Who Am I? (Part 7: Defiance)

There are some things I’ve had to teach myself, some things I’ve had to learn — and then there are the things that have been a part of me from my very first breath. It takes time to comprehend Honor, or to build up Courage. It takes experience to practice Kindness or Loyalty.

But Defiance has defined me longer than anything else.

It was a friend in college who put words around that aspect of my personality. She gave me a CD mix waaaaaay back almost 15 years ago. And she called it “Willful Defiance of the Box.” When I asked her about it, she told me that’s how she sees what I do. It’s not just defying the box. It’s willful. It’s looking at that box and not just saying “no;” it’s saying “HELL NO.”

One of the formative books from my childhood is called Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. I was first introduced to the story when I was 10 years old, and it explained something I had always understood for myself — I learn nothing by doing what others do. I only learn, I only live, by doing things my way, in my own time, even if and when I do them alone. No one learns to fly by huddling on the ground with the flock.

You have to trust your wings, alone, strike out into the sky, prepare to fall, and dare yourself to soar.

You have to believe in “Defying Gravity,” Wicked-style:

So if you care to find me
Look to the western sky!
As someone told me lately:
“Everyone deserves the chance to fly!”
And if I’m flying solo
At least I’m flying free
To those who ground me
Take a message back from me:
Tell them how I’m defying gravity!

Defiance doesn’t mean I break rules; I’m not an anarchist. I respect the institutions of governance and follow laws because that’s part of the social contract that holds a nation together. But there are laws, and then there are the rules of society.

And the latter? Yeah, I break those.

I don’t wear makeup or high heels even though I’m a ciswoman. But I’m not butch or femme, either, even though I’m in a lesbian marriage. I challenge people in discussions rather than quietly keeping the peace when that challenge needs to be levied (yeah, I’m that person who points out when someone is being casually disrespectful or bigoted. Fucking deal with it, folks.). I talk openly about things like depression and mental health, even though apparently that’s still stigmatized? Not around me. I like cartoons even though I’m a grown woman. I write fanfic. I dance in my living room in my PJs. I run errands in sweatpants.

There are these ideas that a grown person does certain things and does not do certain things. And if there’s no good reason to abide by those ideas, well, feel the WOOOOOSH of me throwing them out the window.

Because I am myself. I won’t be less than that.

And anything asking me to step back and deny myself the truth of being myself, fully, joyfully, unapologetically, can go fuck itself with a rusty spork.

That “anything” can come from inside me, too.

When depression speaks up and tries to break me down, sometimes the only thing that shouts louder is my Defiance. When everything, everything, everything else gives way, sometimes the step back from the edge is nothing but pure obstinance on my part. If I let myself believe I can’t do something, that usually becomes the point at which I do it the hell anyway.

Defiance demands an exceptionally high level of self-accountability. Defiance isn’t just refusing to budge for no good reason — it demands the BEST reason. I don’t take random dares just to prove myself. That’s not what Defiance is about.

“Go play chicken with a train! I bet you won’t!”

Yeah, you’re right. I won’t. Even if you dare me. Even if you impugn my Honor or my sense of pride. I’m not an IDIOT. This isn’t me emulating Marty McFly and his pathological inability to stand down from a challenge per BTTF3.

Defiance means I know EXACTLY what I’m doing, and I’ve chosen it as the best, the ONLY course of action which is true to myself. I’ll steal another line from “Defying Gravity:”

(Glinda)
You can still be with the wizard
What you’ve worked and waited for
You can have all you ever wanted

(Elphaba)
I know
But I don’t want it
No
I can’t want it anymore
Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules
Of someone else’s game

Defiance means knowing that some things are better than others. And it’s easy to say “freedom is better than slavery” but what if “freedom” means social isolation due to being different, setting oneself deliberately apart, and “slavery” means the easier path of going along with the others? Defiance is the spark of eager fire that screams from inside my soul.

BE DIFFERENT. BE FIERCE. IT WILL BE WORTH IT.

And you know what? It is.

It’s the “two roads diverged in a wood” thing. But that scenario is misleading, because there is no one watching the traveler, no one whose opinion can weigh in on the outcome of which road gets chosen. I know for certain that I have not gotten at least one job because I showed up to the interview without makeup. I wore a suit, I was capable, I spoke well, but I didn’t fit the expectation of my gender — and that’s not what they wanted.

It’s really true that when people don’t want you the way you are, you probably don’t want them, either.

The best relationships I have are those when I can be the absolute most myself. When I can be whatever I am, unfiltered, unguarded. Defiance is bringing that truth out from the safety of my closest people and wearing it like a badge of pride.

I spent most of high school alone. I was never popular. I was bullied. I had few friends. I could go a whole week with minimal interaction with my peers that was at all positive. And did the silence and the unkindness claw at me? Yes, it did. But I chose to sacrifice all that for the gain of not having to sacrifice myself. And I’ve never regretted it.

Defiance isn’t just choosing to be an outcast. It’s finding glee in being outcast, because that is the truest affirmation of self.

It’s finding wholeness in the refusal to step back. It’s understanding that victory may hurt more than surrender, but surrender is untenable. Surrender is not death — it is UNMAKING.

And I won’t be unmade. By anything.

I never met an expectation I didn’t enjoy breaking. People look at me and expect me to be soft; I turn around and show them my badass side. People think I’m quiet because I don’t choose to gather with the others; I lift my head up and laugh knowing that I’m having more fun with my own company than I could ever have with them. I’m weird and wild, unconventional and proud of it. I don’t fit in lunchroom discussions of fashion and pop culture and trash TV. I don’t fit, and I love myself better for not trying to fit.

I don’t actually know if this happens to other people. I only know me.

Do you ever look up at a moon, or stars, or a glorious sunset, or a violent storm, and feel yourself burst? Feel like what is held inside your chest making your heart pump faster and faster cannot possibly fit inside your body? That within you lives a soul that doesn’t shout or sing — it SCREAMS. It BELLOWS. And the world roars back like a salute. WE SEE YOU. YOU ARE ALIVE.

Not a song, but poetry this time:

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.
–Walt Whitman

Defiance is honoring the star that was born inside my heart, the fire that never goes out. Defiance is looking at a black and white world and refusing to give up on dreams of the rainbow. Defiance is spreading wings and taking to the air, even when I fly alone. Defiance is being myself because anything less is not worth the cost.

Because I would rather be myself, just the way I am, and be alone in that, then stand in a crowd. The crowd offers safety, a place to rest, acceptance, and ease.

But why do things the easy way, the safe way, the restful way, when I can do them by myself, for myself, in my own way?

Of all the decisions I’ve made, and the things I’ve done that weren’t really decisions, to be Defiant was never really a choice at all. It was a necessity. It was breathing.

Because if I can’t be myself, then who the hell am I? And what the fuck is the point of it all?

If I gave up on me, I wouldn’t BE me. I would die off, and some doppelganger would take my place with my skin and my hands and my scars, but none of my spark. We are all, every single one of us, an endangered species. There is only one of any of us in the world.

I’m not going to let the world hunt me to extinction for its convenience. I’m not going to let society silence the song inside me. I’m not going to let my inner fire be quenched. Not by well-meaning friends, and not by antagonistic opponents. Not by those I love, and not by the voices inside me.

I Defy the boxes. I Defy the rules. I Defy the darkness inside me and I burn with light against it. I Defy the assumptions of others and I Defy my own assumptions. I Defy, because I am alive.

And I am stronger for my Defiance. I am proud. I am free. I have no regrets.

So I’ll get a dozen more rejections on the novel. I’ll lose friends, or pass by opportunities. I’ll get weird looks in the grocery store. I’ll make mistakes and hate myself for them.

But I will stand up again.

I will lift up my head and I will grin at the moon.

I will REFUSE TO BACK DOWN.

It doesn’t matter how much it hurts. It doesn’t matter if I stand alone. It doesn’t matter if it tears me to nothing. It doesn’t matter what I lose.

I would rather keep what I have and gain more. Because it will be TRUE. It will be MINE.

And if I succeed at LITERALLY NOTHING in this world, then I will succeed at BEING MYSELF.

No matter what anyone has to say about it. No matter what it costs me.

I stand in Defiance.

Hear my YAWP and tremble.

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For Good

(Fair warning — this song always makes me cry. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe I’ll have it figured out by the time I quit writing about it.)

Someday I’m going to write about “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, but not today. Today I want to talk about one of the songs that gets a little overlooked compared to everything else that happens in that particular musical. “Defying Gravity” is a masterpiece of raw spirit and courage and unrestrained freedom. And it earths into a home in my heart because defiance is a huge part of who I am.

But I still want to talk about “For Good.”

You don’t have to know anything about Wicked or where this song fits in the show. It’s enough just to hear it.

I had some alone time this weekend, which, as being alone usually does, led to some introspection. Also noisy singing. But mainly the former.

I looked around and started tracking all the tiny things that led me to where I am today. All the choices, big and small. Certainly attending Carleton College did a lot to push me here — without that, I probably wouldn’t be in Minnesota, probably wouldn’t know any of the people who fill my life up today. But I got to Carleton by a hundred thousand choices that came first, everything from what I thought I was going choose as a major to emerging from high school as something as a loner and being ready to walk away from everything and start over. I can look and see specific decisions that had leading consequences, but I can also see the small buildup of personality that forged a path just as well.

For me, I think the choice to be myself, unapologetically, unremittingly, has been the most decisive and defining choice of my life.

Which isn’t to say I haven’t chosen wrongly at as many junctures as I’ve chosen well. I’ve made more mistakes than I dare count. I’ve thought I was following my heart when really I was giving in to fear. I’ve thought I was picking the noble path when really it was the lazy way of least effort. It’s all well and good to want to live a life of integrity and courage, and it’s something else entirely to do it.

There’s a line from Jayne Eyre that I often think rings quite true:

“I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth—so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.”

They say that you become what you pretend to be. I think it’s more complicated than that; you can pretend to be a hero, but still choose cowardice if you’re not careful. Principles, as Jane says, are for the most difficult times — that is when you prove if your principles are set in stone or not. It’s easy to want to be brave, or generous, or selfless — it’s much harder to do that when literally everything inside you would rather not.

I’ve definitely failed at least as many times as the next person — but the times I have succeeded, the times when I’ve lived the life of integrity I want for myself, are some of my greatest triumphs.

But for as much as those choices came from me, they also came from so many, many people around me. And without them, without the presence of so many in my heart and my past and my present, I wouldn’t be looking at the world from the same place anymore.

As the song says, “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

The base inside myself changes for lots of reasons, from learning, from experience, from pain, from success — and from what I have gained from a hundred people passing through. Some came and left, some tore their way in and left a gaping hole on the way out, and some would not remember me or their impact upon me (but it happened to me regardless).

My whole life has been rewritten by the people who came and cast stones and songs into my spirit.

Without being bullied as a child, would I have spent so much time reading? So much time dreaming? So much time understanding the quiet voice inside myself? Without the friends that I had in and out through the years, would I have learned to be a friend when it really mattered? Without the random encounters, the unexpected moments of kindness or pain, would I have understood compassion without agenda?

I owe so many debts to people whose names I don’t even know. The group of my peers, four or five men and women of color who sat me down and explained my privilege to me, when they didn’t have to, when I was just another clueless, well-meaning white kid with blinders. The woman who came up to me after my first solo when I was 8 years old and told me never to stop singing, no matter who listened. The first fans who left me comments on my stories before I had the courage to reply to them and turn fans into friends.

And the network expands from there — the people who changed Sarah and set her feet on a path that led to me. The people who were kind to the family I have now, the encounters and chance moments that gave strength and joy to those I love. The ripples analogy is overdone, but accurate nonetheless. There are quantum ripples, flashes of fate and randomness and human agency that redefine a life, or a moment. And every one of those ended with me sitting in this moment in this life.

It is a debt to life that nobody can repay, isn’t it? It’s an accident that we’re born at all and that we become who we are. The good things that come after that are blessings.

At this moment in time, there’s only a handful of people who read this blog, and I can name you all, I think. So this is a luxury, one I can enjoy here in my quiet corner —

Thank you. Thank you for stepping into my life and changing me for good.

Great or small, profound or simple, whatever the impact you had on me, I can never go back to who I was before you appeared. And I could never want to go back, not having seen the view from here.

I do believe I have been changed for the better because I knew you.

And to anyone out there who never finds this blog, whatever we were to each other, I still put this into the internet void for you, too, just in case. Because if you gave my life a push, the least I can do is leave you a wish of my own. I believe that we can put good into the wheel of the universe even if there’s no empirical evidence for it. That what we give to the turn of space and time and eternity and destiny comes from us, even if no one ever sees it, or knows it is there. Love and kindness and good wishes and healing energy and a tiny quantum nudge all play into what we leave behind in the balance of life.

To everyone who had a part to play in helping me find my way —

May a skybird leave you a seed that brings you joy and peace. Thank you for changing me for good.

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Candles Enough…a documentary?

Not really. But a friend did put together a video about Sarah and I and our band and how our music came to be. I think it sums it up nicely, even if it also makes me cringe to watch myself. But that’s not new.

(Also. Maia hates the guitar. Count the seconds between when Sarah makes to play and how fast she runs!)

This is the first track on our channel from CONvergence 2018, called “The Wheel.” I’m of mixed feelings. On the one hand, I wrote the song and I like the lyrics, and it was nice to debut it at the convention in front of so many friends. On the other, I was never particularly happy with all aspects of the harmony we invented. I have trouble being able to tell where the line is between “intentionally discordant” and “actually sounds wrong.”

There will be more at some point. But it’s a better start than last year, that’s for sure!

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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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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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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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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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April Blizzard and Binary Stars

When we had the snow-covered Ostara, we thought that was a little silly.  Predictable even for Minnesota, but silly.

The April blizzard of this past weekend, though?  Not silly.

Downright ridiculous.

The pile of snow at the end of our driveway where the plow bunched it up was WAIST-HIGH on me.  And filled with chunks of snow balled together so firmly we started making jokes about finding the anatomy of dead snowmen.  We took some pictures, but it is difficult to show the real scale of the wintry disaster that has descended upon Minnesota when it is supposed to be spring.

All the evergreen trees on our property look like some variation on this, if they aren’t broken in half:

Here is what we called the “Four Shovels of the Snowpocalypse:”

And here is the courageous team of my wife and our two Clanmates who live nearest — it took all four of us to dig out the driveway and rescue a couple of the trees.  We didn’t even bother with the sidewalk, as you can see. Anybody who needs to come see us can come in the driveway until the thaw:

There’s a reason #Minnesnowta is trending right now.  Utterly ridiculous.

If Sarah and I were different people, we might be actually upset if this blizzard were to keep us from spending this week in some kind of special way.  But we won’t, because we don’t do that sort of thing.

This week is our 15th anniversary.

Now, due to the vagaries of recognition of non-straight marriages and the shifting politics that have occured in the past 15 years, Sarah and I have 3 separate anniversaries.  Late August of 2013 is the date on our marriage certificate, because that’s when we could gather our friends and family in our backyard the summer Minnesota legalized same-sex marriages.  But that was a very informal ceremony — Sarah wore a t-shirt, I was in shorts, and we interrupted the vows midway through for me to dodge away from a wasp. It was a beautiful day, though.

In 2010, we had our “official ceremony,” which is the one where I wore the awesome dress, Sarah wore a suit, both our sets of parents came, there was an exchange of rings, and we made our vows public for the first time.  In 2010, we didn’t really know if or when marriage would be legal in the state of Minnesota, or in the US. But by then, we had been together 7 years, and we knew we were going to be together to the end.

For that ceremony, we wrote the song we call “Binary” because that’s what we are — a pair of binary stars, forever in orbit around one another, defining one another, inseparable.  Born together, bound together, alive together. And in the end, wherever it ends, however life closes, we’ll be together.

But it’s 2003 where our relationship began in truth, and that’s where I count from.

We had been friends for more than a year when things changed between us, and it had been a very difficult year for us both.  We had seen friends get together and grow apart, we had faced some very painful experiences and realizations, and we were in the midst of that growing season that happens in college when, for the first time, you lift your head up in the world and realize you are going to have to start defining yourself for yourself.

Sarah was a huge part of my process figuring out who I could be, who I wanted to be, and she was really the first to believe in me so very thoroughly and unflinchingly.  She was my best friend, the person I felt safest with in all the world, and I was changed for knowing her.

But in April of 2003, our relationship changed over the course of about 3 nights.  It was a slightly slow revelation, like the movies in slow-motion, where we both came to understand that we wanted to care more for one another than anyone else.  We even made jokes about how we might someday fall in love and get married, but we didn’t think a relationship with a spouse could ever really be what we were together.  It was a scary two days to take that to the logical conclusion of “maybe we just need each other.”

Five weeks later, Sarah asked me to marry her while calling me a goofball at the same time.

A year to the day later in May 2004, I asked her to marry me in return.

Fifteen years has changed us both in ways neither one of us could have imagined.  We’ve been through dangerous illness, the breakup of families, financial struggle, and a world which sometimes was downright horrible to us (there’s really nothing like having to walk through a line of virulent protesters to get to the wedding of a pair of gay friends).  We’ve been through rounds of therapy, alone and together, we’ve had moments of utter despair, and we’ve seen each other through dangerous depression.

But not once — not once– in fifteen years, have I ever wanted to share any of that with anyone more than Sarah.  And no matter how bad or unhealthy things got, I never wanted to do anything but make it right with her.

All people talk about marriage needing communication, and respect, and a sense of humor, and patience, and generosity.  And all those people who say those things are correct. If you cannot be completely and totally honest, completely and totally yourself, without even a shade of fear in front of the person you married, then you will never know freedom or trust.  If you cannot look at the person you chose to share your life and think they are 100% in the wrong, totally off their rocker, and still fully think they are an awesome person whose opinions, though wrong, deserve to be heard and treated fairly, then you cannot really stand as equals.  If you can’t laugh until your head spins with the person you married, can’t share jokes and snark and puns and terrible songs and all the rest every single day, then you’re missing out on a lot of joy. If you cannot force yourself to take a breath in a heated moment even if it feels you are putting your chest through a cheese grater, you’ll never be able to be quiet when the person you married most needs you to listen.  And if you can’t love completely, unconditionally, would willingly give literally anything without a second thought, then you have missed what it really means to cherish someone else.

Fifteen years with Sarah has been a lifetime of laughter and joy and crazy moments and tearful exchanges and daily cuddles — and it can never be enough.  Fifteen years on, and sometimes I just look at her sitting at her end of the couch with her laptop and start to cry because I love her so damn much and I cannot, cannot hold it all inside because I could never be big enough to feel this much.  Fifteen years from the start and I know I am a better person, a kinder person, a more understanding person, because I have become so for her. Fifteen years has not flown by, it has soared.

Fifteen years I have belonged to Sarah, heart and soul, and will until the universe collapses into nothingness.

We don’t celebrate it — the blizzard doesn’t do a damn thing to impact our plans because we never make plans.  We never exchange gifts. We never buy flowers. We don’t always even remember the milestones. Every single day is a blessing with Sarah, and every day is worthy of celebration and trumpets and grand gestures because I love her that much every day.  I don’t ever stop thinking about it. I don’t ever become numb to it. Love is wonder, and I am still lost in wonder to this day.

We’re probably going to spend our anniversary watching cartoons and hockey and YouTube together.  Nothing more special than that, because there is nothing we could do that would be special enough to rival what I feel every single time I have the privilege of holding her hand, or giving her a hug, or flopping an arm over her in sleep.  We don’t celebrate the specific days because every day for fifteen years, even in the worst of times, has been a celebration.

Sarah is in my life, she chose me, and I get to spend every breath being hers.  And by being Sarah’s, I have become myself.

“Binary”

It is said that the earth was born when the moon crashed into her sky
A striking explosion of soul meeting soul
It is said that the mountains were born when the lands once parted collide
The inevitable draw of gravity’s pull

As the stars fold into the sky
As the river folds into the sea
Through the storms and the pains and the joys of life
You’ll be standing here with me

It is said that we walk in the sun when we sing to the dawn
No more separate than binary stars
Like the comet-flung quarks running free in their strange-colored fire of night
Wild wholeness in being who we are

When all the flowers fade
And all the rainbows fall
Wherever it ends when the last glory calls
My life began with you

As the stars fold into the sky
As the river folds into the sea
Through the storms and the pains and the joys of life
You’ll be standing here with me

It is said that we’re all a soul split in two and fallen from space
And peace lies only in being one
It is said that love is new like the butterflies in spring
That it grows by the days
But our love was old when the moon was young

So stand here with me
As you’ve stood all along
Your hand was in mine before my first song
And my arms will hold you tonight

As the stars fold into the sky
As the river folds into the sea
Through the storms and the pains and the joys of life
You’ll be standing here with me

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Still flying on

This song is called “O” by Coldplay, and it has really spoken to me lately:

Flock of birds
Hovering above
Just a flock of birds
It’s how you think of love

And I always
Look up to the sky
Pray before the dawn
‘Cause they fly always
Sometimes they arrive
Sometimes they are gone
They fly on

Flock of birds
Hovering above
Into smoke I’m turned
And rise following them up

Still I always
Look up to the sky
Pray before the dawn
‘Cause they fly away
One minute they arrive,
Next you know they’re gone
They fly on
Fly on

So fly on, ride through
Maybe one day I’ll fly next to you

Fly on, ride through
Maybe one day I can fly with you

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Warrior

I’m still fighting my way through this downswing, though a restful weekend certainly helped.  A friend brought food and comfort over on Friday night, and she leached some of the leftover anguish from the Rise Up concert from my heart.  And though the storm goes on, I stand a little stronger against it today.

There are storms in every corner of the world, and in every corner of every human heart — no one is unique in that way.  And, like I said last week, because pain is relative, one person cannot necessarily say or know that another’s storm is easier or gentler than their own.  Some storms are outside us, a society which is cruel or biased or unjust. Some are inside, like my downswing or the damage done to someone by another. Some are both, a cycle of judgement by the world which reinforces and strengthens the ice daggers within.

We all fight battles, big and small.  Some stand on a national stage and fight for their people against an oppressive power.  Some crouch in a darkened room and fight despair inside. Some do both, sometimes all at once.

But it all stems from the same choice, the same decision —

“I can and will fight.  I can and will a warrior be.  It is my nature and my duty.”

The TCWC’s Encore does a version of this song which…well.  Make sure you hear it sometime when we perform, and we will blow you away.  It’s very, very much worth it. Sarah and I also performed it at CONvergence last year with the help of a friend.  Hopefully I’ll get our version on YouTube soon.

This week, I give you this song.  For whatever storm you are battling.  For whatever darkness seems too deep. For whatever fatigue beats you down.  For whatever surrender seems too easy.

Don’t give in.

We are all fierce warriors.  In the world, in ourselves, for causes great and greater, because no cause worth fighting for could ever be small.

It is the humanity in us all.

 

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