More With Less

Sometimes, I think the whole process of moving out into the world, from childhood to adulthood, from student to member of the workforce, from novice to expert, is all the same process of learning to handle more with less.  More work with less sleep.  More stress with less certainty of success.  More emotional upheaval with less retreat to recover.  More expectations with less room for error.

Eventually, the time comes when a person is going to need something to backfill all the ‘less’ that has been sacrificed to the ‘more.’  And how a person goes about that is as unique as the person.

For me, it kinda depends what I need.

If I need meditation, or just calming the hell down, I turn to this song, specifically written and arranged to help people relax.

If I need a 1 minute giggle, plus some insight into something totally random, I find something from QI.

Or maybe I dig into the archives of MST3K.

If I need my faith in the world restored, I go watch Matt Harding’s videos.

Or maybe this from The Trevor Project.

If I’m feeling nostalgic for the place I grew up, or I want to get emotional and feel the blood thumping adrenaline of my favorite sport, I’ve got the Buffalo Sabres 06-07 season opening.

And that’s just the stuff off the top of my head that helps.  A handful of videos that can reset my head and give me a little more to handle the less.  If I had to, I could list dozens of songs and stories, each of which can bring me back to a better place.  Each of which can make the world seem less heavy and more manageable.

Sometimes you really do just have to buckle down and handle the more with the less you’ve got.

I hope you have your own ways to even the score and get a little more back, too.

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Worth Believing In

Let’s just preface this with — when a movie means something to me, I couldn’t give the smallest amount of rat piss whether or not it is deemed “good” by the internet or Rotten Tomatoes or the critics or anyone else.  Meaning isn’t something that gets assigned by a quorum of critics and a weighted score.  Meaning is personal.  Meaning begins and ends with the person who is the “me” at the front of it.

Most of the collective wisdom of the internet will tell you that “Secondhand Lions” is not quite bad enough to be awful.  It’s “schmaltzy.”  It’s “molasses-drenched” (I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds very sticky).  It’s “sentimental.”

Well, fine.  I’m sentimental too.  What’s your point?

But whether or not you fall in love with Robert Duvall and Michael Caine as a pair of retired brothers sitting on a wealth of stories and experience, whether or not you snort every time Haley Joel Osment’s voice cracks at the perfect moment, and whether or not the split narrative of loneliness in Texas and adventure in Africa (complete with B-movie stylings) works for you — there’s something to be gained in this movie.

Shake your head at the rest of it if you will.

But listen when Hub McCann starts to speak.

Around the midpoint of the movie, there is made mention of a speech given by Hub McCann, the “what every boy needs to know about being a man” speech.  Which, truly, should be reframed as “what everyone needs to know about being a good person” because there is nothing that applies only to men here, and everything that applies to us all.  We only get a piece of it, but it’s more than enough:

Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in the most — that people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love, true love, never dies.  No matter if they’re true or not, a man should believe in those things because those are the things worth believing in.

This speech, like the “invincible spell” of my favorite anime magical girl, has stuck with me a long, long time.

I am a deep, old-school believer in things like courtesy and honor.  I believe in treating others gently, with full respect, and with sincere kindness — no matter how I feel about the kind of day I’m having or how I felt one moment before I looked into their face.  I believe that every time I give my word, that is an unbreakable vow and oath; if I say I will do something, even if it is difficult, even if it comes late, even if it has to be shuttled amidst all the wreckage of my life, I will get it done.  I believe in the promises that bind people, and I believe in leaving every encounter, every person, every place, every situation, better than I found it.

These are the things I choose to believe in, because, to me, they are worth the effort of that belief.

And it doesn’t matter that the person right behind me in line will be unkind to the cashier, or that I may keep a promise, but someone may not keep one to me.  It doesn’t matter that someone weaves through traffic igniting ire and frustration in their wake.  It doesn’t matter that the weight of my word given may mean little or nothing to the stranger who receives it.

I can’t control the other people in line, or the rude driver, or the person whose promise will never be kept.  I can only control myself, and give into the world that which I believe is worth giving.  So I give my best.  I give my kindest.  I give my honor.  Even if I never get them back.

So I choose to believe that the rude person in the check-out line is deeply worried about money and is stressed and not sleeping, and has no more emotional energy to show respect.  I choose to believe that the dangerous driver is racing to get to someone in need, perhaps a hospital, perhaps a child who is scared and alone.  I choose to believe that the broken promise is not broken maliciously, but at the end of someone’s rope, a choice and a sacrifice made so that something more important may be accomplished instead.

And therefore I smile at the cashier, and hope my smile will be what they remember at the end of the day.  I repeat my mantra for rude or inconsiderate driver, which is “may you get where you’re going safely and harm none on your way” because that’s the only thing that matters in the end, and I forgive the broken promise.  It’s not self-indulgence or being holier-than-thou.  It’s not me being smug that I have done the right thing and someone else has not.

I choose to believe in the best of people.  Because people are worth believing in.

For every human being who is terrible, who is selfish, who is cruel, who is callous, there are people who are gloriously kind and loving and selfless and generous and true.  And I will not let myself be counted amongst those too caught up in the world inside myself to remember the worlds inside others.  I will be the best damn human being I can, and I will treat everyone who crosses my path with that much dignity and respect and kindness, until I have no breath or blood left.  I choose to believe that people are amazing, that people are capable of fantastic good, that people all have something of value, something unique, to share and give.

Because any alternative is not worth believing in.

And you know what?

I’ve yet to be proven wrong.

When I tell my CONvergence team that I think they’re awesome, that’s not hyperbole.  That’s not false praise.  It’s because they astound me with the work they’re willing to do, with the efforts they undertake, with the kindness, dedication, focus, effort they bring to our team and our convention.  When I tell my team that they are a group of people I trust and respect and cannot wait to work with, it’s because they are, and it’s all true.

It’s been said that a person becomes what they believe themself to be.  And that’s certainly true — but it lacks the active part of choosing to believe.  We don’t just become what we think.  We become what we do.

I choose to believe in honor and courtesy and kindness and respect, and that is what I will do in this world.

But we also become what others believe about us.  And when my CONvergence team tells me that they trust me, that they respect me, then I become a better member of the team.  When they tell me that I am doing my job well and am helpful in adding my part to our collective efforts, then I am able to do even better and double down on my efforts.

I think we all become some mix of what we choose to believe, and of what others choose to believe.

But we can only choose for ourselves.

So I choose to believe in the things worth believing in, and I choose to believe in the inherent goodness and value of people.  People on the street, in the store, in their cars, in the hallways, in the world.  Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not for every single one of them on every single day of their lives.

People are always worth the effort of belief.  Always.

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Winter Nights

It’s the kind of night where Minnesota shows the world what winter looks like up here.  It’s not too cold, actually, hanging out in the 20s, which, for Minnesota, is FANTASTIC.  But it’s been snowing heavily all day and will continue until midnight, and the snow that falls is thick and wet and heavy.  And it lands on a slick layer of ice, so the roads are nigh impassable.  They’re calling it “snow/freezing fog.”  That’s about right.

Nights like this can be cozy.  I settle in on my favorite couch spot under a pile of blankets and surrounded by books and my laptop and a few snacks.  There’s hockey on tonight, and many shows recorded, and Sarah’s been playing a lot of Minecraft on the TV when we get tired of either.

But I always sense something deeper in the snowy nights in the winters of the north.  Something old, that taps into the instincts of survival and exploration.  Something that whispers with the voice of pioneers and settlers and the peoples who were here first.

The snow makes the world seem quiet and still once I’m safe inside.  And it makes me feel like I’m snug in a nest, in a den, in a burrow.  I can understand why animals hibernate, why people in the time before gas and electric heat spent evenings like this under blankets cuddling by firelight.

The world holds still, its breath suspended in the cold and dark with only the wind and falling snow to track the time.

I’ve never lived a winter anywhere but in the north, be it in western New York or here in Minnesota.  And for as long as I can remember, I’ve felt the quiet of these nights in my very bones.  Almost an invitation to reflect and to rest.  The world isn’t going anywhere.  My heart can curl up and sleep.

The cats seem to agree.

If you’re anywhere in the path of this storm, or any other, be safe out there.  All the peace and calm of the winter comes from the safe, warm places behind windowpanes.  Please take care until you get there.  The roads are pure suckitude.

But the front yard is lovely.

(And the front step is literally 3 feet deep in a drift.  Gonna make for some interesting shoveling tomorrow!)

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More Precious, Indeed

In college, I took an entire course on the political philosophy and thought of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.  I have so many copies of speeches and letters and articles, excerpts from books and the books themselves, and, of course, the very famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963.  But to honor this man, his work, and the dream he stood for — the dream we are still chasing even today — what I would like to highlight are some passages from his acceptance speech on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1964 (as provided by the Nobel Foundation online, reproduced verbatim).

The words belong to a truly magnificent man.  The emphasis is my own.

I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice. I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeking to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered. And only yesterday more than 40 houses of worship in the State of Mississippi alone were bombed or burned because they offered a sanctuary to those who would not accept segregation. I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

Therefore, I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.

After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

The tortuous road which has led from Montgomery, Alabama to Oslo bears witness to this truth. This is a road over which millions of Negroes are travelling to find a new sense of dignity. This same road has opened for all Americans a new era of progress and hope. It has led to a new Civil Rights Bill, and it will, I am convinced, be widened and lengthened into a super highway of justice as Negro and white men in increasing numbers create alliances to overcome their common problems.

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!

This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.

Today I come to Oslo as a trustee, inspired and with renewed dedication to humanity. I accept this prize on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood. I say I come as a trustee, for in the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally.

Every time I take a flight, I am always mindful of the many people who make a successful journey possible – the known pilots and the unknown ground crew.

So you honor the dedicated pilots of our struggle who have sat at the controls as the freedom movement soared into orbit. You honor, once again, Chief Lutuli of South Africa, whose struggles with and for his people, are still met with the most brutal expression of man’s inhumanity to man. You honor the ground crew without whose labor and sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth. Most of these people will never make the headline and their names will not appear in Who’s Who. Yet when years have rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvellous age in which we live – men and women will know and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization – because these humble children of God were willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake.

I think Alfred Nobel would know what I mean when I say that I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owners – all those to whom beauty is truth and truth beauty – and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.

For myself, I can only say that I wish with all my heart we had not lost him so soon, that I think ours would be a better world and a better society if we had been given more time with this man, with his wisdom and his integrity, and most of all his fierce courage.

And above all, I wish I could say we live now in the world he envisioned.

But I can promise to keep working towards it.

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The Wheel Turns; Darkness Into Light

Welcome to the new year!

I hope everyone had something fun or exciting or heartwarming over the holiday season — which is also the time when the Northern Hemisphere meets and endures its longest night of the year and begins to slowly spin back towards warmth and light.  For me, I had a few highlights throughout the holidays, but the best part by far was my NYE party.

We had a fluctuating number as some had to leave early and others came late, but I think all told we had 14-16 people in the house eating dessert, exchanging gifts, and playing games to bid GOODBYE WE WILL NOT MISS YOU to 2017 and SOME IMPROVEMENT WOULD BE GOOD HERE 2018.  Which we did with the use of fire.  And piñatas.

I bought a pair of piñatas, a 1 and a 7.  Throughout the party, people wrote things on slips of paper and notecards and whatever else they chose — things they wanted to banish, things they wanted to release, things they wished to leave behind — and stuffed them in the piñatas.  People wrote lists, or the same grievance over and over, and I think at least one person fed an angry word in letter by letter.  We even took “orders” from our cousin party being held by some friends a few states away.

And at midnight, we took the piñatas outside in the -15 degree weather or whatever it was, and burned them to ashes.

It’s very therapeutic.  To take the frustrations and fears of the year that was and to let them go, to watch them be unmade and cast into the midnight sky.  To set down the burdens of one year and feel them melt from the shoulders — only to make room to carry new weight in the days and weeks to come, probably.  But it’s nice.  It’s not spectacular, and it’s not super dramatic, but it feels good to watch those feelings and experiences and shadows burn.

Maybe next year, if it isn’t -15 degrees, we’ll do a bigger fire and toast marshmallows.  That seems fair, right?

Personally, I’m still lobbying for a green or purple fire, too, but that’s tougher.  Luckily we have a designated friend-as-fire-marshal, and he handles that complicated stuff.  I just provide the piñatas and the backyard.

The thing about our NYE party is that it has evolved over the years.  A decade ago, it would be just Sarah and I and a friend some years, watching movies all night.  Then we started to gather with greater numbers of people, to make it more of an event.  In the last few, it’s become an all-out party which doubles as the friends gift-giving celebration for those who attend.  For the last 2 years, I’ve added an element of Christmas stockings.

Which is to say, for every person who comes to the party (or who is connected to this friends-family in some way), I make them a stocking.  A few people have real ones we hang on the mantle — those are the people who look to me and my house as their alternate home.  But for everyone there is a bag of candy and an orange and some nuts (the latter 2 from German tradition) and something else.  This year, I gave people CDs.

Half the friends-family got funny CDs of, well, this.

The other half got a CD mix I made.

I know, I know, that’s so 2003.  Whatever.  It seems silly to buy flash drives to hand out 17 songs as a playlist, and I just don’t do streaming music yet.  If anybody has a better idea, I’ll gladly hear it out.  Until then, CDs.

The mix I made for them is one I really like, and it has a lot in it that carried me through last year and will continue to carry me into 2018.  I called it “Light in the World” because, at heart, it’s a mix of songs either about the light that is already in the world — love, kindness, courage, honor — or songs about hanging onto and nurturing the light within when such light is needed against a colder world.

In the end, we’re all only what we give to the people in our lives, to the world beyond our immediate circle, and to the future yet to come.  And I, as I have said before, intend to give light.  And love.  And hope.

So here is the mix I made:

The World As I See It by Jason Mraz
Bridge Over Troubled Water by Gregorian
I’ll Be The Light by Colton Dixon
So Alive by The Goo Goo Dolls
Fearless by Kat Perkins
Kinder by Copper Wimmin
Courage (Come Out To Play) by Justin Hines
Say Geronimo by Sheppard
Shatter Me (feat. Lzzy Hale) by Lindsey Stirling
I Am the Fire by Halestorm
The Light by Disturbed
Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself by Jess Glynne
Over and Over by The Goo Goo Dolls
Life is Wonderful by Jason Mraz
Weightless by Courtney Jones
Fly to Paradise by the Eric Whitacre Singers
O Fortuna by Gregorian

You might wonder at that last track.  “O Fortuna” is not a song about light, or courage, or standing up against the dark.  The Wikipedia translation of it is:

O Fortune,
like the moon you are changeable,
ever waxing or waning;
hateful life first oppresses
and then soothes as fancy takes it;
poverty and power
it melts them like ice.

Fate – monstrous and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is vain and always fades to nothing,
shadowed and veiled you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back to your villainy.

Fate is against me
in health and virtue,
driven on and weighted down, always enslaved.
So at this hour, without delay,
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate strikes down the strong one,
everyone weep with me!

Not light, right?  It’s a lament, a cry for others to see the cruelty that Fate has dealt and sympathize.  A testament of injustice and unfairness.

Uplifting?  Well, the song itself it, but not in the context of its meaning.

But for me, that’s WHY this song is important in this mix.  Because you can have all the courage you want, can be armed with kindness and honor, can breathe light and sing hope through your veins, but eventually random chance and events beyond your control *will* take their toll.  You can skip through life on the road of ideals, head full of dreams and optimism, but someday the rocks of reality are going to come down on your head.

What matters is what you do next.

If — and when — Fate strikes down the strong person, what does the strong person do?

What choice do you make?

Do you weep and cry that Fate is unfair?  Do you curl up and surrender?  Do you blame the unkindness of Fate and petulantly refuse to accept the truth?

Because dark and light cannot exist without one another.  Hope doesn’t have power unless it has been born by overcoming despair.  Courage cannot be strong unless it is forged in fear.  Kindness has no meaning if it is insincere.

“O Fortuna” is the last track on the CD because it leaves the unanswered question for the listener:

In the face of callousness, of despair, of cruelty, will you stand up and be counted amongst the kind, the loving, and the brave?

What will you choose for 2018?

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Fandom Exposition and/or Explosion

A few weeks ago, I found myself outlining to a friend exactly WHY I get so deeply into certain fandoms.  And then last week, I was again in a discussion of how I could find such merit in certain cartoons.

I figure that means it is time to put some of that here for those who are curious.  Because sometimes it’s not about the fandom itself, but what you get out of it that counts.

So here are a few of my top fandoms (in terms of what I write, not what I read necessarily) and why I have the deep love for them that I do.

And hey — the four of you, or however-many people read this blog, jump in the comments!  I want to know what aspects of these shows I’ve missed that make them worth all the love.

(Minimal spoilers ahead, I hope!)


Mighty Max =

This is one of those cartoons that got made in the 90s on a shoestring budget basically to sell toys. No, seriously. Do you know the Polly Pocket toys for girls? Well they made a boy-centric version and called it Mighty Max, and then decided to make a cartoon about it to sell the things. But I think it was that exact sort of “eh, who cares?” that gave the creators the freedom to write a truly spectacular show for its time. (It helps that the main characters were voiced by some of the true VA stars: Rob Paulsen, Tony Jay, Frank Welker, Tress MacNeille, and Tim Curry.) The basic premise is that an 11-year-old kid is the destined hero who has been summoned to start kicking evil’s butt and saving the world on a weekly basis.

Max himself grows rather a lot over the course of the series’ 2 seasons. For the most part, he’s a smart-aleck of a kid, snapping off one-liners in the face of danger and avoiding his homework with alacrity. He is very much a reluctant hero, especially at the beginning, because the world-saving tends to happen right when he’s having the most fun and being a kid. But as time goes on, and as the situations get more serious, Max’s “but why do I have to be the Mighty One today?” moments become more half-hearted. At his core, however, he is a real hero, and this comes out when needed. Max is a modern-day Odysseus in the sense of being able to outwit his opponents and taunt them into making mistakes. Max can face down odds and evil-doers many times his size, shaking in his shoes, until his back is against the wall. And then he takes a breath, and fights back. The destiny he carries gives him precious few actual “powers” as it were, but it tends to work in subtle ways. For example, if he finds himself in front of an alien computer and he has to turn it off, out of a thousand buttons, he’ll hit the right one. Fate and chance tend to play on his side, especially when it matters.

He is accompanied on his journey against all things nefarious by two companions/teachers/friends. First is Norman, a mostly immortal man who is the source of many legends (Thor, Hercules, etc.) who “eats bad guys for breakfast” and is effectively the ultimate bodyguard. But Norman is not at all the meathead he appears to be at the start. He is very aware of the fact that 11-year-old Max is, in fact, the Mighty One who is going to be the greatest hero of all time, which means he is completely happy to let Max fight or make plans and doesn’t try to coddle or smother the kid. He doesn’t actually try to impede Max’s growth as a hero, or tell him that things are “too dangerous.” Because, even if they are, the dangerous things have to get done to save the world, and Max is the one to do it — with Norman at his side to back him up, of course. Additionally, he’s a very deep, very feeling character — we get several episodes about his life and his experiences through time, including the death of his father and his guilt at not being able to protect him. For all Norman looks like he could take on every linebacker on the planet at once and win, he is tender-hearted and almost gentle in disposition (when not kicking asses, obviously).

The second companion Max has on his journey is Virgil, who looks like a chicken (fowl, actually), is half Max’s size, and is tens of thousands of years old. Virgil is a Lemurian, a member of an ancient, lost civilization which set in motion a lot of the events that led to the rise of all younger peoples. Virgil has been waiting for five thousand years for Max to arise as the Mighty One so he can guide the kid in his world-saving. Virgil is complicated in other ways, some of which you have to really think about — he is the last of his people, has some of the arrogance of a puppet master (including the fact that he admits that he knows almost everything and is rarely, if ever, wrong), and he is very imperious about pretty much sending Max into whatever the hell danger is in front of them, sure that Max is “destined to win.” But, that said, Virgil’s scars run deep. Virgil has watched heroes die before, and when pressed, reveals how badly he does not want to see Max’s fate go the same way. The ultimate evil the Mighty One will face (and goes up against many times during the series) is named Skullmaster, and Virgil and Skullmaster have *history.*

One of the things that makes the show unique for its time is that it is freaking DARK. Most episodes open with somebody getting killed just off screen, but complete with screaming. Wikipedia at one point described the series as “Adventure/Horror” and there’s truth to that. Skullmaster, brilliantly voiced by Tim Curry, is one of the most outright malicious, terrifying villains ever put to screen, who regularly talks about torturing Max, or “sucking the marrow from his bones” if he catches him. He is EVIL. And there are other evils, too, some comical, some subtle, some misguided. Not everybody threatening the world means evil, or realizes they’re doing it. From aliens to ancient sorcerers to demi-gods (or actual gods) to mutants, the monsters of the week tend to be neat either by motivation or, even more often, cultural association. Because another unique aspect of the show is that as the Mighty One, Max is given the Cosmic Cap (yes, it looks like a baseball cap, and there are *reasons*) which opens portals across the planet. It allows them to make quick getaways, but it also means they spend most of their adventures in non-USA places. So some of their villains are legendary creatures from Viking lore, some are from Hindu mythology, some are something else entirely. The focus on multiculturalism and multinationalism gives the series another edge.

I first discovered the series in middle school, and it has stayed with me my entire life. Especially as a lonely kid, the idea of having two protectors/teachers/friends for life was deeply appealing. It’s not the *first* fandom I ever wrote fic in, but it is as close to my heart as anything, and it’s certainly where I have done the most growing. I have a written HUGE series based on MM, developing the mythology, the characters, the history, and it’s still coming. I’ll probably write the next novel in the series starting in January, even. I don’t think I can ever be done with Mighty Max, honestly. There’s too much of me in it. And there’s too much of it in me. And there’s SO MUCH THERE. This series goes practically everywhere, and I’ve taken it all over the place, too (I think I’ve crossed it with 3 or 4 other fandoms at this point, sometimes in big ways). And, at heart, it’s about one kid learning to find the hero inside himself, accept it, and live it with two stalwart friends at his side.

Sarah jokes that she expects I’ll die at 100 years old with my Mighty Max series still unfinished. She might well be right.

TMNT =


So, for the uninitiated, you have to understand that there are LOTS of versions of TMNT out there. Most people, when you start talking about mutant ninja turtles, think about the 80’s version of pizza-loving,G-rated dudes. But TMNT itself began as a comic published by Mirage in 1984, and was far darker than the cartoon that came out to sell toys to boys through the early 90’s. Then there’s the live-action trio of movies that came out around the same time, but which were based on the Mirage version of the universe rather than the cartoon version — which had taken some interesting liberties with the original plots and characters. There was a separate run of comics published in the 80’s and 90’s by Archie Comics and another the late 90’s by Image Comics, too, though Mirage continued publishing again in the 2000s and 2010s. (We don’t talk about the brief live-action TV series. Seriously. It is DEAD to us. Hell, it’s even dead to the creators!) Then, in 2003, the series returned as a cartoon again. It ran for 7 years and really reinvented the series for a new age of consumers right before the Mirage property was sold to Nickelodeon. Another movie came out in 2007, this one CGI. IDW Comics has a separate TMNT line running since 2011 or so as well. With the sale by Mirage, in 2012 Nickelodeon created their own version, a CGI series that only just concluded this year. (Also not gonna talk about the Michael Bay version; many TMNT fans enjoy it, but I do not.) And that’s before you get into weird alternates, like TMNT mangas (they exist) or the video games, or the daily comic strips, or TMNT the RPG.

So…basically, when you say “I like TMNT,” that’s kinda like saying “I like Star Trek.” Because you have to ask “Oh? Which one?” and “Series, or movies?” to start getting at the *which* Star Trek we’re talking about here. There is no one TMNT, even if the characters are, at their core, consistent from one to another. But the stories, plots, even backstories, vary WIDELY between versions. Some are dark as hell, others are lighthearted and cheerful. Some challenge assumptions about personhood, or morality, or honor. Others focus on jokes and puns and slapstick humor.

For me, I grew up watching the TMNT of the 80’s, the cartoon, but it always felt a little bit hollow to me. I would pretend it with my brother and other kids (Donatello was my favorite turtle, but I was a girl so I thought I had to play/had to like April best — ha! Gender norms in childhood suck!), but I just wanted…I dunno. A different story than there was. And yet, something about TMNT stuck with me into adulthood in that nostalgic way you look back at cartoons and see more than was ever there.

What I’ve learned since, of course, is that there IS more there — you just have to look at it with the discerning eye of an adult and parse out the secrets the writers hid there for you.

I didn’t even start watching the 2003 version of TMNT until more than halfway through its run. When I did…DAMN. HERE was the version I was looking for. Here were the brothers, complex and struggling and learning and awesome and overwhelmed and courageous and still so young. Here was a supporting cast of people who could be folded into more camps than “good” and “bad but not that bad.” Here were some actually badass girls. And here were some writers who really, really knew what they were doing.

(It helps that Peter Laird, one of the original creators, did consulting on it, and helped with the writing, and basically lended a hand to steer the ship and keep it from going the way of The Series That Shall Not Be Named.)

Even when it was campy, or silly, or clearly had too much 4Kids for breakfast, it still had the heart of TMNT which was what I had been looking for all along. And if you have trouble seeing it, put it this way:

Take the mutant part out of it. Think of the story in terms of characters.

An immigrant to New York loses his entire family, watches them be murdered in front of him by his Clan’s ultimate enemy. Wounded, heartsick, he goes into hiding. In the sewers, he finds four children who have been abandoned, and decides to raise them as his own. In some tellings of the story, the implication is that these children were to be his army to send against the one who killed his family — that he took them in so that they would rise up and administer his vengeance for his lost loved ones. But, over time, he became more than teacher and they more than students — they became family, and he grew to love his sons far more than he hated his enemy. He taught them the skills of his Clan, so that they could survive and protect one another, and feared for the day they might be faced with the murderer of their adopted family.

Compelling enough yet? Now add the brothers.

Leonardo is a natural leader, strong in his ninjutsu, honorable, trying to follow the ways of Bushido to the best of his ability. He is focused and observant, and loyal to a fault. He will face down literally anything to save a member of his family. He will risk anything when his family is in need. And yet, he can be haughty about being the best, or being the leader. He may doubt in himself, especially when battles go against them. And he gets frustrated being the only voice of reason sometimes when his brothers are not working with him. He feels deeply, and the burden of leadership is very, very heavy on his shoulders — because Leo knows that someday it may fall to him to make a decision that will mean one of his brothers isn’t coming home again.

Donatello is a calm and cheerful soul, loyal to the family as much as Leonardo, but entirely different in every other way. Donatello is unconditionally a genius. By the age of 15, he was building vehicles that could hover, or a computer array that could seamlessly hack the NSA. He is the team’s engineer, their scientist, and sometimes their medic. Virtually every situation that needs a resolution rotates on Donatello’s ability to outthink any problem and any opponent. In some cases, Don is the least skilled of his brothers in ninjutsu, and he is vastly more likely to solve a problem with his brain than his fists. This makes him something of an outsider amongst his brothers, their resident geek, and leaves him sometimes thinking and speaking at levels not one of them can really understand. But everything Don does is for them, from building them a lair in which to live to putting every bit of his knowledge and intelligence to work to get them out of everything they get into — no matter what.

Raphael is as hot-headed and poorly tempered as Don is calm. Raphael is a constant foil to Leo, fighting him on practically everything, sometimes just on principle. But Raph isn’t antagonistic to no reason. Raph has spent his entire life trying to prove himself worthy of the family he loves so much, and also to protect them. He is a free and independent spirit and HATES being ordered around by anyone, much less Leo whom he can take two falls out of four on his good days. Raph is also deeply, deeply afraid to lose any one of his brothers. He deals with this fear poorly, generally. He would take a bullet for any of his brothers, and regularly in battle ends up watching the others in fights so he can swoop in to help them if the get overwhelmed — most often Donatello, in fact, since Don is often trying to fight AND reprogram a computer on the fly or something. Raph burns off his endless, furious energy by punching things, or riding a motorcycle, or, sometimes, patrolling the city alone and doing a little vigilante work. Because Raph burns against injustice, and he will not stand for it. Of the four of them, Raph’s emotions tend to explode in every direction the most — when pushed to it, he feels grief profoundly, or rage engulfingly. And all those feelings, without limit, center on his family.

Michelangelo is the baby of the family — although in almost all incarnations the brothers are literally the same age because they don’t know how old they really are and the all mutated at the same time — and acts as its main source of tension-breaking and comic relief. This is as much a part of his carefree and goofy personality as it is a deliberate attempt on his part to keep the peace. The quickest way to get his three brothers aligned is to make a bad joke and gang them all up on himself, and he clearly knows it. He also loves easily, and not only his family. Of them all, he tends to be the one with a pet, or the most friends, or the greatest desire to meet and help more people in the world. Mikey pushes Raph to his limits, tests Leo’s patience, regularly breaks whatever Don builds, and “forgets” to obey his father, but he never lets them down when it matters. And all that happy-go-lucky, cheering goofiness is yet another mask for his own feelings, and his own fears. In some ways, Mikey is the most resilient of them all, because he is possessed of an endless kind of optimism — things will work out eventually, and he’ll keep helping them along until they get there. When Mikey stops kidding around, he is a terrifying force to be reckoned with, but his brothers need him to be their kidding, joking, cheerful heart, and he is happy to oblige.

Without even getting into other characters, or the plotlines, or the villains…just this is enough for me to love. The brotherhood between the four turtles, the bonds of family and honor and Clan that link them and Splinter — it is a source of endless joy and fascination for me. Most of the times I write TMNT, I’m looking at those connections, and I’m testing them. There is something about these bonds that go beyond blood (or mutagen), that go beyond Clan, that go beyond family, that connect at the place where the immortal soul latches onto fate, that I never tire of writing about, or reading about.

Most of the fandoms on this list can be characterized one way or another as “team-as-family against the world,” but it’s never more true or more acute than it is with my very-much-beloved turtles.

Gundam Wing =


This is an anime I just pretty much love for too many irrational reasons. It’s mecha! Empathy in space! The meaning of conflict! And…um. Those boys.

So, the funny thing is that the *characters* of Gundam Wing are fantastic, but the plot is…convoluted doesn’t even cover it. It takes a few watchings to pin down the exact political situation behind the events of the series, and it changes ALL THE TIME. At some point, I think there’s 5 or 6 factions in play, and some of them are aligned more than one way, and it just is a giant mess. Which is kinda the point, the whole chaos-of-war thing, but it makes for some tough watching. In short, 90% of the human race has left the Earth to live in colonies in space. The 10% who remain on Earth are the wealthy who pretty much rule everything. Conflict arises when the colonies want some actual representation in government, to say nothing of economic parity, and war breaks out. The war goes really south and a band of scientists each train a 15-year-old pilot to go to Earth as a terrorist, basically destroying the Earth’s military resources under the cover of being a high schooler. Then things get weird and the colonies turn on them and…yeah, it gets weird. Anyway, it’s the pilots themselves that draw me in.

The five pilots are very, very different from one another. Heero Yuy was raised by an assassin and conditioned to suppress almost all emotion in order to accomplish whatever mission is set him. But in spite of that, he is dedicated, insanely stubborn, and oddly sympathetic. He knows he is a killer, and he does so when required to accomplish his goals, but I don’t think he is ever okay with that fact. His heart is buried under layers, and only he knows how deep it goes.

Duo Maxwell was an orphan who survived on the streets, watched the only people who ever took him in burn to death or die of plague, and copes with it by being the wise-cracker of the group. He calls himself the “God of Death” (“Great Destroyer in the dub because *reasons*) and has a kind of manic fury to his hilarity. He has fabulous snark in the heat of battle, and walks that line between being truly friendly and fiendishly deadly with a laugh.

Trowa Barton is…really an enigma. He has no idea who he is or where he came from, and until the series begins he doesn’t even have a name of his own, going by No-Name. He was raised with a mercenary group and has spent virtually his entire life as a spy or a soldier. But once he starts connecting with people, starting with the pilots and then with a few civilians, he begins to show how very kind and protective he is. He learns that his identity is his own, as are his feelings, and decides to live based upon whatever choices he can give himself.

Quatre Raberba Winner (totally my favorite, not gonna lie) is the son of one of the wealthiest men in the world and in line to inherit a corporation that would be about 12 of the top companies in the US put together times four. He is, to a much-debated extent, an empath, reacting when he can feel the pain of others. But he is a skilled fighter regardless, controlling his emotions by sheer focus. Quatre is also the strategist and tactician of the group, able to lead effectively and come up with a battle plan that wins out even when overwhelmed. Quatre’s emotions are close to the surface, and he is gentle and affectionate and peace-loving even when he has no choice but to fight. Mostly. Except when…kinda brainwashed. Then he is TERRIFYING.

Chang WuFei is a kid who was never meant to be a pilot at all. Wufei was married by family custom at the age of 13, I think, to his arranged bride, who was chosen to be the fifth pilot sent to protect the colonies. But she was killed in battle, and Wufei took on her duty for himself, though he would be more of a scholar and wise old Chinese guy if you left him to his own devices. Wufei despises weakness because he hates himself for what happened to his wife (whom he didn’t exactly love, they barely knew one another and fought all the time), but he feels it was his fault she died anyway. He is looking for justice, and he’s going to find it by burning his way through anything in his path.

Over the course of the series, their relationships shift a lot. Some of them get on really well (there is good reason the series *almost* straight-up ships Quatre and Trowa), some of them mostly yell at each other. At first, they don’t even know there are more pilots than themselves out there fighting — as they meet and realize they have the same mission and the same goals, they shift into and out of alliances with each other. In the end, though, the five of them stand up as the last force which can stand for peace in the face of total annihilation (because it’s a Gundam trope — somebody always wants to just do away with the world eventually). And they all have to decide who they are and where they stand and what they believe. In the end, they choose life, they choose to fight for the sake of those who can’t fight for themselves, and they choose to do so together.

It’s a pretty great fandom for character speculation. I LOVE those boys. I’ve written about them A LOT and for good reason.

Leverage =


So, this was a series that ran for 5 years starting in 2008 and is pretty much perfect. It’s a series about a group of 5 thieves who band together to help people. As in — if someone can’t sue a big company because they can’t afford it, the Leverage team will run a game on the company’s CEO and ensure that the family gets a compensation package. Or if someone is conning people out of their life savings, the team will con the conmen right back and return the money. It has a lot of the same kind of humor or one-liners or pacing of a good Joss Whedon production, but on a different scale. The interesting thing is that it was timed specifically for the 2008-2009 market crash stuff, and is basically the story of honest people, who happen to be thieves, getting back at the rich fatcats hurting the middle and lower classes. The social justice is strong with this one, in the best possible way.

The team is made up of five people who have a specific skill set each:

Alec Hardison is their Hacker. He is unmatched when it comes to computers and gadgets. He is frighteningly brilliant, but he tends to get distracted. He’s also an unrepentant nerd, spouting Star Wars or Star Trek lines or whatever references to fandom he feels like. He can grift fairly well, though his accents are awful, and he sometimes tries to plan the team’s cons, but he doesn’t quite have the right perspective for it — Hardison wants so badly to make the real world as perfect as the coding he lives and breathes, and it just doesn’t work out that way. Hardison is dangerous when mad because he can ruin you six ways from Sunday, but he tends towards prankerism instead (as in, sending a thousand porn magazines to a jerk’s office rather than, say, emptying their bank accounts). Hardison has a HUUUUUGE crush on Parker.

Parker is their Thief. Parker, she has no other name, is basically a ninja thief. Parker can come and go from a bank without ever being seen, can lift items from a mark’s pocket and they won’t even know she was there, can crack any safe you put in front of her, and spends a lot of time in air ducts and dangling from rooftop harnesses. Parker is neat because she is very much neuro-atypical. She misses common social cues and doesn’t always understand people, but she isn’t autistic per se. Even Sarah isn’t quite sure how to define her. Parker is in some ways a very angry woman because she comes from a very broken background, but in other ways she is the most vulnerable of them all. Parker is ADORABLE, even though she’d stab you with a fork for saying so. She’s been alone for most of her life, and so her developing relationships with the team, particularly Hardison, are awkward and beautiful.

(Funny story. The actress who plays Parker took some pick-pocketing lessons early in the first season so she could do it correctly. Not only did she learn so well that her teacher said she could make a living just by what she could steal on the street, but some of her lifts were too invisible for the cameras to pick up and had to be reshot!)

Eliot Spencer is their Hitter. (FYI ELIOT IS MY FAVORITE) Eliot starts as a “retrieval specialist” which basically means he will take a job and get you the thing you need, probably by dispatching literally every person in between him and his target. He is a martial artist, weapons specialist, combat master, and all-around total badass. That said, he doesn’t like guns and he doesn’t kill. Eliot’s known history starts with him joining the US military at 18, becoming special forces and more, and then going to the dark side and ending up as a hitman and hired gun for some really bad people. By the time he joins the Leverage team, he is absolutely famous as being unstoppable and terrifying, a reputation he uses, but isn’t proud of. Eliot is EXTREMELY protective of the team, even early on, and he will DESTROY anyone who hurts them. While he is usually positioned for bodyguard duty, though, Eliot is a fair grifter himself, and he can also make and execute plans that work far better than Hardison’s. The reason he doesn’t, though, is never stated, but I think it’s obvious from everything else — the person who makes the plans (see Nate below) has to be willing to push the team, even endanger them, to get the job done. And that is something Eliot will not willingly do. Eliot loves this team even when he wants to strangle them all. Eliot is played by Christian Kane, which means they could do other things with the character, since he’s a frighteningly skilled human being; Eliot, therefore, can sing and play guitar (Christian Kane being a country star when he’s not acting), and can cook (which Christian Kane can also do — it’s not feigned). Eliot is the sword and shield of the team, and in some ways, its heart.

Sophie Devereaux is the team’s main Grifter. She can charm anything out of anyone, playing a dozen different roles in the span of a few minutes. She shifts her accent around to become a British Duchess, a South African diplomat, an Indian doctor, or an Aussie escort. Sophie plays a little bit the role of team mom, teaching the others, talking to them, guiding them through being part of a team or learning new skills. She is a thief in her own right, though, known worldwide for the art she has stolen that has never been recovered. This is how she met Nate — he spent a huge portion of his career chasing her. She has also, obviously, had romantic feelings for him since long before the series began, but she understands that she has to let Nate figure himself out in his own time.

(In the middle of the 2nd season, Sophie semi-left the show due to the actress’s pregnancy, so she sent in a grifter friend of hers to fulfill the role and balance out the team. Tara’s an okay character, but she’s not Sophie.)

Nate Ford is the team’s Mastermind and leader (and the one I enjoy writing the most outside of Eliot). Nate was an insurance investigator, chasing down big-ticket items and trying to recover stolen property so his company wouldn’t have to pay out the losses. In this way, he came into contact with all four of the others, hunting them over the years in different capacities. However, when the series opens, he has been reeling from a pair of double tragedies — the death of his 8-year-old son and a divorce from his wife — and has lost his job as well. Nate is magnificently intelligent, able to read a situation in seconds, perceive more than anyone not in the mold of Sherlock Holmes would see, and design sometimes elaborate plans for the team. He is the chessmaster (also literally) and he has earned the loyalty of the team because he is *just* *that* *good.* Nate can grift as well as plan, and he was raised by a thief himself so he has some slight of hand tricks as well (and sometimes he punches people, but usually only if Eliot has softened them up first). Nate is the team’s leader and dad, pushing them, supporting them, and also holding onto them for dear life because they are all he has left. Nate struggles for the first, eh, 3ish seasons with a drinking problem, going from what he calls being a “drunk honest man” to a “sober thief” to a “drunk thief.” (He also calls himself a functional alcoholic which is a joke the writers tell about one of the series creators.) Nate’s feelings for Sophie grow throughout the series, though the chemistry is there from the start, but he’s just too broken to do anything about them for a long time. Nate sometimes balances on the edge of insanity, and when that happens, it is the team who pulls him back.

The whole team has a strong family parallel going of Nate as the dad, Sophie the mom, and the other three as kids — Eliot the eldest, Nate’s right hand partner and go-to, Hardison as the middle kid looking to prove himself but also keep the peace, and Parker as the wild youngest with too much of her father’s crazy in her. The jobs they pull tend to be amazing, but it’s that team dynamic, different from TMNT but just as wonderful, that really holds me. These people would walk into hell for each other, would follow one another to the end of time, and, in some cases, would kill for each other. They are better together, and they all know it — even if they rarely want to back themselves into the corner of talking about it.

Cardcaptor Sakura and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle=

         
I’m going to talk about these together for reasons that will become obvious. I’ll start with CCS.

Basically, Cardcaptor Sakura is one of the finest magical girl animes out there. Really, it is. Yes, it’s about a cute girl with magic powers, but it’s also about a lot more than that. Sakura herself is utterly charming, and the 70 episode series is an intensely slow build of character interactions, relationships, and revelations. CCS is one of the few series I watch about once a year all the way through, and it brings me joy every single time. There are things it took me 5 watches to pick up on, tiny hints foreshadowing reveals, character quirks or throwaway lines that turned out to be literally the entire answer. But at its center is Kinomoto Sakura, a girl who found a deck of magical Cards and promptly lost them. She is charged with collecting the deck again, which means overcoming each one, because each is magical and will defend itself to keep from being caught. So, for example, the Fiery Card sets an amusement park on fire and Sakura has to defeat it. Or the Sword Card possesses one of her friends and attacks her. Sakura has been warned by the Guardian of the Cards, a little bear with wings named Keroberos, that if she does not succeed in recapturing all of the Cards, a great tragedy will befall the world. She asks Kero if that means the world will go “boom.” He responds, rather tellingly, “No, nothing like that. Depending on who you are, it might not be too bad at all. But…for someone like you, it might be more painful than the world going boom.” And he is right.

I’m not gonna spoil it, obviously. And the thing is that the Cards capturing ends around the episode 46 mark, and there are 24 more episodes after that because things are never quite over.

Sakura herself is a cheerful, brave little thing, filled with kindness and friendship and earnestness. She pretty much fills me with happy.

But the series would not be complete without Li Syaoran. Syaoran shows up in episode 8 or 9 as a transfer student from Hong Kong. He is a blood descendant of the magician who made the Cards in the first place, and he has sworn to retrieve them himself. At the beginning, he is an unmitigated jerk. No, really. He doesn’t care about Sakura, he doesn’t care that Kero has chosen Sakura to find the Cards, he doesn’t care about feelings or being kind or anything. He has been training in the traditions of his family since he could walk, is skilled with his own magic and with his swordwork, and he knows more about the Cards than Sakura — and is out to prove he is the rightful one to collect and master the Cards. But as time goes on, he slowly gets pulled into Sakura’s kindness and friendship, and he becomes protective of her, too. Even if he wants the Cards for himself, he doesn’t want anything to happen to her. And then…well…ye gods does he ever fall for her. It literally takes him 50 episodes to get there, though if you’re watching him closely you can see him starting to blush around her far sooner.

When Syaoran does fall for her, it is complete. And it is EPIC. Syaoran’s whole world becomes Sakura, and she doesn’t even know it. How they handle that, especially because Sakura spends the ENTIRE series in love with someone else, is just…well, I still cry, okay?

This show also has a lot of unusual relationships in it, too. There are implied lesbian romances (one-sided, sadly), and a canonical gay relationship which is just as beautiful as the slow burn of Syaoran’s love for Sakura. The True Love is strong in this series, and it is everywhere.

Besides being just an exquisite example of family and friends and loves, it also has this thread running through it that Sakura is brave enough not to give up, no matter how scared she is. And that, if she’s the one still trying, in the end, she’ll succeed. Several characters comment on it. “If it’s you, Sakura, it’ll be okay.” And Sakura learns for herself what she comes to call her Invincible Spell: I will definitely be all right. No matter how bad it gets, she keeps finding enough belief in herself and enough love for her friends to keep trying.

I’m still discovering how much of an effect that mentality has had on me over the years.

Of note — don’t EVER, and I mean EVER watch the American version of this show called “Cardcaptors.” It’s not just poorly dubbed. It’s not even that they changed at least one gay relationship to make them “cousins.” It’s that they decided they couldn’t air the series as it was, mostly about a girl, and so they chopped it up to manufacture episodes of greater conflict between Sakura and Syaoran for the Cards. They actually plug bits and pieces in from different episodes, even from different seasons, to try to make a totally different story. It is AWFUL. It is UNWATCHABLE.

Now, here’s where Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle comes in.

CCS is made by the manga/anime house CLAMP. Because it was SO wildly popular, they decided to do an AU of their own series and created TRC. Tsubasa takes place in a different world, but has Sakura and Syaoran and several of the other CCS characters making an appearance. But it’s a REALLY different anime.

The premise per the first 2 episodes is this: Sakura is a princess in the Kingdom of Clow. Syaoran is her childhood friend, who loves her SOOOOOOOOO much, and whom she loves in return. But before she can confess her feelings to him, and him to her, they are interrupted by basically a curse. Sakura’s soul, and her memories, are ripped from her body and cast into multiple dimensions and even through time, leaving her a dying shell. To save her, Syaoran takes her to another CLAMP character from another series (but, ultimately, the entire CLAMP universe is one long story with lots of bits and pieces spread throughout their various series) called the Dimensional Witch. The Witch can give Syaoran the ability to travel through dimensions and time to track down the pieces of Sakura’s soul, but there is a price. If he accepts this power, he surrenders his entire relationship with Sakura forever — no matter how many memories she gets back, he will never be in them. She will never remember her feelings, will have gaps and blanks and empty spaces in her mind where he should be, and all that they were for all the years they grew up together will be gone. Syaoran never even hesitates. He sacrifices every memory she’ll ever have of him and goes on the journey to save her. And, as they journey (because she has to come with in order to receive the pieces of soul as he finds them), every time she gets close to wondering what used to be between them, it is taken away again.

And Syaoran. Oh, ye gods. He loves her more than I think I’ve ever seen any character in anything ever love another. When she first looks at him and doesn’t know him, I mean, he is DESTROYED. But he never stops loving her, ever. He risks his life a million times just to call her “princess” instead of “Sakura” and to have her refer to him formally in return. He listens to her recount each new memory she gets when he finds them, only to realize she’s remembering him, but not, and he has to hold onto that for them both. He LOVES her. And it is HEARTBREAKING.

Sakura, for her part, is rather different in TRC from her CCS counterpart. For almost the first half of the first season, she has almost no personality at all, since it’s all been ripped away. The more she grows, though, and the more she regains of herself, the stronger she becomes. And, frankly, the more like her CCS self she becomes. And she, not knowing Syaoran from a stranger, falls in love with him, agonizingly slowly.

But the thing is that this journey is…not at all what it seems. There is another force at work, the one who scattered Sakura’s memories in the first place, and who is directly connected to the person who made the Cards in CCS. And he has an EEEEEvil plan. And…then it gets SUPER EXTRA COMPLICATED.

See, the thing is that the anime stops before it is resolved. Literally, the series ends, and then there’s an OVA of 3 episodes that rips apart literally *EVERYTHING* you thought you know about every single person in the cast. And then it stops. And then there’s another 2-episode OVA that picks up an arc and a half later which makes it ALL WORSE. And then the anime stops AGAIN.

To finish it, to get the actual plot wrapped up, and to have any freaking clue WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED you have to either read the manga, or let me tell it to you. Because I’ve read the manga several times, and I’ve taken several friends through this series. It takes me an hour, and that’s without the visual aids I took of critical pages from the manga. But it…uh. It makes it all several times more complex than it was, and more heart-rending. In the end, though, the central story is one of love that lasts beyond life, beyond time, beyond form. It is love willing to move every universe, no matter the consequences, to protect. It is the most intense and both soul-fulfilling and soul-killing series I’ve ever watched. Not to be undertaken lightly, but very much worth it.


So, there you are.  Some of my top fandoms, and the reasons behind them.  What did I miss?  What awesome isn’t accounted for?

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TCWC Concert and the Fight Against the Season

On Saturday, I sang 2 concerts with the TCWC; it was our usual “Illuminations” concert we do in lieu of a more traditional holiday concert. The music this time was STUNNING.

We opened with different settings of the words attributed to Chief Seattle (though not really said by him; thanks Snopes!):

This we know.
The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth.
This we know.
All things are connected like the blood that unites one family.
All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.
This we know.
We did not weave the web of life.
We are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
This we know.

We sang songs about the earth, about stars, about the moon, and about the rise of the sun. The words from one of them, “Cycle Four,” made me cry EVERY DAMN TIME I sang them:

The earth itself is a spaceship; the crew rides on the outside in everlasting orbit around the sun.
Seen from the moon, it is so tiny and fragile.
I wish leaders from every nation could see the world from here.
Those precious borders are invisible.
The brilliant globe is surrounded by blackness and turns serenely in the sunlight.
Viewing our planet from the moon, I cry.
The pristine blue and whiteness I see is an illusion.
Hiding beneath it I know there is an ever more senseless ugliness.

And we did the Randall Thompson version of “Choose Something Like A Star” whose words by Robert Frost are, I think, truly inspirational:

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud;
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says “I burn.”
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

I’m not going to link to this song, but I’m sure you can go find a version of it on YouTube if you wish, and I highly recommend it; it’s truly beautiful.

(Also, it goes HIGH. I mean, I’m a high first soprano and it can be exhausting after a while. This whole concert was that way, though. My poor vocal cords were DONE on Saturday night. Anyway.)

The thing about music at this time of year is that, while I am tired tired TIRED of Christmas carols, pretty much all of them, I love the music that fits the season without being about it. I love the music about the darkness that gives way to light, about people making their everyday lives about joy, about hope and rebirth and kindness and generosity.

The winter tests people when it comes; the cold and dark and early sunset push against the shadows in our minds. I am typing this now at 4:01pm Central Time, and already the sun is gone from the sky. Night will fall in a matter of minutes. It was dark when I left the house for work and it will be dark before I get home. The shortest day of the year up here in the north is truly short.

Sometimes I think we fill it up with a false cheerfulness from the holidays, the blaring bouncy songs on the radio and in stores, the aggressively green and red decorations, the screaming lights. Sometimes I think this whole Christmastime bustle is one big fight against the darkness that closes in on all sides and heralds the cold and ice and snow to come.

And you know what?

While I am SO TIRED of the overplayed music, and I roll my eyes at the commercialization, and I get irritated by the false cheer and kindness that melts away on December 26th when it should be a way of living year-round — in spite of all of that, I find it deeply appealing to live in an entire culture basically telling the dark and cold and gloom and despair to go choke on a Christmas tree.

“Yeah, yeah, dark and cold and blah. I’ll show you! I’m going to put up the most OBNOXIOUS lights I can, deck my house and my store and everything with as much gold and red and green and silver as I can lay hands on! You think the wind and snow will keep me quiet? How loudly do you want to hear my music? You think you can make me stay home and sulk? IT IS SHOPPING TIME.”

I don’t really think it’s intentional, but I do think that’s what happens. I think the year closing to the winter solstice is one big drain, and the way we fight it is with light and laughter and parties and singing and flowers and bows and good food and sappy movies. I think it’s an entire people using the same tricks I use against depression to hold back the season.

And it does work.

Even if I’m rolling my eyes while it goes.

But then, I usually appreciate a good show of defiance. As soon as you tell me that I need to bow down and let shadows fall, I usually start thinking about ways to light a candle. As soon as you tell me that being cold is an inevitability, I promise you I have figured out how to keep warm.

The thing we need to work on overall, as a society, is to quit thinking that giving and cheer and kindness and smiling at strangers is only really a ‘thing’ in December. Charities need money and supplies every day of the year. People need music and lights and that uplifting display all the time. Smiling at people on the street or in the store should be the default, not the exception.

Kindness and generosity should be everyday miracles, not Christmas miracles.

I actually get weird looks sometimes when I do that sort of thing. I got glared at in the grocery store last week because I was making eye-contact and smiling at people, or gave a sincere, pause-rather-than-rushing-off-with-my-stuff thank you to the person at the register. More than one person gave me a look that should have been withering. Should have made me back off letting my own light shine.

But. Um.

That’s not…really how I roll.

Uh, at all.

Ever.

If I have light, when I have light, I share it. That’s what I do. That’s what I’m FOR.

And you know what? For every variation on a glare, I got a smile in response. Tired smiles, surprised smiles, grateful smiles. I don’t expect any cashier to remember me, but I do see them breathe a little easier when I greet them cheerfully rather than with a dour or gruff look.

But maybe that’s the advantage, if there is such a thing, to living in a world of competing opposites. Of living day to day not knowing when the happiness and light are going to bleed from my soul and the cruelty inside my own head will start whispering again. When the energy I have to offer is poisoned and stripped until it is me who is needy with nothing left to give.

When you know the meaning of permanent, waiting-to-strike sorrow, maybe you know how precious it is to share joy when you have it.

When the mob in my head is swayed, I choose the star of kindness and defiance to set MY mind on, and I am staid.

For all the ugliness in the world, there is beauty, too. We have to look for it sometimes; we have to seek it out and draw it forth and wave it like a sword in the face of the advancing armies of darkness — but it is there.

And this is something I know.

Whatever we do to the web of life, we do to ourselves. Whatever I can put into the world will happen to others, those around me and those I’ve never so much as seen. When I vibrate the strands that connect us with a smile, with light, with laughter, I have to trust that my offering is reaching others. And know that theirs will come back to me.

We are all connected shouting against the winter dark in anticipation of the light. We are all one voice singing, sometimes aggravatingly, about joy and cheer. And we can’t stop the dark from falling, any more than we can — or should — stop the world from spinning.

But we can stop it from falling on each other and let it stay up in the sky where it belongs.

And that is a real miracle.

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If you need some cheering up…

Someone sent this to me last week when I needed a laugh.  You know what?  It worked.  I watched it all the way through 2 or 3 times…and I’m still giggling.

 

 

(I’ll try to do a ‘real’ update next week.  This weekend was Thanksgiving and then fighting a bad cold and then buying a car, and I’m…kinda done.  Perfect time for a happy-dancing turtle!)

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Thanksgiving!

This week is Thanksgiving for those of us who celebrate it.

Thanksgiving means all kinds of things to different people, and it has meant different things to me over the course of my lifetime.  As a child, it was a huge gathering of my paternal grandmother’s whole family, her sisters and their kids and all my cousins gathered around long tables with folding chairs and everybody bringing at least 2 more dishes than we really needed.  It meant hiding in Grammie’s back room, making houses out of boxes, or piling in with all the kids of a like age to see if ANYBODY could get past the 3rd level of Battletoads on the NES (spoiler alert — we couldn’t).  As I grew older but still lived close by, I really began to enjoy Thanksgiving with that extended family.  I started helping out with dishes more, or serving more, and I started to learn why it was interesting, not boring, when my grandmother and her sisters gathered around a table with mugs of tea just talking.  (The football watched by the men was still boring until I met Sarah and she introduced me to OSU.)

Living in Minnesota necessitated many changes on my part when it came to traditional family gatherings.  Some years, I’ve trekked back to be part of Thanksgiving, but it isn’t the same.  A lot of the relatives whose presence I most enjoyed have passed since then.  Now, the gathering, when it happens at all, is smaller, mostly populated by my generation and my nieces and nephews.  Grammie still makes the best stuffing and mashed potatoes in the family, though.

The years that I can’t or don’t go back to the land of my ancestors, however, I host Thanksgiving myself.  Now that I have a home of my own, I make a point to open it for Thanksgiving to anyone who wants that same connectedness and closeness I do.  It’s my very-firmly held belief that no one should be alone on Thanksgiving who doesn’t want to be, and that everyone should have the option of a warm, inviting, loving atmosphere in which to spend their day.

Thanksgiving is often my favorite holiday of the year because of that.  I get to open my house and invite in whoever needs or wants that shelter, that fun.  Some years we’ve had lots of people; some years we only have 4.  This year, I’m going to be hosting between 9 and 11, which is just enough to make the house seem really full (and just enough to necessitate bringing down the second table).

It’s always a big event when we host a party like this.  For Thanksgiving I almost always do turkey because, obviously, but some years I’ve added a ham as well depending on the crowd.  Last year’s turkey was ALMOST a disaster and required a 5am run to a grocery store which I never ever want to do again.  This year, with only 1 meat, I’m less likely to end up in panic-mode at 5am.  I hope.

If it DOES happen, this time I’ll take pictures.

I always brine my turkeys, which, the first year was HILARIOUS because I didn’t have a pot big enough so I, uh, kinda made one.  By taping paper bags to the outside of my pot and putting the turkey and the brine in a brining bag and kind of…propping it up in the fridge.  It DID work and it did NOT spill all over the fridge, and it was epic.  Now I have a proper brining bucket.

(I have searched for a few hours for a version of the picture of my epic paper bag brining solution and I can’t find one, unfortunately.  Otherwise I would happily provide the photographic evidence of its hilarity.)

I’ll also be doing squash and pudding, and Sarah’s handling the stuffing.  Others bring the green beans, the potatoes, and whatever else they like the best.  We’ve had everything from tempura to khir at our table, and it’s all welcome!  We set it all out along the kitchen counter like a giant buffet and leave it out all afternoon.

Because once the food has been eaten, it is time for games.  Board games, card games, pen-and-paper games — depending on the crowd, we play.  (I usually miss this part.  5am does NOT get along well with me and I end up napping most years.  Last year, post the run to the grocery store and the emergency backup plan, I napped so soundly I didn’t realize everyone else had done all my dishes for me.  My friends are AMAZING.)

Some years, we open our house again a few days after Thanksgiving to celebrate with those friends who spend their holiday with their other families.  This year, we’re a little too busy to pull that off, but we might yet have what Sarah calls Pie Night another time.  Possibly for NYE.

But the “when” isn’t really the part that matters.

The part that matters is the part where I get to sit around a table with family and friends.  Sometimes the family is related by blood/marriage, but more often, it’s those people who are family of the spirit.  The part that matters is being together, sharing food, snarking at each other, telling stories, laughing, being safe, being welcome, being wanted.  It’s no different from what I knew every year at Grammie’s house, even if I didn’t understand while I was building a train out of cardboard that *that* is what made the day so special.

Thanksgiving is when I get to spend special time with the people who make life worth everything, and when I get to remember how very, very thankful I am for every step that led me here.  For attending Carleton and meeting Sarah.  For stumbling into the TCWC and finding a choir family.  For being invited to perform at CONvergence, and then wandering up looking to volunteer, and being drawn into a community and a fellowship.

Every step, wrong or right, backwards or forwards or right off the path, has carried me until I’m standing here.  And I cannot, cannot imagine my life any differently.

So I’ll spend Thanksgiving a little teary-eyed and a little overly sentimental.  Because I am so very thankful.

Also, because of the parade.

I have THE BIGGEST CRUSH on one particular float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, folks.  No, seriously.  It’s been my favorite for as long as anyone can remember.  And I have watched the parade EVERY YEAR without fail.  When I’m not hosting, I tend to live-blog it (hosting makes me too busy, to say nothing of being high-strung, for that).  I watch it, and I laugh at the silly things, and I rag on the bad commercials, and I cheer at my favorites.

But I always start to cry when I see Tom Turkey.

I have to think that at least part of my extreme love of the parade is that it heralds a season of family and a season of humanity.  It’s the time when, for about a month, people become what they pretend to be the rest of the year.  It’s the time when we think about each other a bit more, care for the little things a bit more, notice each other more.

But there’s also an inherent value and charm to the parade itself as well. Maybe it’s that sense of commonality that I always feel, just as I did with the Olympics.  Thanksgiving morning, 3.5 million people don’t care about political parties or artificial divisions.  They just stand there on the sidelines screaming for the people who come by.  Everybody along the sidelines becomes about 10 years old, enchanted by the simple magic of giant balloons, joyful kids, and thumping music.  For that morning, in that place, people become the community they want be.  And that means something very real to me, too.

And Tom Turkey?  To me, that crazy float has become the icon for all the good things of the season.  I think he is to me what Santa Claus is to lots of kids — he’s the hero of the season, the one who makes all that goodness possible.  He brings the parade, heralding the holiday season and all the things that come alive with it.

And once I’ve seen Tom Turkey, I know everything’s going to be all right.  Even if MY turkey goes horribly awry, I’m going to be spending my day in laughter and love and welcome joy with friends and family, and no amount of disaster measures up.

But if there IS a disaster, I’ll let you know next week.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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