Blue Heart


“The heart is blue/it aches for its own fuel…” –Jeremy Nathan Marks


Blue as the sky on a day when the rain has run

Its course. Blue as the water beneath ice, cold and waiting

For spring to warm and melt. Blue as the jaybird

Perched among the lilacs fooling no one. We think


Of fuel as a motive force, a thing for dead machines

To use to rev and stutter to life. We think of fuel

As the gas in the stove, not the blue flame that warms

Our food, turns spices into vehicles of heat. We think


Of blue as a thing of ice and need, not the bringer of sun

And day. But the heart itself knows blue in all its shades,

From the jeans at the foot of the bed to the hydrangea

And morning glory out the window, from the dark distant


Mountains up to the pale sky framing clouds. Sorrow.

Loneliness. A loss for words. A lost friend. A lost love.

In one direction, purple like thistle in highland heather,

Reminder of battles lost and won. In the other, green


Like the spring’s first blades of grass, poking through

Snow, asserting the incipient end of winter, for now.

For now I will cling to blue as to peacock feathers, wild

Elaborate abundance, souvenir of past good fortune,


Blue as my eyes searching every other eye for a sign:

Is spring coming? Will the sun return to me? Will there be

Warm breezes, bees, robins, picnics, new love?

Are you the one to bring these things into being?


Image from Agents of SHIELD.

Badass Women in Combat Gear, #5 1/2

So last month when I put our Eliza Dushku as our BWCG #8, our buddy Heylookawriterfellow commented, “Is it wrong for me to request a badass woman who wears glasses? Ahem. Perhaps I am revealing too much about myself.”

At the time, I thought, well, in both the DC and Marvel comic-verses, mainly the heroes wear glasses when they are undercover. Diana Prince and Clark Kent take off their spectacles to be come Wonderwoman and Superman.

Agents of SHIELD and Agent Peggy Carter also put on their glasses when they don’t want to be recognized, and we all know how effective that is. And the Dushku also wore glasses in the pilot for Dollhouse as a part of her new persona.


So I thought and thought until I came up with an actual badass woman in combat gear superhero who actually wears her glasses as a superhero. Heylookawriterfellow, I have found one at last: Tina Fey. You’re welcome.


Psycho Sunday: Badass Women in Combat Gear #10


So I have been noticing a pattern in my TV/Netflix watching lately: in addition to hot male leading actors and characters who love each other (Firefly, Bones, Agents of SHIELD, Castle), apparently one of my prime choice factors is Badass Women in Combat Gear. So I decided to do a countdown, or rather, a count-up, of my ten favorite BWCGs.

So Number Ten is Erica Cerra, Deputy Jo Lupo from Eureka (2006-2012). The show had an interesting premise: imagine that MIT was actually a secret town in Oregon, and much, much funnier. Then add a handsome and perplexed sheriff to keep people in order. And because of course a handsome white man with police experience who rides into town automatically gets the job of sheriff over the hot Latina deputy who is probably more experienced and right for the job, we also get Colin Ferguson, Sheriff Jack Carter. Now I have to admit that Ferguson is easy on the eyes, but for some reason nothing makes a SWAT uniform look better than Erica Cerra. And despite Lupo’s affections for Absurdly Large SciFi Weapons, the character was interesting and likeable, although because television is what it is, when she finally ends up with a romance, it ends up being with the third least attractive man on the show, go figure.


What You Always Cut


So yesterday I was talking to my MIT colleague Jane about–you guessed it–writing! I know you were expecting anything else from me, to wit:

  • My plan to join S.H.I.E.L.D. so I can learn to be a badass from Agent Melinda May
  • My cat, Musashi’s, plan to learn to play pingpong soccer like Pele
  • Our joint plan for world domination

It’s true, I have many plans. But mostly when I am not thinking about such things I am thinking about writing. One of the things I thought about quite a lot a while back was how annoying it is especially when I am writing nonfiction (insert loud sucking noise here), it always seems that there is a huge chunk that I end up having to cut before the end. Many writers I have worked with at MIT also experience this and they always want to know how to avoid what appears to be the wasted time of writing and then cutting this stuff.

After a great deal of soul searching, cuz yeah, I apparently write at least in part with my soul, don’t know what that’s about, I finally realized that this part of the process, though it sucks in lo these many ways, is probably unavoidable. But then I think about my mom’s pea soup. See, she always puts a hambone in as it’s cooking. It adds a meaty, smoky flavor that I have never been able to replicate when I have made vegetarian pea soup. But when she serves the soup, she takes the hambone out. I figure that those annoying bits in the writing are like the hambone: they get you, the writer, to the ideas you need to keep but then no longer serve your readers and have to get cut.


That’s my two cents, anyway.

Sticking the (Stylized) Landing

the landing

So the other day I wrote about my poetry midwife, Pamela, and how she has helped me, particularly in learning to pay close attention to the endings of my poems. I remember being at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference way back in August 1988, back when I was just a Writer Niblet, the poet Nancy Willard said, “Poetry is like bread. You can smell when it is done.” That may very well be true. But that is also assuming that you mixed the dough correctly and that all you need to do is add heat for a specified amount of time. Sometimes the ending comes out messed up because you messed up the start, so you can’t simply do a closure-style ending like a circle. Or you messed up the middle, which I think of as the Airplane Mistake, because if an airplane pilot is only one degree south of where she should be on her trip from Boston to Oregon, she may well end up in Los Angeles or worse.

I think of this in particular because I have been watching Agents of SHIELD lately and awaiting Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. One thing I have noticed about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is how stylized a lot of the action is, in particular the dramatic landings. The person you see this most clearly with is Scarlet Johansen’s Black Widow, but you also sometimes see Agent May do this too.

may landing

The Urban Dictionary defines sticking the landing as meaning to “execute flawlessly from the beginning through the end. Follow through.” (“Stick”). The phrase originates from gymnastics. “When a gymnast lands a tumbling pass, vault, or dismount without moving his/her feet, it is called a stuck landing. The aim of every gymnast is to stick–if the gymnast moves his/her feet at all it is a deduction” (Van Deusen). More generally, it has come to mean “to finish an athletic, gymnastic, or other sports performance with an ideal pose or stance, especially after a jump or leap; (hence, also outside of sports) to do or finish well; to win” (Barrett).

I like the idea of an ending that is stuck solid to its foundation, unwavering. I also think that finishing well should not by necessity entail winning. Think about the 35,000 people running the Boston Marathon last month. Four won and 34,996 did not, but I imagine the goal for all but 100 was simply to finish well.

For a poem, this may mean you have an ending that quivers in the air in front of you shimmering with beauty. That is, often, the goal. But more often I think it is that you learned something from writing the poem and perhaps your readers have learned something from reading it.

Barrett, Grant. “Stick the Landing.” A Way With Words. 3 Feb. 2006. Web. 1 May 2015.

“Stick the Landing.” Urban 21 Dec. 2006. Web. 1 May 2015.

Van Deusen, Amy. “Stuck Landing.” 2015. Web. 1 May 2015.

In Which Our Hero Learns Nifty New Pop Culture Slang

I dedicate this post to my sister, Michelle Spilecki, whose birthday it is today.


So over the weekend I learned a catchy new abbreviation and the idea that goes with it: OTP, One True Pairing. Think about some of the TV pairs from the last twenty years. These are just the shows I watch. I am sure you could come up with plenty more yourself, especially if you are more of a Zombie Apocalypse kind of individual.

Scully and Mulder

Buffy and Angel

Booth and Bones

Castle and Beckett

Phil and Melinda

Carter and Martinelli (or Sousa, if you prefer)

Xena and Gabrielle

These are all pairings in which the chemistry between the actors almost immediately got conveyed to people who were prepared to see it. When I think about The X Files, Buffy, and Castle, in addition to Xena: Warrior Princess, I would argue that in the pilot of each series you see the kind of chemistry before the end of the episode.


I think one of the things that makes these shows so effective is that most of the pairs develop their relationship–their knowledge of each other, their professional and personal respect for each other, how they work together and when they give the other person space or slap them upside the head (usually metaphorically)–on the job, working to make the world a better place.


I have often observed that some of the solidest seeming marriages were between two people engaged in one or more complex, long term projects together: leading a church choir, producing community theater, things like that. Raising children together is not the ideal project for marriage building, simply because at some point your project learns to, for example, talk, and then express her/himself, and often what s/he might be projecting is disagreement with one or more of the aforesaid partners in the marriage. In comparison, plays and concerts don’t talk back (although to be fair, actors, singers and the like often do, although as they are not part of the marriage, even if they are part of the family, it does not matter as much). Anyhow, that is what it seems like to me.

So a friend was writing about OTP on her blog an I saw it and thought, as one does, Huh? So I asked her and she said:

One true pairing.  As in, “Xena and Gabrielle are my OTP,” or, “Gabrielle and Xena are OTP more than any OTP in the history of fiction, and if you don’t see it, you’re crazy.”

Which makes sense. One of the big problems I see with all my favorite pairs is that they are never completely equal. One person, usually the man, is a little better, smarter, stronger, more… Part of that is how the star billing goes. Part of that is our culture. Part of that is our culture running how star billing goes.

But even on something like Buffy, whose two main squeezes were superpowerful vampires, well, Angel couldn’t be around her without problems, so their equality was made out to be impossible. And Spike was morally her inferior (that whole century of killing sprees thing not followed by a quest for redemption as Angel managed). So they were only equal at fighting not at being in the world and making decisions about good and evil, until really close to the end. And when Spike finally did something to redeem himself, he blew up hell and died with it. Whoops. One more sorta equal relationship bites the dust.

I think what they are doing on Castle is hopeful, with Stana Katic as Detective Beckett matching wits with Nathan Fillion and frequently taking on the more physical roles, but we will have to see how that goes. Hell, the fact that they are so much more often casting women who are five foot nine, and then putting them in four inch heels so they are as tall as the men, goes a long way toward changing how we see women as possibly strong and still lovable. But there is still a sense of women’s sphere and men’s sphere as different and probably not equal. Once Bones had her baby, she stopped going out into the field.


In comparison, what we see with Xena and Gabrielle is two people who start with a very uneven friendship, and end up, six years later with one of the most equal, solid friendships/ partnerships I think I have ever seen on television. I think we would all like a relationship like that. And to some extent I think one reason we often watch these shows is to try out what we think we want and see whether it works. Some writers serve their characters better than others, and we love best the ones that not only show the chemistry and respect between the pairings, but also resist the inorganic cultural forces that try to bend the relationship into an old familiar pattern at the risk of the relationship.

Because, you know, mystery babies are NEVER a good idea. And I would love to see more of Philinda…


Shipping . . . Sort of


Okay, so I have really got a thing for what Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy call Athena’s Daughters: the just woman warrior as portrayed in our popular culture. Buffy, Xena, Agent May. But as I pointed out when I talked about Tennyson’s Ulysses, one of the things I find most intriguing about these women is the relationships they are in with other women and sometimes with men. Generally, this is less about romance and more about Getting the Job Done, but I find I would love a working relationship (or the other kind) with the kinds of friends these women are portrayed to have. I especially like the chemistry between Agent May and Agent Phil Coulson. Some examples of their dialogue:

Phil Coulson: This is fun, right? Isn’t this fun? Look –
[Holds up his sleeves]
Phil Coulson: Cufflinks!
Melinda May: I will pay you $500 right now for a pair of flats.

Skye: [Hears a noise over the comms] Wait. What was that?
Phil Coulson: Yeah. That’s May.
Skye: Is-is she okay? Is everything okay?
Phil Coulson: Yes. She’s laughing. I think the worst of it’s over now.
Melinda May: [Walks up to Coulson] My face hurts.

Melinda May: Coulson, it’s a solid plan you’ve mapped out, but it hinges on a gamble – a big one.
Phil Coulson: And back up isn’t coming. It’ll be just the four of us. We’ll be outmanned and outgunned. But Fury always said… a man can accomplish anything when he realizes he’s a part of something bigger. A team of people who share that conviction can change the world. So, what do you say? You ready to change the world?
Melinda May: No. I’m ready to kick some ass.
Phil Coulson: That works, too.

Phil Coulson: Go ahead, say it.
Melinda May: I don’t do petty.
Phil Coulson: But you called it. I trusted my gut even though you said she was a risk.
Melinda May: When someone breaks into my house, I usually don’t invite them to stay. But that’s me.
Phil Coulson: That’s me too. Then that alien staff went through my heart.
Melinda May: Sure it didn’t go through the brain?
Phil Coulson: You really don’t do comforting either do you?

Dynamic Duo

a sestina for Agents May and Coulson

If we judge people by the company they keep,

Then what are we to say of you, trusting and calm

Through all of life’s calamities, explosions and

Betrayals? You have beside you someone to call

The shots or take the shot when she must, an agent

Willing to stand between you and whatever may

Come. Such partnerships are rare, not like May-

December, but more August-August. To keep

It going, you must respect each other’s agency,

Take advantage any time there is a brief calm

Before the next storm to rest and roll the dice. Call

Me an optimist, but I think your odds are good and

Solid, your chance to make it through alive and

Well, if not unworn. Who knows? You may

Even save the world for a little while. Your call

In this life, to shield the innocent and keep

The powerful honest, requires above all a calm

Head and a steady hand, like those of Agent

May. She is a rock in a spinning world, an agent’s

Agent, a superhero not in spandex, but in leather and

Aviator sunglasses. We only ever see her in black, calm

As midnight, or silver, hot as the heart of a star. May

Punches, kicks and flips her enemies, but keeps

An enigmatic stare for her friends. You could call

Her Chuang Tzu’s “uncarved block” or call

Her the Cavalry, but you know when you did Agent

May would bring the unvarnished truth to keep

You from getting yourself killed (again), and

Sometimes the truth is discretion…valor. May

Will retreat in good order to come back, calmly

Swinging, the next time. No wonder you’re calm.

With someone by your side you know you can call

Upon, day or night, from September to May

(But not during the summer hiatus when agents

Slumber and actors travel, smile for cameras and

Take long naps). You both know the drill. Keep

Hydrated, calm and poised under pressure: agents

on call, ready when the innocent need Agent Coulson and

Agent May, good friends and badasses playing for keeps.

Susan Spilecki © 2015

Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy, ed. Athenas Daughters: Televisions New Women Warriors. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 2003.