Serving the King

There’s a show my wife and I watch in reruns now that it’s been over a few years called “The Closer.” We loved it on its first run, as well as the spin-off “Major Crimes” that carried the story after the departure of the lead character. This weekend, they were running the second season finale, which has in it a speech made by a character who is former CIA and is now a deputy chief of police. From the first time I heard it, it rang false to me in a way I couldn’t quite identify. But this weekend, I finally was able to wrap my head around where I disagree.

Here’s the quote:

I remember once hearing a speech about what it meant to be on officer of the CIA, and the man who gave this speech talked about the struggle to control civilization and how we’re always fighting the same fight and he used the Dark Ages as an example. And he talked about how on one side you had the pragmatic king who was greedy and power hungry and basically took advantage of people whenever he could. And on the other side you had the idealistic church, forcing everyone to follow the same rules, have the same beliefs and all that. Neither the king or the church was ever completely right or wrong, both sides ended up doing terrible things to get what they wanted. Really terrible things. But the point of the story was this: that this struggle from the Dark Ages had been going on forever, and the church and the king might take on different forms and philosophies, but they would always fight each other, pragmatist and idealist, and that most times you’re better off standing on the sidelines and letting them duke it out. But every once in a while one side or the other decides it might be better to just blow up the whole world just to get its own way, and when that happens you can’t stand on the sidelines anymore. You have to pick a team. And so for tonight, anyway, we’re serving the king.

I agree that you can see a lot of Western political history as a constant struggle between government rule and religious influence. Going back a long way before the Dark Ages, that was the struggle for control, authority, and power. Far wiser people than I can distill European history into the constant cycle of politicking between church and state. And those echoes exist today, ported into the US by the exact same forces. When you’re dealing with the US, it isn’t all one religious camp and one US government camp — the argument and the conflict is fractured and, if anything, the worse for it. But it’s there.

The struggle for civilization in many ways can be summed up by the struggle for power and control, either by the beliefs which live in the minds of the people, or the laws which govern their lives.

The problem, as I see it, with this particular analogy is the idea that the king represents pragmatism while the church represents idealism. Truly, they’re two sides of the same thing. Both are authorities warring for control, and both will do what they need to do to win. In that way, they’re equally pragmatic, just fighting from different ends of the equation.

But there’s no real representation of idealism here, because both sides are operating under the same underlying assumption — that the ends justify the means.

Pragmatism and idealism are opposites, but they just can’t be neatly aligned to church and state. Not in a historical context and not in a hypothetical one. In the end, both sides of church and state are looking for the same thing — power, control, influence, and the ability to command the present and rewrite the future to their dictates. And because of that, they will both, as the character says, do “really terrible things” because that end state of power and influence is worth the sacrifices made along the way.

But are they? Are they really?

In college, I was a political science and international relations major with an unofficial minor (called a concentration) in political philosophy. I’ve always appreciated thinking about systems and people, whether it’s the set of cultural biases that inform interpersonal relationships or the broader worldviews that impact diplomatic (or lack thereof) negotiations. To the uninitiated, political science sometimes sounds and feels like reducing human action and emotion and intent to a series of predictable equations. That’s the part of it I always hated. But there’s truth to it, if you look at it in a more nuanced way. It’s not saying “You’re X, Y, and Z, so you vote ABC.” It’s tracking the minute intersections of people and where they touch the world. Like a spider in a web, it’s knowing which strand to pull that sets you free and which one gets you eaten.

When you get to talking about the underlying philosophies of rule, however, you run into the “hawk” and “dove” divide — mostly for the context of war, but it applies to other things as well. Basically, would you rather commit X in order to attempt to assure Y, or is the act of X too reprehensible to make Y worthwhile? Hawks are those who would prefer to go to war to ensure national security, or to weaken an enemy, or whatever is needed. Doves agree that national security is important, and the enemy is a problem, but argue that to go to war does more harm than it is worth. The hawk argument is a pragmatic one; the dove argument is an idealist one.

I wrote my senior thesis on the morality of espionage as a tool of nations, looking at the historical and philosophical reasons for espionage and comparing them to the real-world experiences of various retired spies, heads of the CIA, etc. (It was a lot of reading.) And what I found was an almost universal answer across my sources —

Philosophically, historically, pragmatically, the agreement was entirely on the side of espionage as not just being valuable, but being necessary in protecting the state from harmful acts or threats by other nations or organizations. But the people themselves writing about their lives, their jobs, their sacrifices — every single one of them found the practice of espionage to be morally and ethically wrong. They did it anyway, because it was necessary. But they could not say that it was “good” that they had done so. Even when the results literally saved thousands of lives or kept a nation from falling.

These people, these brave, dedicated people had sacrificed everything — their families, their wellbeing, their chances as a normal life — to serve the pragmatic king. And they were not sorry for doing so. But they still could not believe that the ends inherently justify the means.

They ended their service as pragmatists in action, and idealists at heart.

As a person, that’s a bit where I’ve ended, too. I’ve been a pure pragmatist, focused on making sure things turn out okay regardless of the cost, and you know what? It’s poisonous. For me, I have no pride in the things I did thinking that way, even if they ended up just fine. Because I can’t see the happy ending — only the careless harm I could have done along the way.

And yet I still cannot let myself be a pure idealist. The ends may not justify the means, but sometimes if you don’t fight for the ends you want, you get a result that you can’t live with, either. Sometimes to get what you need, what you can’t live without, you have to do something you wouldn’t otherwise do given any choice at all — because sometimes the world doesn’t give us choices. And then we have to live with whichever path we took.

There aren’t nearly enough examples in history of someone who found a way to get to the ends they needed without employing means that cheapened the victory. Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr is the quickest example I can think of. And even that isn’t simple at all. Nonviolence as a philosophy to force change is certainly more ethically sound than violence, but the change MLK won didn’t only come through nonviolence. It also came through politicking, through the actions of others who weren’t totally nonviolent, through concessions and bartering — and there’s a strong argument to be made that it hasn’t even entirely worked. We don’t live in a post-racist society. Hell, we live in a VERY racist society.

But recent protest movements are making the point that the means DO matter, not just the ends. If we are rightly protesting police violence on people of color, committing violence not only is unethical, but inflames the violence and it cycles back tenfold on the people we are trying to protect. On the other hand, simply standing on the side of the road with a sign may be utterly unoffensive, but without giving at least a little offense, how could it create change? It’s the point made regularly about the correctly maligned “thoughts and prayers” — if thoughts and prayers could change the world, it would have been changed long ago.

Control of civilization is always up in the air, and you can divide by state versus church, but you can also divide it by autocratic powers and the decentralized populace. The autocratic powers almost always act pragmatically, even when there are doves in seats of power, because ultimately, they have a responsibility to preserve their power and continue to expand it — otherwise, they fail to exist. The people, on the other hand, have a choice. They can riot, fight back, support violent insurrection, or they can vote, protest quietly, and go home at the end of the day no matter the results. And every possible shade and nuance in between.

For me, I wish I could live in a world where anyone who wanted to be a pure idealist could. Where people could embrace true pacifism, true integrity, and never be forced to choose between making war or being obliterated. I wish I could live in a world where it was safe to choose the path of doing the right and ethical and moral thing even if it wasn’t going to work because the result wouldn’t be all that bad.

But I really don’t.

I live in this world.

So, yeah, I vote, and I protest, and I donate money to causes and organizations that champion what I believe in. But when it comes down to the ends and the means, if the ends is truly an end to human decency, to human rights, to equality, justice, liberty — then, I’ll do what I have to.

If, going back to the original analogy, one side decides to blow up the whole world, or deny the dignity of a class of people, I’ll throw idealism out the window just like the subjects of my senior thesis did. Because as much as my idealism means to me, personally, it can never be as important as the actual life and safety of another human being.

I can be an idealist — right up until the world demands I be a pragmatist in order to defend and support others. Because in one very particular way, the ends DO justify the means.

If it means creating a better world for others, then to hell with what I have to give up of my pretty philosophies. I’d rather live in the world and never be comfortable with the choices I made if the world that came out of them is better than this one.

That’s the only king I could ever find worth serving.

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Post-CVG and the Zero-Sum Fallacy

Well, I warned you I’d be gone for a while. I didn’t think it would be a whole month, but I also can’t say I’m totally surprised. CVG takes a lot out of me, and it took me about the first week or 10 days after we’d packed up the convention before I was really even comfortable using language again. After what should be 4 days but really ends up being 6 or 7 of intense interpersonal stuff, that part of me just needs time to recover.

It’s so worth it, though. It’s worth it for every single person who gets to come join our community and feel safe in their skin. It’s worth it for every single person who gets to put the world away and just exist in a bubble of nerd-dom. It’s worth it for every single person who had a bad experience and whom I can help so that their convention isn’t a total loss. It’s worth it for every single member of my team who are goddamn heroes night and day, giving up time, energy, sleep, and fun just to preserve the safety and fun and welcome of everyone else.

Also, our HarmCon set went great! A friend is pulling video together for us and she will break it up by song so it can all go on YouTube at some point. She also cut us a tiny documentary thing about who we are and what we do and why we sing. When that goes live, I’ll link to it as well.

Unfortunately, I once AGAIN failed to get pictures of me running around in my full gear, with dragons on my shoulder and hip, a beautiful bandolier with my hip pouches, etc. I stink at getting pictures of myself at CVG. Oh well.

The dragons were a hit, though.

Speaking of dragons, more generally, I’m trying hard to help with the editing of one of my current novels so it can go out for query. Honestly, not a clue how it will go. If nobody wants to rep the book, I haven’t decided if I want to self-publish as an ebook or just leave it in a drawer. I’ve got one in a drawer already, actually, and every now and again I look back at it and wonder. That one never got queried, however — I’m not sure there’s any way to sell it as is, and I’m not sure how to fix it. It’s okay, but it’s not what I wanted it to be.

Recent events outside of me have reminded me about writing and how some people view it as a zero-sum game. If Author A gets a book repped, or sold, or does well as a self-pub, then they think that takes something away from Author B. Wiser people than me have pointed out, repeatedly, that such is not the case. Just because someone gets a book sold, or gets a good review, or sells a bunch of copies, doesn’t mean anyone else trying to sell gets hurt. It doesn’t mean anyone else’s book is inherently better or worse.

And on a more micro scale, this is also true of any individual book. Right now, I’ve got lots and lots of novels posted as fanfic online, and 2 completed original novels. Neither of my original novels are any better or worse because I have published fanfic, and the fact that one of the novels exists in a currently-unpunishable state doesn’t mean the other one is doomed. And when I write the next one (and I have a KICKASS idea for a YA 3-book series in my head), its fate also won’t be defined by the fate of what came before.

A friend and I were talking last night about writing, and about how we’ve both moved from the idea of selling books as a sole source of income to selling books in order to share stories. We’d both be thrilled if we sold novels and could earn a living from that so we could focus on writing more of the time — but it’s not what drives us anymore. Some money from writing would be amazing, but it’s just no longer my goal. My goal is to make sure there are stories in the world for people who want them.

It’s like seeing a void in the world, a hole, a place where there is something missing, and filling it. That’s how I got started writing fanfic in the first place, actually. I wanted to read stories that didn’t exist, so I made them exist. Now I see stories I wish had existed when I needed them — so I’m writing them. It’s not about being famous or being a bestseller or making a million dollars and selling movie rights. All of that would be fine, but it isn’t the point.

The point is that stories need to exist for when others go searching for them, and I’m determined to make sure they’re out there.

Which is why writing and publishing can never be a zero-sum game. Because if someone writes a story and someone else needs that story and they come together — yay! Benefit for both. None of that hurts me. None of that impedes me.

And if one of my stories is not what anyone needs, but the next one is, then also yay.

Stories teach us about people we don’t know; the best stories also listen to what we need to understand about ourselves. I learned more about the human race from reading about aliens than I ever did from Dickens or Shakespeare. I learned more about myself by reading about characters who were both like me but also really, really not at all like me. If I had read nothing but white male protagonists, I wouldn’t have learned how to intersect my own perspective with a different one. If I had read nothing but science fiction, I wouldn’t have learned to see the themes of alienness and outsiderness in the regular world.

My favorite authors in the world all wrote books I never enjoyed. That’s to be expected. They wrote the story that needed writing, but it wasn’t one I personally needed. And that’s the way it should be — because someone else out there found that particular story to be life-changing.

So maybe I will figure out how to clean up that first novel of mine and put it out there. It might not go any farther than this blog, or AO3, but maybe that’s worth doing. It isn’t the story I need, and I’m not yet quite sure it’s the story I even wanted to tell. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right story for someone out there.

(Which would be a far more compelling argument if I had more than 4 people reading this blog, but oh well.)

But first I’m going to focus on the novel that has a shot at publication. Because then it has a better shot of reaching the people who might need a story about neuro-atpyical and otherwise-atypical heroes. Then it has a better shot of finding its way to the person who is looking for it without ever knowing it’s what they are missing.

And if someone else sells a million books in the meantime, then yay. Because that’s a million people better for having one more story in their lives.

Zero-sum should never be a part of the arts. Not when we can all thrive better and stronger when we make room for each other.

But then, that’s kinda how I think the world should work, too.

One thing at a time, I guess.

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HarmCon! And not quite a year late!

So, thanks to a friend with strong Google-fu, and some free software, I was actually able to get our video from HarmCon in 2017 into shape for YouTube! Truly, better late than never. Right?

Right?

We were joined on many of the songs by our friend and fellow nerd Dave Stagner, who always finds a way to make our music a hundred times better. The set list for this particular show turned out to be a mix of 3 covers, 2 of our original songs, and 8 parodies. We got a lot of laughs and commentary on the parodies, though you have to listen closely to get it all. I’m listing the songs for you here, in case you want to know:

Warrior (by the Wyrd Sisters, joined by Marina Krinsky)
Secure Yourself (by the Indigo Girls)
Phoenix Rise
Fearless (by Kat Perkins)
Sunfire/Breathless
Parody of Babylon 5 based on “Angles from Montgomery” = Aliens from Babylon
Parody of Stargate: SG1 based on: “Brown-Eyed Girl” = Brown-Eyed Goa’uld
Parody of ET based on “All By Myself” = All By My Kite
Parody of The Fifth Element based on “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” = Hit it With My Four Stones
Parody of Transformers based on “Hand in My Pocket” = Hand In Its Socket
Parody of Signs based on “The Water Is Wide” = Water, Water Everywhere and OMG It Burns
Parody of Star Trek based on “Take Me Home, Country Roads” = Insert Noun Here
Parody of Toy Story based on “Man of Constant Sorrow” = Toy of Constant Sorrow

We’re finalizing this year’s set now, to be performed a week from Friday. And now that I have new and exciting technology, I’m hoping it’s easier to get the video up sooner.

I was chatting back and forth with some of the CVG folks on Slack and a point came up about how hard it is to be creative with all the awful that’s going on in the world. What I said was this —

The shit part just leaks into everything though, doesn’t it? I’m working on my set for HarmCon and I keep looking at our songs and thinking “can we really laugh about gaming and Star Wars when insert-horrific-reality-here is going on?” And I have to keep telling myself that yes, we can and we must laugh. We can’t keep fighting for humanity, for dignity, for equality, for justice, for compassion, if we lose track of ourselves. You can’t beat back the dark without a light, and sometimes that light isn’t righteous anger, but the relief of taking one day off.

It was true last year in the summer of 2017 and it’s certainly true now. CONvergence in general has been something for me to look forward to, something for me to give time and energy and positivity when even the brightest day seemed dark. And it is silly to sing about gaming stories (we have some outrageous ones in the set and nerd jokes), but it’s also necessary. Just as it’s necessary to stop and breathe and rest between the waves of a struggle.

Not by accident, I think, this year’s set is more heavily weighted towards “our” stuff, and fewer parodies. At least for now. In a week, it might have grown a few more parodies. They’re sneaky like that.

Anyway.

Sarah and I named Candles Enough for the idea that between us, we have enough light to get us through dark times. Sometimes, that light is giggling. Sometimes it’s steady courage. Sometimes it’s just pure silliness. Sometimes it’s tried and tested in fire. But that’s who we are. That’s what we do. And this year, as much as we all need to laugh, we also need to be that boost of hope and truth. So “Jagged” is back this year, and so is “Trial by Fire” — along with new stuff written more recently.

If we can be that one candle in the dark for someone who needs it, then it’s all been worth it.

I think there’s only 4 or 5 people who ever consistently read this blog, and half of you will be at CVG this year. We can’t wait to show you what happens when you put out an open call for people’s ridiculous, silly stories. But for those of you who aren’t (yet) part of the CVG family, here’s a sample of what you’re missing.

It’s a MILLIONTH of what is good about CVG, of course. This is just our tiny, musical corner of it.

(P.S. You will NOT hear from me for at least 2 weeks. Next week and the week after will be my time to dive completely and totally, heart and soul and body and lack-of-sleep, into CONvergence. I’ll try to emerge with stories. Join us vicariously on Twitter, though. #CVG2018 is a good way to experience the fun from afar!)

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Rolling blackouts ahead, and wisdom from a Minnesotan native

So…yeah, things are really busy.  I have something like 5 evenings of meetings in a row this week, and more next week.  And then it will be CONvergence!

The blog might go a little fallow in the meantime.  Not that, you know, it makes a HUGE difference given my, uh, small but mighty readership.  I’m better about Twitter these days because I can put stuff on it from my phone.

But I’m here.  And I’ll be here afterwards, too.  Possibly with the whole story of why this year is trying so hard to break our community and how, exactly, we’re keeping that from happening.

If you do happen to be in the MN area the weekend after the 4th of July, come come hang out with us at HarmCon on Friday, 11am at CONvergence.  Hopefully we’ll record it this year, too, but no promises on when I put the stuff on YouTube. We do have several new songs, though. Including one crowd-sourced parody.

Not even kidding.

Also, crowd-sourcing is a FANTASTIC way to get hilarious gaming stories.  Just sayin’.

So if I drop off the map again, I’m sorry in advance.  I’ll be back, though. In my own time and my own way, probably, but without fail.

In the meantime, I hope your summer is treating you as well as can be expected.  The world is tough for a lot of us right now. For a lot of different reasons.

So take your lesson from this week’s viral adventure.

Make like the MPR Raccoon.

Keep climbing and never give up.  Rest when you have to, and know that it’s okay to be scared.  We’re all afraid of the fall.

But we were born for this climb.  Every one of us.

No matter what specifically your climb is, you can do this.

Climb on, my friends.  Climb on.

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Imani

I really, really, really should get the 2017 performance Sarah and I did at HarmCon at CONvergence onto YouTube before the 2018 HarmCon.  I SHOULD. But I might not.

Video editing is HARD, folks.

Anyway.

The closer we get to CONvergence, the more the FUCKERY going on this year makes it tough to keep my head up.  People all over are struggling, are stressed, are not at their best. And there’s really not a hell of a lot I can do for most of them.

But I can be myself.  I can be a fixed point, unwaveringly pushing forward.  I can believe in who we are, in what we do, in why it matters.  It’s not just a convention, not just a fun, meaningless exercise.  It’s a community, a place of safety. Maybe the only welcome some of our members receive in their lives from year to year.

And for that, I’ll never give up.

For every one of our members who comes looking to be themselves, to be respected, to be welcome, to be safe — for them I will never yield or bend or falter.

I’ve been recently accused of having a Pollyanna-ish sort of optimism.  I’m not going to go into that today, but I’ve been thinking about it. I think the sense in which it is said isn’t quite right, but there’s something which is.

The theme of Babylon 5 was, famously, “faith manages.”  They weren’t talking about a religious sort of faith, though.  Rather, it was the faith and trust in something worth doing. Not only within the plotlines of the show itself, but in the production to get the show made, and to keep it going, telling the stories it needed to tell.  But faith isn’t just something you have, something you blithely believe and nothing comes of it.

Faith is action.  Faith is planting yourself on a path and never giving way.  Faith is taking two steps and knowing that the next two will come.

Right now, that sort of faith is the gravity holding me together when it gets bad.  The forces in action threaten to pull us all apart, threaten to shatter us like asteroids smashing into one another.  Faith is my gravity which holds me steady.

Faith that what I am doing is right, that it is necessary, is for the benefit of the people who put their own trust in me.  Faith that I would rather die on this hill doing my best than crawl away never giving it my all.

If you know the CVG community, be kind.  We’re all walking through hell.

But we’re not alone in it.  We’ve all got each other.

And I have faith, I truly do, that nobody’s going to die on this hill at all.  Together, we’ll get through this storm and the next. That’s my faith. And I’m holding it in my heart with all my strength, just in case those around me lose their own.

I know which side of the river I’m on.  It’s the side of my people, my community, my team.  It’s not the easiest path, but it’s the right one.

Cross the bridge and join us.  Have faith.

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Sense8

CVG season is heating up, and most of the time I’m not running around getting a million things done and sometimes wanting to throw a cupboard-worth of plates at walls is being spent aggressively taking time for myself to balance the chaos.  This has led me to binge-watching a few new shows to keep my mind and heart occupied and chill when the world around me is descending into near madness.

When it’s all over, maybe I’ll do a post about what the actual FUCK has been going on this year.

Anyway, in the meantime, Sarah and I have chewed through the TV series Sense8.

WHICH IS AMAZING.

NO, SERIOUSLY.

Sense8 was created by Lana and Lilly Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski.  So, first of all, GODSDAMN THAT IS A PEDIGREE. Storytelling and representation, HERE WE GO.  It’s about a group of 8 total strangers from all over the world who find out they are linked in a “cluster” — a sharing of minds beyond telepathy and going right down to being able to step into one another when needed.  So, if one is being beat up by some bullies, the combat master can take his place in his body and defend herself. It also leads to amazing and hilarious interludes of others in the cluster popping up and having opinions where, really, they might not have been needed.

The cinematography is fucking magical, and the storytelling is superb.

Oh, and representation?  YES.

Eight very different people, four men and four women which include people of color, LGBT people, people from 7 different nations, different economic backgrounds, educational experiences, etc.  And there is intersectionality represented as well. The fluidity of the representation of identity politics really drives the central idea that we, as a people, are more alike than we are different.  That humanity is humanity.

During some truly hectic days, when sometimes my life felt too big and too hard, it was a wonderful escape to settle in and see how it would be to be living  my life and seven other lives at the same time.

I had to hide a lot because I can’t watch needles even on TV without fainting and there’s a good amount of needle-sticking that goes on.  And because of a particular interest in sex across the cluster, there wasn’t really a good representation of aexuality or gray-A characteristics, which I would have liked to see.

But overall?  Absolutely, positively worth your time.  This series made SARAH cry. REPEATEDLY. And NOTHING does that.

Also?  I loved J. Michael Straczynski from Babylon 5.  That love was very much returned with Sense8. The man is just outstanding.

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Femininity and Beauty

This weekend was one of the weddings I’ll be attending this summer, as well as the opening event in the very, very busy lead-up to CONvergence.  Which means that this weekend was the first time in a couple of years I’ve worn a nice dress for any occasion.

I’ve never been a girly girl.  Never ever. And my stance on makeup is unchanged from what it was when I last blogged about it.  But I have finally come to peace with why sometimes I like wearing skirts — when the rest of the time I can’t figure out why on earth I own more than one.

I’ve finally come to terms with the divide between that which is feminine and that which is beautiful.

And what I learned about myself is that I don’t give two ratshits for femininity, but I am okay with beauty.

I feel that I need to clarify that my interpretation of femininity is not one I often conflate with my perception of my own gender.  I am a cisfemale. For me, “femininity” is not a marker of gender at all, but of society. I can say that because I am cisfemale, because I live in a body and in a world that identifies me as female even in the ruggedest and manliest of attires.  This is a privilege I have because of how I was born and the world in which I live. So please do not think that I am speaking in general terms about this or that my interpretation of “femininity” is in any way meant as an insult to those who are not cisfemale.  I am truly speaking only for myself here.

To me, it is very hard for me to separate the idea of “femininity” from the societal role of women in a very traditional sense.  Femininity which is about sex appeal holds NOOOOOOO interest for me. Femininity which highlights being demure, or generally which is pitched to suggest a lesser-ness compared with someone male-presenting, is not my thing.  It’s hard for me to look at something which is inherently “feminine” and not see the ways that such “femininity” is at the cost of equality when compared to “masculinity.”

But I don’t purposefully go in for “masculinity,” either.  I just want to be me, dammit. I just want to be the way I am, and to be received on my own merits.

It’s hard.

So a lot of how I dress or how I carry myself is kind of…neutral?  I don’t show off curves, typically, or cleavage. In casual settings, I wear shorts or jeans and t-shirts, or sweatshirts.  For business casual, I rely a lot on polo shirts or on layers which somewhat obscure my shape. I don’t try for “pretty.” I try for looking like myself.

The things a person wears can say a lot about who they are or what they’re trying to go.  Fortunately or unfortunately for me, I know how to do it fairly well. What you wear, how you are perceived, these can be disguises or they can be armor.  They can be strategic or they can be overt. It’s a game, and one I can play when I have to — like in a job interview — but not one I play except when there is a need.  Being myself is both disguise and armor enough.

Also?  I hate hate hate wearing anything that would be a problem in any kind of emergency.  All the way back to high school, I chose my formal dresses and shoes based on “could I run after a purse snatcher or crawl over a car in this?”  That practicality has only gotten more ardent as I get older. Now it takes a really, really good reason for me to wear anything in which I couldn’t crawl into or out of a burning car.

Some of that is the CVG Operations in me — I’m always ready to be ‘on duty’ even in the off season.

But it also feeds my sense of self, my sense of strength.  There are women, cis and trans, who draw strength from their femininity.  I am somewhat in awe of them, because I don’t understand it for myself. I’m too aggressively neutral in my presentation.  There are so many women who feel better about themselves when they know they look sexy, that they find power and confidence in it.  I think that is awesome.

But it’s not for me.

So I just typically don’t ‘do’ femininity except under special circumstances.

However, I have learned I am okay with beauty.

The dress I wore to the wedding isn’t what I would call strictly “feminine.”  It’s not fluffy or delicate or particularly genteel. It’s also not terribly sexy, I don’t think.

I could be wrong on that, I suppose.  Sexiness is in the eye of the beholder.  It IS form-fitting, but it’s not dramatically low-cut, and it doesn’t exactly hug my curves even if you can see them.  It’s a nice dress, but I don’t think there’s anything about it that makes it bombastic or alluring in any particular way.

What I like about it particularly well is that it shows off my unusually broad shoulders and strong arms.  I like that it’s easy dance in, easy to sit in (not a given in womens’ clothing!), easy to eat food in (even less a given!).  I like that it’s made of something sturdy enough that I can crawl under a church pew or swing a godkid around in my arms and not worry.  I like that it is a strong, slightly-dramatic color that tends to be eye-catching.

It doesn’t particularly make me feel beautiful, but it’s a beautiful dress and it makes me feel like a very grown up, differently badass version of myself.  And it does NOT make me feel feminine.

The things in life that I find truly beautiful rarely have anything to do with gender.  Sunsets and sunrises, deep forests and waterfalls, starry skies and candle lights. They’re beautiful without being feminine or masculine.  Their beauty is innate, is their own, because it is inherent and it is not artifice. It is their beauty because it is their truth.

I’m never going to like the artifice of femininity for myself, I don’t think.  But I am okay with beauty — as long as it is ME. And frankly? I’d rather be ugly and be myself anyway.

My best self lives inside my heart and my brain.  What I wear on the outside can sometimes make me feel more comfortable (or less comfortable, as the case may be) in my own skin, but it cannot redefine me.  Only I can do that.

And I do not define myself by my femininity.

Frankly, I don’t define myself by my beauty, either.  ‘Cause I’m not. And I don’t care.

But, for special occasions, I don’t mind the effort to be myself in a slightly different package.

As long as I can still get shit done when shit needs doing.

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Bike Dancing

So, exercise is a thing.  And people should do it.

I have trouble with this.

Part of this is the physical limitations I have, from a knee injury to asthma to generally weak joints (but very strong muscles).  Part of this is also that I get FUCKING BORED, Y’ALL. No, seriously. I’ve done the watch-a-movie-on-a-treadmill thing. It doesn’t work.  If left to that, I’ll do it once every 4 years and never again.

I also don’t enjoy doing sports clubs — besides the fact that I can’t play most team sports well enough to do it, I simply don’t have the time.

Climbing is a thing, but climbing is tricky sometimes.  Like when I haven’t been home in 2 weeks and don’t really relish the idea of spending yet another evening out.  Like when my knee decides that this isn’t a good time for it to bear any amount of weight, let alone push me up a wall.  Like when my allergies are bad and any increase to my breathing is an instant shut-down of my breathing into sneeze-coughing.  And, frankly, like when I just have some clumsy days and shouldn’t be trusted to be able to grab the thing I’m looking at without bruising myself first.

I do like climbing, and it is good exercise.  But it’s not a good daily fit for me. Additionally, climbing is almost exclusively weight training the way I do it (since I can’t sprint up walls and expect to be breathing at the top, yay asthma again).  And weight training is good, but it’s really the aerobic exercise the body needs to stay healthy — to say nothing of helping my lungs and heart compensate for my dumb asthma.

Sarah and I have had an exercise bicycle for years.  It’s the simplest bike in the world — it doesn’t even plug in.  It doesn’t have pre-programmed workouts or difficulty settings. It doesn’t even have programming.  What it does have is a gauge to tell you how long you’ve been going, how fast, how far, and how many calories and RPM.  And instead of having computerized resistance, it’s built so that the harder you pedal, the harder it becomes to pedal. It’s the low techiest of low tech indoor exercise bikes.

In April, I started working from home full time.  It’s still sort of new, and I wouldn’t yet say I’ve got it mastered, but it did provide me with an opportunity to do a brief daily workout either before I got going in the morning or over my lunch break.  So I started taking a few minutes on the bike every day. I started at 10 minutes and, within about 10 days, was up to 20 minutes. By mid-May, I was going consistently for 30 minutes and was adding some intervals of my own — which is to say, biking at a good clip for a while and then busting out with as much speed as possible for 30, 45, or 60 seconds depending on how I was feeling.

But the only reason it works is because it isn’t just riding the stupid bike.

It’s bike dancing.

I created a playlist for myself currently at 18 songs and set it up to be randomized.  Some of the songs have associated dance moves with them (such as “Jai Ho!” from the movie Slumdog Millionaire).  Some are just get-up-and-dance songs. Some are old favorites and some are brand new. So when I’m on the bike, my legs are pedaling, but my arms and the rest of me is dancing.

It helps.  It keeps it from being boring, and it keeps it from feeling tedious.  And because the playlist is random, I never know when I’m going to suddenly start doing the Ranka dance from Macross Frontier or using Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” to do bike crunches for 3 minutes (spoiler alert — not easy).  When my breathing is good, I can even sing along.

When I started the interval training, I used to take the last 30 to 45 seconds of every 3rd or 4th song for my interval.  Now I can consistently do an interval at the end of every song for the duration of the 30 minute biking, though they aren’t all necessarily the same length.  For every song in the playlist, I’ve got a cue that tells me to start pushing as hard as I can until the next song starts.

I’m trying to develop a system I can keep to, not something I’ll start and never do again 6 months later.  I’m trying to develop a habit I can keep for life. I’m 35 years old now, and I’m increasingly aware that this is my one shot to take really good care of myself and set myself up for a healthier later life.  I want to be one of those awesome, spry ladies who is 75 but acts like 45, not the other way around. And I want to be healthy enough to do the things I love and take care of the people I love for as long as I possibly can.  To do that, I have to start it no later than now.

So, that’s what I’m trying to do.  I will say that I’ve gotten really, really good and wild gesticulations and not losing my balance on the bike.  I’m absolutely positive that I look truly ridiculous, but then, being at home, there’s no one to see it but Sarah.  And she already knows I’m ridiculous. So who cares?

Maybe another day I’ll put up my playlist.  It’s all weird, though, so we’ll see. However, if you have any suggestions, I’d take them under consideration to be added to the rotation!

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New Shows and Me

So, apparently my new MO when it comes to television is to stumble upon shows either at the end of their run or after their run has concluded.  I got into Leverage 3 years after it’s last season, for example. The problem has compounded itself with Netflix where the last 3 series I started ALL had their conclusion planned for within 10 days of when I began them.  It was not intentional, and I’m certainly not cursing any shows because apparently all those conclusions were announced long before I started but…I guess I just have weird timing.

Anyway.

The TV show that I really didn’t intend to love and now really do is NCIS: Los Angeles.  Absolutely, positively NOT the original NCIS — I find one of the characters on it completely unwatchable.  But NCIS:LA works for me.

It has a Hetty.

Hetty Lange, played brilliantly by Linda Hunt, who is a PHENOMENAL actress, is a tried and true Cold Warrior, a spy who played the games of the Cold War, has stories and contacts all over the world, and basically became a legend and a terror to her enemies in the days of spy games.  Now she runs a team in LA and offers them tea, sage advice, and fierce backup.

The whole show is delightfully written, well-acted, and generally accurate in its portrayal of human intelligence tradecraft (the hacking stuff is ridiculous because of course it is).  But I pretty much watched 1 episode and fell completely in love with Operations Manager and all-around badass Hetty Lange.

Here’s 48 seconds to show you why:

I’ll probably geek out at you another day when I complete the fic story inspired by this series, but for now, I highly recommend this one.  As procedurals go, it’s better than most. As portrayals of national security and tradecraft go, it’s way better. (Also, let’s just note that this is a show where one of the main characters actively thwarting terrorism is himself a devout Muslim.  It doesn’t get all the identity politics and social justice right, but it is clearly making an effort.)

And they have a Hetty.

That’s pretty much enough for me.

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Choir Week!

This week is the week of the concert (which means no time for anything other than running, breathing, and generally not stopping to sleep or think), here’s a neat song!  I found this group first by their cover of “Aquarius” some years ago, and every now and then they put out something I really, really enjoy.

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