Seven Things That Happened In The Past Few Weeks

by Mara

It’s been a busy few weeks. So much has happened that’s blog-worthy, I couldn’t write separate entries for all of them — or perhaps writing for Cracked has gone to my head. Anyway, here’s what’s been happening.

1. San Francisco and Night Vale Live

I have been to San Francisco twice in the past two months, and I want to go again soon. My sister lives there, which is reason enough to visit, but the beautiful scenery, friendly people 1, perpetual cozy sweater weather, drag queen showings of Showgirls, sourdough bread, Mexican food, and memories of being five years old and filming Doubtfire also keep me coming back. I’m married to New York, but the Bay Area is the guy who went through my mind as I said my vows.

While I was there, I was fortunate to have the chance to perform in a live show of Welcome to Night Vale in the Haight. It was hosted by the Booksmith, a lovely little bookshop I highly recommend. The show was funny and creepy, as it always is, everyone loved Satellite High, and while I’ve done all kinds of shows, I have never seen such hardcore fans. So many fans gave me hugs and presents and fan-art, and it was like Beatlemania when Cecil went outside.

Thank you again, San Francisco, for stealing my heart. Just be sure to give it back at some point, I don’t want to hemorrhage.

2. Night Vale Mayoral Debate in New York

As soon as I got back to New York, we started preparing for another Night Vale show: the mayoral debate. My character, The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home, is running for mayor of Night Vale, as is Hiram McDaniels, a five-headed dragon played by Jackson Publick. I like to think we’re the front-runners, especially as our other candidate (played by Marc Evan Jackson) was spirited away for a special mission. (If none of this makes sense to you, stop what you are doing and go listen to Welcome to Night Vale.)

There were two shows, and both went well! In addition to Marc and Jackson, we had Kevin R. Free and Jason Webley perform, and several other actors from the Thrilling Adventure Hour: Marc Gagliardi, Annie Savage, Craig Crackowski, and Hal Lublin. New York fans were as adamant and excited as the San Franciscans, though a little less huggy. 2 Joseph and Jeffrey, the show’s writers, joked that meeting fans and signing autographs must make me nostalgic. It did feel familiar.

The only uncomfortable moment happened at the end of the second show. I’d had a nasty cold for the past week, and as Cecil was starting his last paragraph, I started to feel a familiar tightening in my chest. I didn’t want to distract from the show by having a coughing fit, so I held it in as best I could. My chest got tighter, my throat constricted, and my best was not good enough: I was having an asthma attack, onstage. My vision blurred and I swayed, wondering if I should reach out for something in case I blacked out, and hoping Cecil would do something completely out of character and say his lines faster.

Cecil wished Night Vale a good night and I managed to cough as we stepped away from the mics and the audience roared. My eyes were still watering when Jackson looked over at me and smiled. He must have thought I was moved by the show and the audience’s reaction, but I killed that pretty quickly by mouthing “I’m having an asthma attack.”

As soon as the applause died down, I ran offstage, rummaged through my purse and took my inhaler. My breathing returned to normal and I performed in the second show without any problems. And when I needed to cough, I did.

3. Thrilling Adventure Hour 

A few months back the nice people at the Thrilling Adventure Hour contacted Joseph to say they’d be in town for New York Comic Con, and asked if Cecil and I wanted to be on the show.

I said yes, and I’m glad I did: it was one of the most fun shows I’ve done — an old-timey radio serial — and when I said “the nice people,” I meant it. Paul F. Tompkins is as kind and welcoming as your favorite funny uncle (but a much sharper dresser), Jackson Publick is far cooler than I’ll ever be, but was still a nice guy, Scott Adsit is warm and witty, Paget Brewster and Maria Thayer are as sweet as they are gorgeous, both Paul and Storm are fun and funny, and Jonathan Coulton is friendly with a great sense of humor and was willing to listen to me babble on about my personal connections with his songs. It’s rare to find people who are talented, funny, and kind — I know about three happy and well-adjusted New York comedians — but they were all of those.

I only had initial reservations about one person…

4. Wilson v. Glass, round three

Backstage banter is a big part of live shows, and we got a good head start at the Night Vale show. Craig, Hal, Jackson, Marc Evan, Annie, Marc Gagliardi and I joked around, and they expressed their admiration at Night Vale’s sudden, overwhelming success.

Cecil said “We were number one on iTunes for a while, but This American Life has replaced us again. We knew that would happen, though. It’s like the Meryl Streep of podcasts.”

“Right,” I said, “And Night Vale is more like Jennifer Lawrence.”

Cecil laughed. “That’s exactly right! We’re the new hot thing, but Meryl and This American Life always win.”

“Oh, speaking of This American Life,” Marc Gagliardi said, “Guess who’s going to be a guest star at the show tomorrow? Ira Glass!”

“Oh shit!” I yelled, almost involuntarily. “Really? Oh shit… oh shit!”

Marc looked surprised. “Isn’t that good news?”

“We… have a history,” I said.

Marc, Cecil, and everyone else from Thrilling Adventure Hour laughed when I told them the story, but I was actually nervous all the next day. I had already been thinking about taking that letter off this site. Open letters, as a concept, seem a little passive-aggressive to me now, and I’ve had some bizarre and unpleasant encounters with fans, too. 3 He’s probably just an awkward person, I figured. I understand that: I’m pretty awkward myself.

Still, as soon as I arrived at The Bell House, I kept glancing at the door, waiting for him to enter. When he did, I noticed his suit pocket was ripped, almost literally hanging by a thread.

“That was probably my dog,” he explained. “She’s a pit bull, and usually sweet, but… you know.” Yes, he was an awkward person. But one who rescues shelter animals.

I wasn’t sure what to say when he sat next to me. My friends had suggested I not bring up our past at all, and just try to be friendly with him.

“Sorry about your pocket,” I said.

“Yeah, it was my dog. You look very nice,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said.

“I’m Ira,” he said.

“I’m Mara,” I said.

“Have we met before?” He said.

“We have,” I admitted, “But it was under awkward circumstances.” He looked thoughtful, and I went on. “It was at Mike Birbiglia’s show, and I wanted to get your attention…”

“And then you wrote about it,” he said (again).

“Yeah…” I said, but he didn’t seem upset or irritated. It was just an observation. I had written about it.

“I’m really sorry about that,” he said, and seemed sincere. “I was just really distracted.”

“No, I’m sorry, too,” I said, and we both stumbled over our words and laughed. The tension was broken.

“So are you an actor?” He said.

“Kind of,” I said. “I write now, but I used to be a child actor.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah, I started when I was five, and I was in a few movies. But as I got older I found it wasn’t fun anymore, especially after my mother died…” Was I telling Ira Glass my life story? Maybe he just has that effect on people. It is his job.

“But you’re probably not fazed by celebrities,” he said.

“That’s true,” I said. “But I was fazed by you!”

He laughed. “I’m not a celebrity!”

“Well, my friends like to joke that we’re in a feud, that you’re my nemesis,” I said.

“We should take a picture of the two of us fighting,” he said.

“Yes, we should!”

 

And so we did. Yes, that’s John Hodgman photobombing.

I think this means we’re cool now! If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s turning nemeses into friends. Or at least acquaintances.

5. My Cracked Article on OCD

I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder when I was twelve. My symptoms have waned, so what bothers me most now is not residual symptoms, but its misrepresentation in popular culture. The disorder that caused me so much misery for so long is seen as a mere personality quirk or a punchline. I have been so vocal about this on my twitter account the editors at Cracked suggested I write about it.

And so I have. It’s a topic I’m passionate about, and I like to think I’ve done some good with this article. To go a little further, though, here are some good resources if you think you or someone you know might have OCD or anxiety:

* The International OCD Foundation – This has all kinds of information, and a way to find a therapist who specializes in OCD.

* Brain Lock – Reading and working with this book will alleviate OCD symptoms. A summary is available here.

* Panic Attacks Workbook – Get this if you have panic attacks. It’s helped me, and it’s helped several people I know.

* Kissing Doorknobs – A fiction book written by my friend (and Matilda co-star) Kira’s mom! This is another one that helped me a lot.

* GoodTherapy.org – Find a therapist by location and specialty. Psychology Today has one, too, but I think it’s limited to North America.

You can get help and things can get better.

6. Elisa and Paul’s Wedding

Last weekend I went down to Baltimore to see my friends Paul and Elisa get married. Yes, that Paul and Elisa. It wasn’t a huge wedding, but there were enough nerds and internet celebrities there that some started calling it WeddingCon 2013.

After the funny, heartfelt vows, we were told we could dance or could explore the catacombs where Edgar Allen Poe and several hundred citizens of Baltimore were buried. You can probably figure which most of us chose.

The church and its surrounding buildings were beautiful, if a bit dreary. I had expected this of Baltimore. Though, to be honest, all I had known of it was based on my brother’s stories from Johns Hopkins, visiting once ten years ago for his graduation, and what I’d seen on The Wire. I knew it could be a pretty depressing place to live, but figured that was due to corrupt politicians, industrialization, and deindustrialization. Not so, said our cheerfully morbid tour guide. Baltimore was dark and disturbing from the beginning.

“There was a man named Frank,” she said, “And he was a — well, the elementary school students ask me if he was crazy, but I like to think of him as an entrepreneur. Anyway, Frank was a graverobber…”

After the talk of rabies and anti-graverobbing precautions, I took pictures of Poe’s grave for my goth-hippie sister, then went inside for wine and cake. Everyone all stayed up late talking and drinking, and I got to know some wonderful new people. The next day I got a ride up to Pennsylvania to see my brother and his wife and swap Baltimore stories.

I do have to admit Charm City has its charms. A dark and depressing sort of charm, but charm nonetheless. 

7. Ruby the Kitten

For months, my roommate and I have been talking about getting another cat. Our giant ginger tabby, Milo, has been seeming a bit antsy lately, and we wondered if he was lonely. It’s wholly possible we are both soft touches for cute small animals 4 and are projecting our desire for another one onto Milo. But we haven’t done much besides wistfully browse Petfinder and try to pet any passing stray/outdoor cats 5

When I came home from Pennsylvania this past Wednesday, my roommate sent me a text telling me she had found a mother cat and several kittens in a nearby alley. I joined her there, and we opened up a few cans of food for them.

“They look sick,” she said. “I think that one has an eye infection, and they’re all sneezing.”

“Should we try to get them and take them to the vet?” I said. They were eating the canned food, a sign they could live without their feral mother. The tiniest one crawled a little closer, and my roommate picked her up by the scruff. The kitten didn’t fight, she let herself be held. After a little discussion, I ran back upstairs for Milo’s cat carrier, and we took her to a local vet.

The doctor inspected the kitten, confirmed my suspicions she was a girl, and diagnosed her with an eye infection, ringworm, and a respiratory infection that could have progressed into Pneumonia.

“It’s a good thing you brought her in when you did,” the vet said. “She wouldn’t have lasted long on the streets.”

Maybe it was hearing that, or the way the kitten purred and kneaded on us once we got her home, or (more cynically) the sunk cost of her vet bills, but we decided to keep her. She’s looking more lively since we’ve given her medicine, and on my sister’s suggestion, we’ve named her Ruby.

Day six. She's all wrapped up like a kitty burrito.

New friends, new fans, new shows, a new article, and a new kitten. It’s been a good month.

Notes:

  1. Compared to New York.
  2. Which was a good thing, I didn’t want to give them my cold.
  3. I really want to be friendly, but If I’m just through airport security, trying to put my belt and shoes back on so I can catch the plane to my brother’s wedding, or I’m at your Sephora buying concealer because I’ve been crying over a break-up, now might not be the best time to approach me. You’re free to tell your friends about the minor celebrity you saw at work, but you don’t need to keep asking your co-worker if she knows who I am when she clearly doesn’t and couldn’t care less.
  4. It’s not just kittens. We’d consider getting a dog if her work schedule permitted it.
  5. If you live in Berkeley, California and have a gray indoor/outdoor cat named Darwin, you should know he and I bonded when I was last in the Bay Area.