like “by the seat of your pants” writing more than “super-outlined” writing. Once you spend a lot of time on an outline, it’s a lot harder to make yourself deviate from it. If you’re already winging it, what’s the problem with changing course?)

3. Cheat.

I don’t mean plagiarize–I want to be clear on that. But there are plenty of resources out there to help you out. Try some writing prompts. Stick your characters in a weird situation. Throw in a plot twist. The internet is a beautiful place, full of beautiful writing tools and resources. Learn them. Use them. Love them.

And when all else fails…give the Hemingway Method a try.


I’m not advocating getting yourself a shiny new vice or suggesting that a great work of literature can be written if you’re completely plastered. But sometimes, we need to turn off our inner critics and push let ourselves write without self-editing. A glass of wine, a tumbler of whiskey, a bunch of ice cream (I know it’s not “write sugar high, edit sober,” but it still works)–whatever your poison, it can be good to let your guard down and let the words flow without checking and double-checking each line, and a few sips (or more) of something with considerable alcohol content to get yourself going.

Writer’s block is a unique beast that manifests differently for every writer. In the end, you need to figure out your own strategies for beating it back. So go forth, writer friends, and slay your dragon. If you’re interested in my methods, I tend to find the best luck curling up in a cozy place with a nice drink, plenty of books on prompts, some productivity-enhancing white noise–and, of course, the perfect candle.


It’s all in the fine print.