Children and the Workplace

Dear Ms. Mason,

As one who has dealt with people nearly as cut-throat and psychotic as academics, what is your advice for the appropriate congratulatory gift for an ex- that just received a tenure-track job for which you also applied?

–Untenured and Tenuous

Dear Unten,

The key here is subtlety. You have to get something that’s useless and terrible but that’s plausible. Like, a lovely flowering plant — but only if they have terrible allergies, which somehow slipped your mind. A nice music box, ideally a really big one, because they’re useless and take up space, and if you can get one that’s just a little off key, so much the better. Or a “joke” gift — like a “… For Dummies” book on the subject of your mutual expertise. Ha. Ha ha. Something that requires upkeep is always good; an antique clock you have to wind every damn week. A living thing is a terrible burden but if you present it at a party no one is going to say, “What the fuck were you thinking giving me a puppy?” A tropical fish with very specific environmental and dietary needs: also good.

I mean, I’d just get them a haunted paperweight, so a screaming eldritch skull would shatter their every working moment, but you get the general idea.

MM

Dear Auntie Marla,

Regarding: Changelings

How do I keep fairies from switching my newborn baby and leaving a changeling?

–Apprehensive Guardian

Dear APGAR,

What, is your newborn baby so great? Changelings are pretty fantastic, you know. They cry less than normal babies — they just silently stare at you with  their terrifying unblinking eyes. They sometimes poop gold coins, though they usually turn back into poop after a day or two. They grow quickly and speak later than normal children, but once they do speak, they are creepily erudite. Way more interesting than a normal crap-and-scream machine.

But if you’re really attached to your own squalling beast, the only reliable way to avoid the old switcheroo is constant vigilance for the first three days of life, followed by damn-near-constant vigilance for the first six weeks. I recommend lots of methamphetamine.

MM

Dear Marla,

I work in an office job, and my department has an open floor plan….  That’s not that big of a deal per se. What does boil my blood is the Slitheen that sits across from me.  When she is not well, which is rather often, she will cough and sneeze without covering her mouth so her aerosolized germs head straight towards me….  I have asked her politely to cover her mouth, and she will for a few days. Then she relapses.  I have shamed her into covering her mouth. Again, the results don’t last.  I have tried human resources. They can’t do anything…. While this woman is mostly a nice person, she is a bit of a know-it-all.  If you have a story, she always has one to top it. She even uses the phrase “you have no idea” to the point where I once said in reply “actually, I do have an idea” but she didn’t get it. Everyone, to her, is an idiot and any mistakes that she makes are always someone else’s fault. I wouldn’t mind hearing how a woman such as yourself would handle a situation such as this.  Presuming, of course, that you would ever stoop to an office job.

Purell Stock Holder

Dear PSH,

Cover her desk with biohazard stickers. Fill her drawers with graveyard dirt squirming with worms. Leave printouts about Dunning-Kruger on her chair. Release crickets into her handbag. Save up all your snotty tissues for six months and then scatter them around her workspace like snow.

I mean, that’s what you should do. I’d just tell her she was an idiot with delusions of competence and that if she sprayed her germs at me again I’d arrange for her to receive several hundred papercuts and then submerge her entire body in a vat of rubbing alcohol. But then, I don’t have to answer to HR.

MM

Send me questions. It’s almost a new year. Ask me about your dumb resolutions.

Cats and Fairies and Other Sociopaths

I should have had this done earlier. It took me a long time to do my Thanksgiving prep this year. It’s harder and harder to find dodos.

Dear Auntie Marla,

If offered a duchy by a newly minted færie queen, should one accept? Right away? Is there an acceptable mulling-it-over period?

Shrödinger’s Duke

Dear Dookie,

First, fairies — by “fairies,” I assume you mean those interdimensional parasites with good hair and better PR — are immortal in the absence of outside factors limiting that immortality (like me), and they don’t give up their positions of power willingly, so “newly-minted faerie queen” is a synonym for “murderous murderer who just murdered the old faerie queen in a coup.” Be careful about getting into a formal relationship with people like that. Also, a duchy is serious business — you’d be a duke. (Or a duchess.) That is a military position — a commander. Sure, nowadays it’s an honorary title… but fairies do stuff old-school. If you get a duchy, you also get the responsibility to lead the people of that duchy into war. And we’ve already established that your leader is a bloodthirsty usurper. If you want to be a pawn in the politics of such a creature, and watch your tenant farmers and changeling peasants or whatever get mowed down on the battlefield in the next conflict with a duke of Hell over the matter of some missing tithe money, then sure, go for it. Otherwise, run the other way and start wearing your clothes inside out; sometimes that makes you invisible to the fey bastards.

Of course, the question I’m not asking is, “What service did you do for this queen to get offered such a position?” because the answer is surely something vile and I’d rather think well of all my nieces and nephews out there in questionland.

Dear Marla,

Lottery tickets: are they a fun $1 thrill or a sign of personal idiocy?

Feeling Lucky

Dear Luciano,

There’s a reason lotteries are sometimes called “the math tax” and perceived as a penalty paid by those members of the public who don’t understand percentages and probability, but as a former city administrator, anything that gets people to willingly pay money into the government as opposed to bitterly complaining about it and cheating on their taxes and so on is fine by me.

If you think spending a buck is a reasonable price to pay for a few moments of fantasizing about how it’d be wonderful to be rich (ignoring the fact that most lottery winners don’t seem to be among the happiest people in the world anyway), then sure, pony up your dollar and ride the daydream train.

I am a fan of arbitrary weird stuff, and the whole idea of the lottery is really deeply arbitrary and weird: pay a dollar, and your life could radically change. It makes the world a little stranger and probably doesn’t do too much harm — there are compulsive gamblers, but they’d be doing something else in the absence of the lottery, probably — so I’m mildly for it.

Dear Marla Mason.

I’m sick and my kitten is kicking my ass. What can I do that will give me peace, but won’t hurt the kitten?

Cat-Scratch Fevered

Dear Sicko,

Put the kitten under a laundry basket with some catnip, then dose yourself heavily with codeine (or some opiate of your choice) and bliss out on the couch.

That concludes this month’s good advice. Send me questions. Send them now. Hearing about your problems makes me feel better about my own. I’m not getting enough romantic questions. Or questions about waste management. Post in the comments or use that email link over there on the left.

Boredom, Hold Music, Hashtag Real Talk

Sorry this is late. Rondeau was off at a “retreat” in early October, which I think means he was drinking in the woods instead of drinking in his hotel room, so he couldn’t post this before now. Three questions this time, and I’m running out, so keep them coming, to brideofdeath666@gmail.com.

Dear Auntie Marla,

I belong to a group of people with alternative lifestyle interests that worked more as a cult of personality than anything else and had grown too large to run itself effectively anymore without someone paying attention at the wheel. I staged a coup, deposed the head of this cult of personality, exiled my enemies and set about to getting things moving at a smoother pace. Everything seems to be running smoothly and my enemies failed to mount an effective opposition. It was more of the nature of laughable. The problem is now I’m bored to tears with people’s tiny insignificant problems. What should I do to alleviate this boredom?

Filled with ennui,

Mal Eclipse

 

Dear Malcontent,

See, yes, right there, this is a problem I understand. You knock down the idiots and then you take over and run things right but it’s boring because what you really enjoy isn’t running things but knocking down idiots. Frankly this is a problem I’m still struggling with myself — my current solution involves traveling the continent on a motorcycle with a dagger and an axe, looking for idiots to knock down (turns out: no shortage of idiots). Maybe that’s not tenable for you, I don’t really know. Other options I see:

Find a hobby. Swing dancing, craft brewing, martial arts, massively multiplayer online roleplaying games, and online dating are all pastimes that have devoured the attention and time of friends of mine. These can act as a suitable mental stimulants and/or soporifics until such a time as you are granted the sweet release of death.

Alternately, you might consider self-sabotage. That’s never failed for me.

Auntie M

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Dear Marla,

I’m having trouble with my cell phone company’s tech support. Specifically, they can’t seem to provide my smarter-than-me phone with mobile data. Every time I call, they want me to go through the same troubleshooting steps that didn’t work before, and finally ask me to insert my SIM card into another unlocked cell phone. Because, you know, I have one of those lying around. Okay, then.

Is there anything I can do to wake these guys up and get them on my side? Any sympathetic magic? Curses? Anything? I just want to be able to check Google Maps from the car!

Desperately,

Disconnected

Dear Discontent,

My phones are forged in the eldritch workshops of pan-dimensional quasi-dwarven artificers, and they get reception even on the moon. Maybe buy one of those.

Or tell the tech support people to insert their SIM cards right up their unlocked asses. It won’t get you better service, but their shock will grant you a brief cathartic jolt, which is all we can really hope for in this fallen world.

Google Maps tried to get me to drive over a pedestrian bridge one time, though, so I recommend navigation by dead reckoning instead.

Aunt M

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Dear Auntie Marla,

My daughter is friends with a gay man. She has decided she wants to undergo gender reassignment surgery and become a gay man.

What should I do?

Anon

Dear Anoncontent,

Well this shit just got real.

I’ve known female-assigned-at-birth people who transitioned to male and now identify as gay men, so it’s not an unheard-of path. I’d advise looking into resources for transgender youth in your area — I can’t claim expertise in this subject, since it’s more nuanced than punching monsters, but I know it’s easier to find help for things like this than it ever has been before.  (My friends in the Bay Area speak highly of San Francisco Sex Information, for example.) There are resources available to help you, as a parent, think through these issues too, too.

The only advice I can really give is to remember that, no matter where your child ultimately lands in terms of orientation or gender identity — or fails to land; gender expression and orientation are continuums and don’t necessarily have definitive and Unchanging For All Time answers — they’re still your kid, and who they want to sleep with or how they express themselves to the world doesn’t have to change anything fundamental about your relationship with them. Remember it’s not about you, and not done to hurt you, or to confuse you. It’s about them, figuring out how to live in the world with minimal pain and maximum joy.

(Anyone reading this who is staggered by my ignorance regarding trans issues is certainly justified, and mea culpa in advance.)

M

 

Fleabottomy

A few more questions came in this month. I’m getting kind of a backlog, which might bother me if I cared. Here are a few answers. I’ll get around to the others eventually. Or I won’t and you’ll figure it out for yourself.

Hi Marla!

I have a huge (and tiny) problem I’m hoping you can help with. We’re inundated with fleas. We’ve tried every conventional method and they just come back. My husband is allergic to the bites and his legs look like he’s been attacked by wild animals. We thought about burning the place down and starting over, but our renter’s insurance won’t cover that. Any ideas?

Itchy & Scratchy

Dear beloved meta-cartoon-characters,

I know some New-Agey types who would say that if fleas keep coming into your house, you must be putting some kind of flea-attracting energy out into the universe, and you should really take responsibility for that. Seems pretty unlikely, but if you enjoy feeling guilty, I guess you could consider it.

I’d just cast a keep-away spell to drive the bugs away, thus making them someone else’s problem, but I suppose that’s impractical in your case. You could fill your house with small hot-blooded mammals, as long as they’re ones you really hate, and let them draw the attention of the bugs. (If you really hate the animals, you could fill them with some blood-borne poison first.)

Some less murdery alternatives:

Cover all surfaces in your house with something extremely sticky. The fleas will get stuck.

Fill your house with nematodes, spiders, and ants, and they’ll eat the fleas.

Or, do the burning-it-down thing. Just get better insurance. Or make it look like an accident.

Or, I dunno, move out, and boil all your possessions in bleach before putting them in your new house.

M

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Dear Mrs. Death,

I’m a young tech junkie but I don’t think technomancy is a truly powerful art. Plus it’s my day job and you don’t want to do work and then come home to more work. I enjoy cooking though and making delicious things. Are there any schools of magic that would let me flex my culinary muscle? Is such a route advisable if one seeks to become initiated in the mystical? Or would technomancy ultimately be the best route for one that has ambition.

I’d ask about combining the two but I doubt cooking and technomancy mixes well.

Sincerely,

Guy Who Gave His Real Name Because, I Don’t Know, He Wants Demons To Eat Him I Guess

PS: Have the Masons ever tried to recruit you into their ranks?

Dear Namedropper,

Let’s quit with that Mrs. Death business. It’s probably more accurate to call Death “Mr. Mason.”

Magic is the art of getting results, as some pagan famously said once. As far as I can tell, all that matters for magic is the willpower to bully reality and make it do what you want. Different people have different ways of focusing that will, and there’s no reason you can’t use cooking to focus yours. Cooking is a kind of ritual, after all, and ritual is a powerful way to direct your energies.

Not sure why you think technomancy and culinary magic can’t mix; hybrids tend to be strong, and syncretic magical approaches are often very powerful. Unless you’re cooking with nothing but your bare hands and the heat of your breath, you’re using technology to prepare your food anyway, from knives to gas stoves to cherry pitters to food processors. Technomancy isn’t really my thing, but I’ll use any tool, if it’s the right tool for the job.

Invite me over for dinner sometime, as long as you’re not serving toad-in-the-hole that actually turns people into toads or something.

As for the Masons, nah. The Bavarian Illuminati, though — sure.

The Hungering Marla

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Dear Auntie Marla,

As a wizard, I am hoping you can help me with a magical problem I am having. I read a lot of Fantasy/Sci Fi books, and lately, I’ve noticed a bit of bleed-thru into my regular life. Characters I’m reading about are showing up in this reality with some disturbing results. So far, they’ve kept their distance. Once or twice I have noticed someone standing in a darkened corner of the street, nodding and touching the side of their nose (or snout) and then walking away. That’s fine, I’m OK with that.

But last night I saw one in my kitchen. He was about three and half feet tall, covered with hair and wearing a sombrero. I only caught a glimpse as I was focused on freshening my beverage of vodka and red bull. When I turned to say something to him, he was gone.

In a way, I’m excited at the thought of being able to interact with the gentle and benign creatures from these books, but what happens if something really aggressive shows up? What might I do to prepare?

Your devoted (unofficial) minion.

Dear devoted,

Are you sure you’re drinking Red Bull and not the sweat of a Colorado river toad or some other highly hallucinogenic substance?

But okay, let’s say it’s actually happening, and characters you read about are coming to life. Any monsters you summon with any sense of self-preservation at all won’t kill you, anyway, because you’re the key to their reality. Hell, they’d probably even try to protect you. Of course, if you read about insane monsters, or creatures who hate being alive, they could turn on you viciously.

The key then is to strictly control your reading. If I were you I’d read some erotica featuring the hot boy/girl/others of your preferences, or at least read To Kill a Mockingbird, because damn, the world could use an Atticus Finch walking around for real.

Though to be super honest, if I were actually you, I’d try my hand at writing fiction, and attempting to bring my own characters to life, and unleashing them upon the world to fix things, straight-up-for-serious. Being a reweaver of reality is pretty heavy shit, but I’d be up for it. (Are you?)

Get Off My Lawn

Three questions this month. These are easy. Give me some hard ones, people.

Dear Auntie Marla,

What can I do to stop the grass from dying in the heat of the summer? And I don’t want to move, and the HOA says I have to use Fescue, which is not very heat tolerant.

Oh, and I do have a sprinkler system, which do I use and costs a fortune to run in the summer…

Mad Gary

Dear Mad Gary,

Live up to your nom de guerre. Stage a coup and take over the HOA and insist that everyone plant succulents on their lawns. Keep one patch of grass growing over the grave of the former HOA leader; water it only with the piss of wild dogs.

Auntie M

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Dear Auntie Marla,

Let’s see if you can help settle a little dispute between my husband and I.

He has just separated from the military, and we are back from a two-year tour in Southern Turkey. Before that, it was Virginia. He is from Northeastern Washington State, and I am from Florida. That is, the “almost Alabama/Georgia” part, not the “Disney/Daytona” part.

We are currently staying with family until we decide where, for the first time in our married lives, to put down roots somewhere. We have definitely decided Pacific Northwest, but are conflicted between Olympia, WA (My husband’s first choice. Lots of rain, but less severe winters, close to Seattle and Portland, but 6 hours away from his parents. Beer.), and near Spokane, WA (My first choice. More sun, only 2 hours away from the in-laws, a river running through the middle of the city, and the fact that we would have to spend a lot less time and money moving our shit).

Since we have never lived near family, it would be nice to have them close-by. I am trying to convince him to let you decide for us. If you make an entertaining-enough argument (I know how good you are at negotiating), he simply will not be able to ignore it.

I know that you have had ‘relocation issues’, so I thought this would be a good one for you. Thanks, in advance.

A H-M

Dear Ahem,

Both of the places you mentioned are in the sphere of influence belonging to a vast sentient aggregation of magically-potent fungi known as the Mycelium, so to some extent it doesn’t matter which place you pick: either way you’ll eventually be exposed to the Mycelium’s compulsion-spores and will then turn into mindless philosophical zombies going through the motions of independent life with nothing but an illusion of agency, until such time as the Mycelium chooses to send you into battle against its enemies, real or imagined.

But until fungi eat your brain, you’ll have to live there as a sentient human, so you should move to Olympia. Family comes and goes but beer is forever.

Auntie M

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You’ve been kicking ass in Felport and Hawaii with magic and martial arts. But what advice can you give us non-magical, non-martial artist, regular folk on how to survive encounters with magic assailants? Have you got something like a five essential magic tips for survival list? Or a simple charm even the uninitiated can perform to protect us?

Concerned-magical-in-mind-but-not-in-power-gal

Dear C-m-m-b-p-g-whatever,

Sure, I’ve got advice for you, just like I have advice for what an antelope should do to survive its next lion attack: hope you’re faster than the other antelopes around you, or at least less delicious-looking. I mean, no offense, but ordinary person vs. sorcerer is basically equivalent to toddler vs. shark, and you ain’t the shark. I could give you tips for some specific situations — I hear you can stop a Chinese hopping vampire by sticking a yellow post-it note on its forehead, and werewolves don’t like the smell of Ethiopian food (morons), and Ogopogo can be lulled to sleep by humming a few bars of “American Pie” for some reason, but as for general advice? I dunno, most things don’t like a knife in the brain, so keep a knife around, and hope you can figure out where the brain is.

Auntie M

Auntie Marla’s Good Advice Seeks The Confused And Helpless

I’m Marla Mason. I’ve been a sorcerer since I was 16, more or less, and have worked as a mercenary, chief sorcerer of a city, occult detective, freelance monster killer, and frequent attempted murder victim. What I’m saying is, I have a lot of life experience, and since I’m trying to be a better person these days I figured I’d share some of that wisdom. So every month, around the first, I’ll answer some questions. I might do these more often if I get good questions.

I used to run a whole city, so I’m sure I can handle your problem with your dumb cat or boyfriend or whatever. I wanted to call this column “Marla Solves Your Shit” but I let my associate Rondeau do all the technical stuff so instead it’s called “Auntie Marla’s Good Advice.” He thinks he’s funny.

If you have questions for me, about life or love or pest control or psychic disturbances or whatever, write to brideofdeath666@gmail.com. (Stupid, stupid e-mail address, but Rondeau set that up for me, too, and he STILL thinks he’s funny.) I’ll pick the ones that aren’t too boring or obvious and answer them and maybe I’ll be surprised and people will actually listen to me.

My first column goes up August 1.