Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The first rule anyone is taught is that you can't bring them back from the dead.

(cw death)

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago…

There lived a group. And they did not like how death came. They did not like death at all, truth be told, and each had sought, alone and with others, to bring an end to it.

But finally, they turned and looked and each other, and they saw that they were all old, and in the end, they could not find a way to make magic save people efficiently. They hoped other technologies might do that, given time, but theirs could not, not in their lifetime.

While the first laid on their true deathbed—“deathbed” had become something of a relative term in this group, as you might imagine—they gathered around and made one last circle. For there would be others, but this would be the last with all of them.

The Old One, now the Dead One, gave everything that was left in them. The others gave all they could. More than One died that night. We might call this a death curse, though at the time this group only knew each other, and would be much likelier to call it a death spell. They did not think much of death by battle; it did not occur to them that death spells might become  most commonly offensive, rather than sustaining.

And in one moment, each gave all the magic they knew how to give, and each spread it, letting it ring through every place and every life they could touch.

And that is why, when you are very young, we tell you that magic cannot bring people back from the dead. It can. It does. Miraculous recoveries are made every day, people “die” on the operating table every day—not every spontaneous remission is because of their sacrifice, but many and much of them are.

But if you wish to bring back someone who has died anyway…it is often better to use technology other than your magic. For whenever someone finds a way to keep someone alive, or to bring them back, we focus the new spell through the Dead One’s bones and let it touch every place and life in calling distance. If you want to use your magic to bring someone back anyway, you must first discover something that no one else ever has.

If you do, I hope you’ll tell us. I’d love to lay those old bones to rest.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

About 30 Years Ago...

Large groups of people were dying. No one really knew why--not for a while, at least. And no one really knew how it was spreading, which was a fact that scared a lot of people. There seemed to be a focus on gay men, which...didn't help to calm the superstitious.

But there were places the infection seemed to skip. Or it would flare and then suddenly stop spreading. Sometimes people got it, had all the same symptoms, then got better with no real explanation.

(Rulekeepers in a hundred different districts had the same conversation: "You know you're not supposed to--"

"And I suppose if you'd been in my place, you'd just have let them die?")

It was an opportunistic infection, and blood-borne, which made it easy enough to hide. You just had to not maul anyone, and not bleed on anyone with an autoimmune disease. As long as you didn't have some random autoimmune disease suddenly infecting a lot of people all at once, a little care and a little inertia kept the werewolves' masquerade together.

It broke rather swiftly after the AIDS epidemic hit.

*

Once people knew about werewolves, people gradually gave up on arguments like, "But that violates the laws of physics!" Really, after the initial shock, most decent scientists started saying, "So what are the rules of magic?"

There were general murmurs in the vampire community that the werewolves weren't really facing as many difficulties as they might--they'd been good at the publicity fairly early on, focusing on little kids who'd gotten AIDS off of blood transfusions, who'd been saved by werewolf immune systems. It threw gay werewolves under the bus, but the general consensus among the werewolves' P.R was., "...So?"

The vampires decided they could probably swing something similar, and that it would be easier to do so if they chose when they were found, rather than waiting for one of those, "But what if vampires and fairies and and and!" people actually found something. They decided to wait for the werewolf fuss to die down and then come forward.

They placed the emphasis on ingenues with deadly diseases, too, though they pulled the focus to people who had been turned a bit older--200-year-old vampires who looked six tended to be more frightening than someone who had been turned in their 20s.

It worked out pretty well. The garlic-flavored blood packs don't quite taste like real garlic yet, but you can get some really fancy stuff that does, and people have even stopped putting real garlic in now.

*

It didn't take as long for the fuss to die down the second time--or rather, everyone was waiting for something else to turn out to be real. Mages went next, with the fairies, because they were just similar enough that it made sense for them to come as a package.

The focus of their spin was mainly on the fact that magic only worked on one's own self. "Like, I can change my own hair color"--a pause as the hair goes through a brief kaleidoscope--"but if I tried to do the same thing to you, nothing would happen." The mage shrugged, and after enough people said the same thing convincingly enough, most people stopped fretting so much about mages. I mean, there are places you still don't want to go, if people know you're a mage, or a werewolf, or a vampire, or a fairy, but there are places where you can live mostly unhindered, at least.

No one brought up that "one's own self" was a rather subjective term. There's a reason why so many people are so protective of their tarot decks, for example. And once you realize that, sometimes you can bend your mind to the point where other people do register as part of you--or the land does. The latter is actually pretty common among fair folk. I am my tree; I am my land; of course I am; are you not?

*

And so everyone pretended that they had dropped their masquerades. To be reasonable, if you're a cute girl who became a werewolf against your will, or a vampire who only became one because you were dying of cancer at 20-40ish, or a mild mage who's willing to look 'normal' or 'cute', or a fairy who can pass for mage, you don't have to hide your magic anymore. If not, you can pretend to be one, or you can keep pretending to be mundane human.

Honestly, I'm still expecting some more mythical creatures to be real. Given how easy all these spins were, I'm guessing someone is still waiting for their moment. Either way, hey, maybe by the time I'm dead you'll be able to actually want to be a werewolf without losing your job.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

(Mostly) Sexism in Games

My brother asked me how I felt about sexism in semi-medieval and modern settings, and I proceeded to...write. I liked it enough to clean it up a bit and post.
There is something to be said for historical accuracy as complete as one can make it. However, people often don't shoot for historical accuracy--they put something like a hardcore version of our modern-day sexism. I see the same thing with racism, heterosexism, etc. Even in places/times where the definitions of race/gender/sexuality would have been very different, I rarely see recognition of that.

That is actively dangerous. It leads more people to think that various roles--gender/sex, race, etc.--have been stable through centuries and are only now being changed. This grants them power. "How could we change this, when it's been true for thousands of years?" "How dare you try to change this, when it's worked perfectly fine for hundreds of years?" Yes, both of those statements are irrational--but they are also powerful, and that's what concerns me.

I like tabletop settings which remove sexism; they're more flexible and often more fun--if only because most examples I've seen have better worldbuilding I prefer. But I also like tabletop games where different cultures have different sexism, or some cultures have none, and/or claim to. It's interesting, and it emphasizes the fact that, yes, these categories may be categories in their own right, but they largely have the power we grant them.

If someone is inserting sexism to be "gritty", ick. If someone is inserting sexism for "historical accuracy", then A) name the cultures, and B) I expect genuine historical accuracy; anything else is just using "a long time ago" as an excuse for lazy and prejudiced storytelling. If someone removes sexism as escapism or to see how that works, I actively approve. If someone is playing with sexism--including where it differs from our sexism, including where different cultures have different expectations of men/women/other genders, I sincerely approve; that's cool.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ask

Written for the prompt "first times" at a slam poetry meeting. Originally entitled "Kisses".

The first time
You see him
You think--
                      oh.

After the first week
Of seeing him
You think--
                     He won't see me,
but I'll ask.

The first time
You ask,
A girl beats you to it,
and he says,
"I'm sorry. I'm gay."

And you look down
And see the breasts that your sweatshirt can't hide anymore,
And you think--
                            oh.

And you make it to the (girls) bathroom
Before you cry
Over what you are
And what you are not.

The first time
You two speak,
He says, "Hello."
And you do not hide how your heart flutters.

(You have hidden too much today.)

You say, "Hello," back.
And there is a question on his lips,
But he asks about homework instead.

The first time
You come to school in a binder
You draw the Mars symbol on the back of your hand,
And you say that you're a boy today.

Some laugh,
Some try to use your pronouns,
Some just ignore you.

He says, "I'd wondered."
And you blink.
And you realize.
And you say,
                        "And when I'm a girl?"

He shrugs,
Confused and content.
"I like you."

And there is a question on his lips--
The same one--
"Can I kiss you?"

Thursday, February 20, 2014

True Love

There's a land where true love is very important, because curses happen. Among anyone considered replaceable, this isn't as big a deal--it's good for your servants to have true love, but not necessary.

Quite a few servants disagree on this point. They tend to not mention this aloud.

True love is undeniably important for anyone of sufficient power. Modern-day, this expresses itself in democracies just as well as everywhere else--"Where will my opponent be if cursed? He doesn't have a true love to save him." It puts some closeted queer candidates in a double-bind: should they be The Candidate Without A True Love, or The Gay Candidate? And, of course, there's been a recent increase in it being necessary that the person you're married to be your true love, even though marriage has never been necessary for breaking any curse.

But this story is from a different time, and a different place, neither of which necessarily ever existed. The bones have happened more times than one would bother to count. The specifics hardly matter.

Fairy tale logic; play along.

There was once a beautiful kingdom, and it was prosperous, so all the surrounding kingdoms and dukedoms and other countries sent their children to meet the princess, hoping to be her true love. One of them was, and there was some scurrying behind doors to make sure this was diplomatically viable, and then they were married the very next day.

They lived together in great happiness for many years. One day a wicked fairy came and cursed the queen (no longer a princess), but the king had been carrying his mirror, his comb, and his brush, and had thus found his way to a spirit who knew where the queen was. One kiss from him, and she awoke.

But another fairy, who was very much in the business of seeing that stories went as they were supposed to, noticed something when the king went out to save the queen. The fairy did not like it, and put the king under a curse. This curse was an odd curse to put on a person who had a true love--it sent him to sleep in his own chambers, not to awake until woken by his true love's kiss. But the queen shared chambers with him, and in a land such as this, it was hardly odd to wake one's partner with a kiss.

The queen followed tradition. It was true, this was a rarer tradition, but it was tradition none the less. She called to all the members of the castle for one who would come with her to ride out and find what was needed to save the king from this dreadful curse. Most of the hall was silent, and a handful hesitated; only one stepped forward. That one left with the queen, as it always was. No others stepped forward, and so the two rode forth from the castle, with provisions fit for weeks of journey and tools for hunting should they need to be gone longer. It was rarely necessary, but whenever one made a reasonable guess, the guess was always a day short of necessity.

The queen turned to the servant, stopping their journey. "I know why you came with me."

The servant sat up straighter on their horse. "I came at your majesty's request."

"Many could have come at my request. You came because you love him."

The servant was quiet a moment. Then they said, "Yes."

She nodded. "The same as me."

The servant nodded quickly. "And you can hardly blame me, when I know you know how easy he is to love, and may well have fallen in love with him for the same reasons that--"

"Of course I cannot blame you," said the queen. "I knew when I married him that I was not his true love."

The servant went still and silent, not even breathing.

"He is my true love, and I do not regret that--I doubt I could. But you are his. And, I believe, he is yours." The queen did not look away from the servant, and the servant could not look away from the queen. "True love need not be requited to work. I am proof of that, though I believe he does love me in another way. Yours is requited, which is very lucky. Had you not loved him in return, I would have had to come up with a much more obscure tradition."

"He--he loves me?" they exhaled.

The queen's practicality softened. "Yes," she said, "very much. And if I had ever been able to convince him you loved him, I believe you would have known this long before." The queen reached up above her head and took a branch with holly and moss on it. "Here. I know these species; I can describe it specifically enough to pretend that we might have spent days searching." She turned back around and set her horse into a trot.

"W--wait," they said trotting behind, "What?"

The queen turned, not slowing. "If the other lands know I am not his true love, it will hurt trade, and make us look easy to attack. This cannot be public. But you are his true love, and you love him. It would be dreadfully hypocritical of me not to allow it, given how he and I came together."

The branch was laid; the announcements made; the servant kissed him; the fairy enjoyed the story as it was. And, in one way or another, they all lived peacefully and prosperously ever after.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Mermaids

Prompt credit.

I wept.

I can remember flashes of what came before, if I really try, but I usually don't. The parts that weren't bad were boring, or else things I imagined anyway, and there's no reason to remember when I first had an idea. Whether I thought of some character's gold eyes from coins passing palms on land, on their boat, in their death.

But I remember the ship, barely a boat. I remember hiding, and what I did to pay passage, and being found anyway, not being given one tenth of the protection he'd promised.

I remember them deciding what to do with me, and I know, from my sisters (and my brothers, and my other siblings--they thought us women; that does not make us so) what they might have done.

But then came the storm, to sweep us away, and their fear outweighed their lust and reason both. They tied my arms and legs that I might not survive, though between the sea and the storm they had no need to waste rope or weight.

I wept, had been weeping, but by the time they finished tying me up to throw overboard my tears were gone. There was hardly any point, crying or not. I would not change their mind. Even if I could, the rain hid them, and the sea would hide them better.

We were scared. I'd been scared and hidden in men's clothing. They'd been scared and threw me overboard.

I wasn't scared when I hit the ocean and got the wind knocked out of me. I wasn't scared when one of my sisters swam up and smiled at me. (I'd thought she was a brother, in the first moment, wondered if there were male mermaids. There are, though she was not one of them. Just as my brothers and many of my other siblings were thrown over when seen for something they weren't, she was thrown over when seen for what she was, seen for what no one had ever believed her to be until it got her drowned.)

She took the ropes off my arms and held me, pulling me down fast enough that the weight pulled my feet up instead of down, and she pulled me down deeper, deeper, enough that I should have been blind but somehow I saw something.

Mariette leaned close to my ear and whispered, "Breathe." I don't know why, but I did.

*

When I woke, my lungs burned. But my ears were better, sharper; I knew how to move my tongue; the water soothed me when I let my body work my lungs as reflexively as it had always done. My legs...weren't. They were not the tail I have now, not yet, but they were joined, and the rope that had bound them was twisting into my skin. Now, it's a line of gold-brown against my shiny dun. Then, it itched.

I pushed myself up, learning a new body, shrugging out of a shirt that had not fit well when dry and unripped. "Elena," I said to the person who had saved me.

"Mariette," she said, and smiled. She had beautifully sharp teeth. "You'll hunt for yourself when your tail comes in. Until then, I'll help you."

"Are you, ah..."

"I'm a woman. Most of us are." She cocked her head to one side. "And you?"

I blinked. She'd seen me half-dressed. "A woman."

She almost smirked, but her eyes were warm. She knew something I didn't, but I'd learn it soon enough.

I hunted, and I learned, and I sought ships. And every time a ship threw a soon-sibling overboard, we tore out chunks and drowned the sailors and brought our new sibling into our fold. Sometimes we spread; sometimes we joined the seafoam and the wind and the storm; always we sang.

We were never bad luck. Just the fools who threw us overboard.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Dungeon Crawl

It was my first dungeon walk, and, in my defense, it was not my fault that Genevieve stepped on a trap. Okay, yes, it is possible she would have been paying more attention to where she was going if it hadn't been my first dungeon. Or if I hadn't almost lost a hand, a foot, and my voice, however that last one was going to work. But this one still wasn't my fault! Technically!

Honestly, that fact was more surprising than the bars and walls snapping from the ceiling and floor.

I blinked a few times while Gen crouched to tap at the bars with a little stick she kept on her person at all times. Some lights may have flickered, but given that the light was coming from her torch and mine, that may have just been light and dark playing off metallic bars. Eventually, she put the stick away again. "You have to say something true to get the door open," Gen said.

"Uh," I said with great wit and grace, "Then why can't you just--"

"It has to be a person on that side, Charlie." My gut twisted a little, and I may have flinched. She rolled her eyes, though it seemed more aggravation at the situation than at me. "Pick something."

"Two and two makes four."

Silence. A notable absence of movement.

"...Gen?"

She said something under her breath and the bars definitely gave off some type of light, and it looked like some of it was either going to her or coming from her. "Something true and personal," she corrected. "But," taps with what appeared to be a different stick, how many of those did she have? "It doesn't look like it should need to be a secret. Just something about you. Like, say your name."

"Charlie," I said, and my gut twisted a little, but I had enough warning to brace for it this time so I didn't flinch.

"Hm." Gen furrowed her brow. "Try a full sentence? The spell doesn't feel picky like that, but you never know."

I clenched my jaw, then let it go. "My," breath, "name is Charlie."

No movement, though this time there was a grinding sound. Gen's eyes sharpened on mine. "That isn't true." I started shaking. "Honey," she said, in that I-have-exactly-enough-energy-to-be-gentle-one-more-time voice, "What is your name?"

"I--" Cecilia, Cyan, Francine, Genevieve, Jennifer, Tiana, Titania, Ariel, nothing ever ever ever

(I didn't notice at the time, but looking back I remember her suddenly giving me the same look she had when she'd almost led me into a lightning trap. "You don't have to; you can say something--" I didn't hear her.)

"I don't know!"

There was a different grinding noise, then it went silent and the bars snapped away as easily as they'd come out.

Gen stood up and offered me a hand, which is when I noticed I'd fallen. "If you need someone to lean on, I can help," she said as I stood. "But let's get out of here first, yeah?"

I shook a little. "Yeah."

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Quiet

I keep
reaching
into the part of my brain where my art lives
and finding it

empty

I'm not sure if it's exhaustion
Possibly
(Have I been sleeping enough?
Eight hours a night.)

Or writer's block
(I've never understood the phrase--
There's always been something there,
I just couldn't get it out right.)

Or something else entirely
(I've had times when  I couldn't find the spot
the place where my art comes from
but this isn't it.)

I imagine it will come back.
She was with me this morning
He may yet visit this evening
Zie tends to come unexpectedly.

But for the moment I am
Entirely
Utterly




Friday, October 4, 2013

Seeking

I generally consider vague hate to be useless. Hate with direction to it can lend you fire and energy, and even if I tend to think that there are probably better avenues, it's doing something. But vague hate? Hate that doesn't have a target, or anything to do about it? It's just an energy suck.

That said: I hate hiding.

I hate hiding, and if I were speaking to you I would not just be emphasizing that vowel, I would be hissing the H and clicking my teeth together on the T; I cannot stand needing to build up all these walls to hide fundamental facts of my being, my self.

"But Lauren, then why do you bind your breasts?"

That's not hiding. That's exactly the opposite.

My body is my body, and it is very important, and I only get one, but the shape of my body is not intrinsically part of who I am; it's just part of what I am. And the what that I am matters, but not nearly so much as the who.

I am not hiding a what when I choose to express my who. I have days when my breasts should not be there. Sometimes this manifests in a disconnection, like the day I woke up under the impression that my pillow was somehow on my chest. Sometimes this manifests almost identically to a fight-or-flight instinct, except with nothing even vaguely worthwhile to focus it on. Sometimes it's just generally terrible.

When I cannot find pants that fit in a store, I leave the store and forget about the pants for a while, because they're a thing I put on me and I can just push them out of my head. When I could not find a binder that functioned, I tried to do the same thing. I could not. I was not putting on a binder in the way one puts on pants; I was not trying to do something to make myself look good/not-naked/whatever. I was trying to make my body look like my body. Had I dropped the thing that was on over what needed to be there, I would not have dropped the binder any more than I would have dropped my legs when I went pants shopping. I would have needed to drop my breasts.

I couldn't. So I wore ill-fitting jeans, except the metaphor breaks down around there because ill-fitting jeans are still usually ill-fitting jeans over something that is the right shape. Dysphoria is a beast unto itself.

I'm not doing what I'm doing to have a perfect pair of jeans; I'm not ever going to. But I think I can find a nice pair that fits, and shows what I already know should be there.

That will never be hiding.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Writing

I'm not writing as much as I used to.

I have decided to write about this.

When I first started writing for my own pleasure, rather than a school assignment or something, I was in seventh. I had enjoyed writing sometimes before then, but I had not written much in my free time. I think I mostly wanted a solitary activity where I could be emotional and quiet. I had just gone through a break-up, and it was...weird, and I wanted to work out why on my own a bit without anyone else's thoughts interfering.* If I did something communal, people would ask why I was so emotional, and if I did something loud, people would come to check on me.

I was also writing a story where the heroine got together with a person who was basically a hodgepodge of a bunch of characteristics I found attractive. I realized this pretty immediately, shrugged, and kept writing. I wasn't writing to make a good story. I was writing because I wanted an outlet. I don't see the shame in writing wish fulfillment when that is literally all I had set out to do.

Granted, a few of the characteristics had less to do with me finding them attractive and more to do with being the opposite of the guy who had just broken up with me but hush.

My writing stayed in about that space for a while. I theoretically still have a bunch of documents which follow an even less organized format than that first story--there, I at least made everything about the same couple characters. Later documents are separated only into "this one has all random ideas that came to me" and "this is me explicitly creating a fantasy world to play in because I want to have interactions which happen only on my terms." The former tended to have characters with personality, while the latter...didn't. Or rather, a character's personality would vary from writing to writing, with only a few characteristics actually staying consistent, and the rest changing to fit whatever I wanted to happen.

I started writing more regularly when I started this blog. I could not tell you whether I wrote more, but I did start writing at a more consistently, and I started finishing more things, rather than just writing the introductions to essays or three scenes from a story that should be novel-length. I still do that, but I have a tendency to finish the things I want to spend times on, rather than only the ones that are assigned to me.

The consistency increased somewhere around 2010/2012, when I was in a class where we had to write something every week, called a portfolio piece. I learned that I liked doing that. I decided to go with that theme and try to write one thing every week for this blog. I kept that up for some time. I even built up a little buffer--two or three posts ahead of me. It got to the point where I would stress a little when there was only one post cued, though earlier in this blog's history I wrote almost every post the day of--I had based the format on a school assignment, after all.

I wrote weekly on this blog, and more outside it. I did end up using school projects occasionally, but most of the time I tried to avoid cross-posting in that way unless I adored what I had made. I did not keep up the same rules for college essays--probably a good thing. I did not have time to practice my songs, do my homework, write the applications, take the SATs, and write something decent for this blog.

November of 2012, I did NaNoWriMo. I built up a buffer that lasted through the month of November, and I remember relaxing when I succeeded in doing so, because it meant I could focus on my novel. I mean, I didn't, but I had the option.

The end of November isn't when I stopped updating this blog weekly, but it's when it started feeling significantly difficult. It was probably more difficult than it had been the first few weeks I tried it--those were no picnic, but at least I could see myself getting better, not worse. This blog started being stressful, when it was supposed to be fun and interesting, when it was supposed to be, at its best, informative and interesting, and at its worst, an outlet for exactly the sort of feelings it was now causing.

So I dropped it. And I miss it, a bit. Not the stress, nor exactly the writing, because I still write a little. But I miss having a schedule that I would keep to every week, because it was fun to be able to justify the prioritization which I would like to give to my writing.

I'm going to see if I can ease back into writing. Maybe I'll go back to musings, like these.

I do like writing.
* We had been good friends beforehand and he broke up with me in such a way that it was abundantly clear that he was not telling the truth about why he was breaking up with me. Because of that and some associated stuff, I thought he didn't want to hang out anymore. Spoilers: He wasn't telling the truth. But I don't exactly begrudge him not coming out in eighth grade. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

"Born This Way" and "Queer by Choice"

I've started interacting with these ideas, that one's sexuality and gender are innate, or that they are a choice, or some blend of the two. I've been familiar with the "born this way" narrative for some time now--though generally in the format of, "I didn't choose to be [whatever]," uttered in a fiery tone which belies the hurt underneath, "This is terrible; if I could be otherwise I could." The "queer by choice" narrative was a bit less familiar to me, and I ran into it mostly in this collection of quotations.*

What I've noticed, first and foremost, is that my sexuality is kind of a choice. Not as much as some people who are quoted on that page, but I do know how I would go about choosing to be straight or gay or whatever, if I wanted to. I am not capable of controlling my initial reactions to people, but I am usually good at making my feelings stop when I want them to. There have been exactly two exceptions to this rule--I will not go into detail on them beyond that, because on both occasions I made an absolute ass of myself.

I could, if I felt the need, selectively squash my feelings for anyone who was/wasn't a man, or who was/wasn't a woman, or who was/wasn't genderqueer, etc. After a time, I might even find this reflexive. I couldn't say. Outside of individual circumstances--e.g. they're gay/straight/taken and I'm pining--I have never tried to do this. However, I recognize this capacity in myself, and I am choosing not to exercise it. That's a choice. That's my choice.

My circumstance is not universal. Some people do not have any idea how they might go about changing their sexuality--I admit I have an advantage, since my default state is attraction regardless of gender, so I only have to subtract from that. I can imagine trying to nurture an attraction for someone, but I believe it would be more difficult.

My gender fits into this narrative spectrum...differently. I know exactly how I would go about trying to be a cis woman. I also know how I would go about trying to be a trans man. I also know how I would go about trying to have a manly male persona and a feminine female persona and nothing else. I also know...you get the idea.

But I'm not sure I could call refusing to do that a choice. Because I did try. What I found was, I had the choice between being my gender and expressing my gender, or pushing my gender down, never knowing when it might spring back up, and having occasional bouts of detesting (parts of) my body and not knowing why--because I had pushed away the part of me that was in touch enough with my actual gender to figure out why: I only had the part that was trying to be the gender I thought would be easier.

I would...not call this successfully choosing to be another gender. It isn't me making myself another gender; it's me sticking my fingers in my ears and singing, "LALALALALA," when I should probably be saying, "Gender dysphoria."

That seems to tuck neatly into, "born this way," but it doesn't for two reasons. First, I don't think everyone is like me. People have said that they experience their genders in ways different from mine, and I tend to believe them. Unless we are close enough that I can listen to them and think, "You're doing that thing with your right foot that you always do when you don't believe a word you're saying," I don't know why I would do otherwise.

Second...I can't make myself fit one of the molds I tried to fit. But I can affect my gender in an immediate sense. When I was playing a woman in Cabaret, I presented as hypermasculine when out of costume, and this made it much more likely that I would be a woman when in costume. Obviously this doesn't work for everyone, but my gender identity feels like it likes to balance things out, so it worked for me.**

I suppose I'm saying that gender and sexuality are messy. They don't fit into neat boxes, though categorization can be useful. I could never have stopped singing, "LALALALALA," if I hadn't learned the tune to, "Gender dysphoria." We are human. Terms and stories are never useless, even if the only thing they teach is, "Neither of these actually fit quite right." I think bespoke clothing rocks, but I'll wear something off the rack that's in my size before I wear something that's entirely wrong. (Though I admit, I am the sort who will wear something that's entirely wrong before going naked.)
* I found that page because I posted a quotation--from Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg--on my facebook, and I like to google my quotations to see what people would find if they did so. 
** Talking about my gender identity as something separate from me feels artificial. I am my gender. The fact that it is changeable does not mitigate this fact. I felt the phrasing was necessary for this essay, but I did not want that to pass without comment.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Childhood Habits

I have several advantages among trans* people, due almost entirely to things that I did nothing to earn. One such advantage is this: Prior to puberty, my gender expression was entirely culturally acceptable.

I do not mean that my gender was culturally acceptable. Tolerance predates acceptance, but acknowledgement must predate even tolerance, and I don't have that. Or, to put it less prettily: Most people can't accept me because to do that, they'd have to accept that they can't call me a man or a woman. I am sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both, sometimes neither, sometimes a mix of those four. And, on top of all that, sometimes I crossdress.

Even that isn't really describing me. That's the closest I can come in so thoroughly sexed a language, but if you can only think in male and female and blends defined by the two, then I am incomprehensible. You can know where I am, or where I've been, or where I'm going, but not even two of the three, and certainly not who I am. (Some people do not consider their gender integral to their sense of self, and so you could know them truly without knowing their gender. I am not one of those people.)

But many--perhaps most--of the issues trans* people face are for our gender expression, and my gender expression is: Sometimes I wear men's clothes. Sometimes I wear women's clothes. Sometimes I wear androgynous clothes. Sometimes I wear a combination in one outfit. Since I am consistently read female, this is fine. If I were consistently read male, or ever read male while wearing a skirt, it would be more of an issue, but I am not. Before puberty, I kept my hair long. Even in a baggy "unisex" (that is, male-cut) shirt and jeans from the boys' section, I looked like a girl. A tomboy perhaps, but that wasn't anything that was going to get me bullied worse than anyone else.

The adults rarely commented except for a few who called me "sloppy", and my classmates did not care beyond one boy's honest curiosity of why I was wearing boy clothes. In retrospect, I wonder if he had tried to buy something girly. I have no illusions of what sort of bullying I would have dealt with if I'd been thought a little boy sometimes wearing pretty dresses, rather than a little girl who occasionally dressed boyishly.

The advantage this gave me before puberty is obvious, and I continue to have it after puberty. Though I was not consistently comfortable with my body, and still am not, it was never odd for me to wear boy clothes. It was never odd for me to shop in the men's section. It was odd for me to want a breast binder, a hip binder, and other things, but even being read female--which I am, even while binding and packing and walking as well as I can and wearing men's clothes--I can buy the basics for myself without even getting odd looks. I have to use the women's dressing room, which is uncomfortable, but no one looks twice at me wearing men's clothes, even if I'm using a shared mirror in the women's dressing room.

That's not the most important part.

The important part is: I know how I am supposed to feel. I remember the little "girly girl" and "tomboy" who was sometimes a girl and sometimes a tomboy and sometimes something she--should I say she?--didn't even know existed until junior or senior year of high school. I remember when I did not understand gender enough to be hurt by it, did not understand fashion enough to care in the right way. I do not have to imagine how it feels to be dressing for my right gender and then fumble for it; I know what I would be if no one pressed me to be other than my gender. Because, for the first years of my life, no one did.

If I am as happy with my gender as I was when I was seven, then I am where I am supposed to be.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cuddles and Break-ups (Or: Break-ups and Cuddles)

 A/N: Use of singular they.
 Further author's note: Written before I began going by Taylor. 
Trisha curled sleepily into Taylor's arms on the couch. "I think we should break up," Taylor said. "It wouldn't work."

Trisha nodded and hummed in agreement, then paused.

"Actually..." she said.

"Mm?" Taylor prompted. They had on their genuinely surprised face--which Trisha recognized as entirely distinct from their 'I was expecting this but surprise is the appropriate reaction' face.

"I...um." Trish took a breath, then let it out slowly. "I love you."

"I noticed," Taylor said, twirling Trisha's hair between their fingers.

Trisha took their hand in hers and held it. "I love you," she said seriously, eyes clear and focused on theirs. "And I want to be with you. And if you don't want to be with me, that's fine, but...I want to be with you. And I register my disagreement that we should break up."

There was a pause.

Taylor burst out laughing and Trish joined in. "Too much?"

"Yes," Taylor giggled uncontrollably. "Shall the chair recognize the floor?"

"Shut up," Trisha laughed back, swatting Taylor playfully.

"Okay, okay." Taylor calmed a bit. "I still think we need to break up. I can't do this."

Trisha nodded silently at the floor. Then, "Okay."

"Okay?"

"I don't like it. I wish it weren't so. But I would never keep you somewhere you didn't want to be." Trisha sighed. "Should I leave now? Or can we still cuddle?"

"Cuddles," Taylor said formally, "most definitively."

Monday, June 3, 2013

On Dying, and Other Such In-betweens

Eliandra fluffed her wings, which lost her a few feathers. Normally she would have huffed about this, but tonight she was oddly quiet. She bent her right wing in, and for a moment Didey got a flash of what Eliandra might have looked like when she still had her arms, hadn't yet given them for the wings. Her beak would still be a mouth, too. It was odd to think like that. Everyone in their section had taken on something, and after a few months around no one else, it was always odd to remember that most people were all human. None of Eliandra's brown-to-cream wings or dark and shiny beak, none of Didey's fur or claws or backward-legs.

Eliandra turned her beak and started grooming herself meticulously. It bothered Didey for a reason she couldn't name, but she still trusted the feeling. She was going to say, Are you all right? but what came out was, "Do I need to make sure someone's around you?"

Eliandra looked up from her work and then laughed in a way that failed to comfort Didey. "No. Thank you,"

Didey waited. "That wasn't a period."

"Hm?"

"That wasn't the end of your sentence. You didn't say something, and you were going to."

Eliandra shook her head, eyes going from unreadable--common enough for birds--to simply distant. "I'm not going to hurt myself. It's fine."

"How do you know?"

Eliandra laughed again, as if someone were hurting her and she didn't know how else to react. "I've been..." She shook her head and groomed, then stopped. Didey's brow furrowed in concern. Eliandra never used extra energy like that. It wasn't a question of looking good; she simply didn't do it. It wasn't one of her standard motions.

Didey started taking some molting feathers out of Eliandra's wings. "You've been?"

"If I can..." Eliandra looked for something in Didey's face. Apparently she found it. "If I can come to the conclusion that the world would in general be better if I were dead, and that my life is going to be consistently painful for me, and plan it out down to weapon, time and place, and making sure someone emotionally equipped to deal with a corpse would find me... If I can think all that, and decide all that, and still find myself too much the coward to go through with it, then I'm not going to go through with it now just because I'm a little jittery after a fight." She shrugged, which may have been an excuse to lean into Didey's grooming.

Didey continued grooming in silence. Then: "I'm glad you didn't."

"Yeah," Eliandra said, "me too."

Eliandra closed her eyes and relaxed. Didey kept moving careful claws through delicate wings, and eventually finished. She must have, at least. Eliandra's wings were clean and shining when they woke up the next morning, curled around each other on Eliandra's living room couch.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Representation

Trigger warning for (brief) discussions of various types of prejudice and stereotyping, and discussions of internalized transphobia--that is, transphobia directed at myself.
I've recently been thinking about representation in media and how it affects feelings. Usually I'm thinking of it with regards to trans* characters--especially genderfluid ones--and my own feelings, on both counts because they are more relevant to me personally, and on the former count because it is the aspect of my identity that I see most rarely expressed. I see three ways representation affects me, and I think all of them generalize.

The first is the one I see most commonly talked about: Representation is a background tape of "Yes, you exist; you have a right to exist; you are not alone." This is why people can cheer even when a representation is terribly stereotypical--because, "You can be only this," can feel fantastic when you've just come from, "You don't exist," or, "You shouldn't exist." "You can be only this," still says, "You can be."

The second is where the type of representation becomes obviously important: Role models. Part of this links into the previous type, in that seeing a scientist of your gender/race/orientation or with your disability or neuroatypicality or whichever is that same message. When it's something outside the stereotype, the message goes from, "You can be only this," to, "You can be this, too," and even if the 'this' isn't what you want to be, that 'too' can make all the difference. Because if you can be 'this too', then you can be something else, someone else, too. You aren't bound to one of the traditional roles.

Role models can exist just for being what you are, too. This is why happy queer stories are so important, why happy publicly queer people are so important: "I am what you are, and I'm happy. It is possible for you to be happy, too." That's not to say anyone is required to be happy, of course--that's a step back, "You can be only this; you can only look happy." But having them, knowing that they are there, that this is possible--that's important. Happy people who are like you are role models, if only in their happiness. The background noise they give off is, "Yes, you can survive here; yes, you can thrive here; yes, you can laugh and smile. And you know what? You deserve it."

And then there's the third type of representation, the one that's so prickly because it can feel like a step back, and because it is so easy for it to be a step back. It's the people who are insecure about their own identities. I've found them very helpful, because there are all these things I think to myself, and as soon as anyone else thinks them, even a fictional character, their absurdity becomes obvious. "I'm not really trans* because I have days when I'm not dysphoric." What? That's so obviously wrong as soon as anyone else says it. "Everyone will always think I'm not worth it." Huh? Where did that even come from, because it certainly didn't come from any of my friends and supportive family.

It's hard to write those stories, because it's so easy to make them a TRAGIC GAY NARRATIVE or a story about a LITTLE BLACK BOY WHO WAS TOO GOOD FOR THIS SINFUL EARTH. But they don't need to be one of those stories; they don't even need to have a sad ending. There just need to be characters with their own insecurities, so we can see them from the outside. Even if seeing it doesn't make them obviously absurd, or even if they aren't absurd, at least we know we're not the only ones who think that way. I am not alone in messing up my own pronouns. I am not alone in being scared of how relatives will react.

I am not alone.

That's the point of representation, really.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Silly and Serious Thanks


To the drawers who, from the first week of my time on campus to this very day, had never gone empty: I salute you for your brave service. You may rest.

To the drawers and shelves who have never been filled: The impediments placed upon you by design and limited space are not your fault. May you serve some taller person well, and live with honor.

To the desk: You lived bravely through stressful assignments, confusion, and spilled tea and ink. I wish you the best.

To the womb chairs in Mudd: Thank you for being a place of rest where I could hide and laugh or cry over a book without weathering odd looks. I hope to return to you often.

And to my fellow Obies: I miss you already. See you next year, unless you're a senior, in which case I wish you audacity, happiness, and strength--and I know you'll have them all in spades.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Villains

(I have decided that hiatus will mean posting when the urge takes me.)

I find it interesting how many people I see complaining about the phrase, "Every villain is a hero in their own mind."

The general complaint runs something like this: "Would you stop pretending irredeemable villains are redeemable? It is really annoying."

I understand that idea to a certain extent. I have seen arguments along the lines of, "But this guy loves puppies, so he can't be that bad!" These arguments get old quickly, and also ignore the fact that, in real life as well as fiction, essentially no one fits the platonic ideal of "evil" perfectly. Just as functionally no one is perfectly kind and giving to everyone in all aspects, functionally no one is absolutely everything we hate. It might be even harder to find a person who fits the latter--being evil all the time makes it difficult to gain allies, which means that a perfectly selfish but rational person will likely try to at least look heroic or kind in some contexts.

But none of that is what the phrase is about. "Every villain is a hero in their own mind," means simply that the people who are wicked and powerful enough for us to consider villains have some strong and important goal which they are seeking to complete. Every villain thinks they are going through the hero's journey, that they have some boon to give to the deserving. The fact that their idea of a boon and their idea of deserving differ from ours is what makes them a villain in our eyes.

"Every villain is a hero in their own mind," is not necessarily a call for universal forgiveness, or reinforcing some idea that everyone can be redeemed into what we think of as a hero. It is a call to review carefully those whom we think of as heroes.

Because not everyone who is a hero in their own mind is a villain, but sometimes...

Monday, April 8, 2013

I appear to be incapable of keeping up with my update schedule at the moment, so I'm calling a hiatus. Thank you for reading; be back when I can.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

An Oberlin Fairy Tale


In a land called Oberlin, the winter had lasted too long, past the groundhog’s date and past when the snow should stop, even had our groundhog predicted otherwise than it had. It soon became clear to the students:

Spring was sleeping.

But there was hope. During a week of what should be spring, Oberlin students were permitted to travel to other places, places closer to the sun, where they could come close enough to the Fires of the Sun that questers might be heard.

Ah, but being heard is not the only tricky part. What use is being heard if one is given no answer? What use even an answer, if the answer is a dismissal?

But the Fire-folk are not without hearts. They could be swayed, by diplomacy, or by wit, or, if they were feeling particularly whimsical, by some somewhat important event brought to their attention.

A young quester had gone to such a warm clime, where the path to the Fires of the Sun was brief and not exceptionally burning. The quester packed bread, rock candy, and a top for food, flavor, and fun, since the Fires were creatures of all such things. (Why else would cooked food taste so much better? Why else would so many people be drawn to playing with fire?)

Items in thons pack, the quester climbed, and soon enough, came to a door the color of a full moon on a clear night.

“Have you a key?” came a voice from the door.

“I do not,” thon said.

“Have you lost a key you were given?”

“I have not,” thon said.

“Then how shall you get past the door?”

“I know my stories well enough. I must take a bone from my smallest finger, and place it in the door.”

“Correct,” the voice rumbled.

“But this is not a tale of sacrifice,” thon continued, “not to speak with the Fires. The point is the riddle and the story, not the bone itself. The door opens for the answer, not the bone.”

And the voice said, with a smile thon could hear, “Correct.” The moon doors swung open.

Next thon came to an old person in a rocking chair, who had aged in the way that makes gender indeterminate, if gender were ever a proper thing to apply to this old one. The hair was perfectly golden, the only hint that this one might ever have been young. “Good day,” thon said with a curtsey, since thon had worn a skirt that day.

“Good day,” said the old one back, rocking chair creaking. “Why are you here?” There was a bit of a twinkle in the old one’s eye.

“I am here to bring some late Fires to one of my homes,” thon said. “But I am in no great hurry as of yet, if you find yourself in need of help.”

The old one smiled. “I would not refuse some bread, if you had it.”

“I do,” thon said, handing the whole of the loaf to the old one with stars for eyes and sunlight for hair. The old one ate, and beyond the rocking chair a door swung open. Thon had not seen it before, for it was dark as the night sky, the same shade as nearly everything else.

Thon saw when it opened, for it opened into a room as bright and warm as summer sunshine on a day perfect for reading in a grassy field.

“Fires of the Sun, may I speak with you?”

Silence greeted thon. Upon thinking of that phrase, thon bowed to the silence, on the off-chance that it was a living silence. (It was not.)

Thon sat in the middle of the broad, bright room and took out a piece of rock candy to suck on, and the top to spin. “Oh! You brought a toy! Why didn’t you say so?” said a Fire, jumping out from a wall. The Fire could not stay still, it seemed, flickering from one side to the next. Soon, this Fire’s Siblings joined Them, and even in a room the color of sunlight, shadows flickered on the walls.

“Would you like some rock candy?” thon asked, laying out a few more pieces in various colors of the rainbow, each attached to a metal stick. Wooden sticks do not work so well with the Fire-folk, you see.

“Yesyesyyeses,” They chattered, voices climbing over each other. Most took pieces, though a handful instead said, “I would like to play with your top, may I may I may I?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” thon said. “I got this top for my birthday. That was just today, you know.”

They cried, “It’s your birthday?” and, “Why didn’t you say so?” and, “You came here on your birthday? We have to do something special!”

“Well…” thon said, tapping thons chin with thons forefinger, “there is something, but it’s a bit out of your way.”

“We’ll do it!” said exactly three Fires in unison. The rest had learned not to commit so readily.

“Really?” thon said, brightening. “Wonderful! You see, Oberlin’s spring hasn’t woken up in the proper time. Could you come back with me when I go there, and help wake our spring?”

They chattered for a moment, too quickly and too many overlaying threads for thon to keep track of. Eventually, five stepped forward: the original three—one of whom looked less excited, though grudgingly willing to go along—and two more. “We’ll help!”

“Excellent!” And so the Fire-folk and the quester played together until thon had to go home for dinner. The five Fire-folk who were to join thon settled into the space just about thons diaphragm, where they slept as little more than a warm and jubilant feeling.

When thon returned to Oberlin, thon brought five Fire-folk. In such a cold place, they burst from thons ribs and flickered and danced throughout the campus, the town, and everywhere else they could reach: burning snow, warming soil, calling the sun to be closer and the clouds to disappear. By the time they had grown bored and went back to the sun to play with their own, spring had sprung awake.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Word Problems

  1. A woman makes 17.5% less than a man, but she can also get into a club free on certain nights. The entrance fee is $15. How many times does the woman have to go to that club on those nights in order for her to break even?
  2. In the context of the graph provided on page 3, what is the average utility of free entrance to a club assuming one breaks even with regard to dollars lost and saved? Give multiple answers and/or a formula accounting for race, sexual orientation, status as trans or cis, and all other relevant points which may increase her chances for being raped, mugged, killed or otherwise attacked.
  3. Express as a ratio the money spent white scholarships (incl. scholarships for Germans, Italians, etc.) compared to scholarships of persons of color. Extra credit: Include a second ratio for the total amount of money per white student versus student of color given in the form of scholarships without racial requirements.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

You Both Meet in a Jail Cell

I lay on the only cot in the cell as she paced it. At first I'd sat, leaving room if she wanted to sit, but she had given the impression of not wanting to and of being able to ask if she wanted to. (Also of being able to push me off, if she wanted, but she would ask first, and I would move if she did.)

"Back home, I am..." She flexed her hand once, twice, looking at it as if it held some answer. "Like a scalpel under the armor, or a scalpel under the skin. So sharp you barely notice I'm cutting. Precise."

"And more than capable of healing you or tearing you to shreds," I said.

She grinned at me, fierce and reflexive in the way that true reactions are. "Yes." Her expression flickered, then fell to something closer to neutrality. "Here, I don't have the weapons I prefer. But even if I don't have my knife on me, I find myself quite capable with a needle."

"Surgeon-seamstress. Nice."

Her lips twitched. "Storyteller-trickster."

"Wordsmith would be the brief way of saying that," I said, one hand curling to my chest in a pompous gesture. "We must be precise." She threw a small stone at me and I caught it and tossed it back. We started playing catch with it as we talked.

"Any ideas for getting out of here?" I asked.

She shrugged and tossed the stone back. "Be charming at the hearing."

Saturday, March 9, 2013

(Un)Safe Spaces

I had a teacher in high school who, in reference to a group of singers who were switching between the tenor and the bass part, said, "Don't be bi-sectional," and laughed.

I'm not entirely sure what the point of that was. I can't recall anyone laughing. Privately, I think this may have been because the class was divided into three parts--those who didn't get the pun on, "Don't be bisexual," those who were too offended to find it funny, and those who were just too confused that an openly gay man had made a cheap shot at another member of his acronym.

I was in the second group, and I remember being angry enough that I ended up storming from that class to English. When someone asked me what was wrong--a classmate who shared both classes with me, and had noticed my dramatic antics--I spun around and snapped, "It's not funny until it's absurd!"

I then apologized to my classmate, because none of this was her fault, and I had lashed out inappropriately. I'm not sure that helped any. I've been told I'm rather frightening when I'm angry.

But that is, for the moment, beside the point.

At the time that sentence meant, "Our teacher should not have made that joke, because people telling people they shouldn't be bisexual--or simply that they aren't, as if they knew our orientation better than we did--is a thing which happens. I am hurt because he treated my experience so flippantly."

Another thing occurred to me, when I was thinking about that phrase. Because most people know that, on some level. A thing needs to be absurd to be funny; your audience needs to consider it absurd. So, in making that joke, my teacher was saying, "Bisexual discrimination is absurd."

I cannot think of a more thorough dismissal. It was not even the screwed-up gaslighting that is, "You're overreacting to this hurt," it was, rather, "This hurt doesn't exist; you imagined the blow."

In my opinion, this is the most important thing to keep in mind when writing comedy. Am I dismissing someone's hurt? There's a place for that, in satire, but satire is by definition critical. In satire, the comedian is, by definition, calling someone out, attacking them.

No matter how much we might wish otherwise, attacking a person in power is different from attacking someone who is already under siege. I've got background messages every day--you don't exist; you aren't real; attention-seeker; whore. Attacking me for a mistake I made is not the same as attacking me for something I had no control over, especially when I am already under attack for it.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

“Well, if you aren’t going to do what I expect, what do you intend to do?”

I intend to single-handedly bring back ‘bard’ as a popular profession

I intend to turn the world upside-down
I intend to burn stone and fireproof wood
I intend to walk on rainbows
I intend to walk on Mars
I intend to make you believe in silly things without lying to you
I intend to write a novel that you will never forget, even though you will forget the author and the title and all the characters’ names
I intend to write a fantasy series that someone will always use as the answer to, “What was the first fantasy series you fell in love with?”
I intend to sing an album that makes someone say, “I’m going to be a singer.”

I intend to burn the world down and burn myself down and burn you down to cinders and ashes
I intend to rise, not like a phoenix, but like Coyote, cackling all the while
I intend to pull you down with me
I do not intend to pull you up
I intend to make you want to leap up like a new flame
Like an old story
Like a song you had forgotten until you remember at 47 that you learned it when you were 11
I intend to make you want so much that you have the same moment I had when I realized I had nearly broken my neck in middle school (died before I’d begun)
I intend to make you want so much that not doing becomes as self-destructive as not breathing

I intend to earn stares and gaping mouths
I intend to be impossible
Because “I intend” is only half a breath from “I wish,” and if you can’t wish for the impossible, how can you ever do it?

I intend to make you to laugh with the exhiliration
Fly like helium inflation and crash like hydrogen conflagration and get up again

That is what I intend to do.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Thoughtful Work

When an acquaintance compares me to a goddess
They name me the sharp silver of a freshly whetted blade:
Artemis, Athena, the proud women-who-are-warriors
And I am a creature of such edges

When they know me a bit better
They name me trickster:
Hermes, of robbers and merchants
Loki, shapeshifter by species and sex and role
Coyote, who dies often but always comes back at dawn
For I am a creature of edges

When I name virtues great
I point to tricksters and storytellers
Loki, Coyote, and Hermes of shifting shades
Iris of communication and novelty and ways between
I admire creatures of edges

But what echoes in my bones is something else

I hope for Persephone’s stoicism,
Moved to tears only once, though torn from her home every year
I hope for Sigyn’s loyalty,
Her strength to follow through on it, even in the darkest of places
I hope for Hestia’s pragmatism
Sitting by the fire, her throne willingly given
For I love those who work where work is needed

I hope to be guardian
For those who need me
For those who wish for help
For those who have forgotten to wish

For I am a creature of edges, yes
And also a creature of needles

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Echo (Echo)

When I was a little girl, I wanted to save the world.

A lot of us do, in one way or another. Almost no one has the same definition of 'world', though, and a lot of people don't think 'save' means the same thing. A lot of people fight about whether 'save' means 'preserve' or 'ameliorate'--or which it means more.

I wanted to do it in the really simple way. I wanted to be a superhero, with strength and speed and intelligence and a bunch of other stuff, plus the heart to do the right thing. (Intelligence and powers could cover the possibility of doing so, but I also needed to consistently want to.)

When I was a little girl, I got to save the world.

There isn't much point to explaining that. Whether you've heard my story or not, you know it. I was a magical little girl who fought people who were beyond saving, and redeemed people who seemed beyond saving. I took the nickname Echo. I say it's because I wanted something that's easy to understand, so I went with something from the NATO alphabet. My name is Emma, so people don't ask much past that.

There's more to my name's story, of course. I didn't pick a name for the longest time, and no one who was telling my story was particularly interested in giving me a good one. (I was, I understand, given a number by some organizations, but news stations kept missing me. Or ignoring me.) One day, I was reading Echo's story, how she met someone she admired but could not add anything, only repeat the ends of things back. I save the world, and it's good I do, but I'm the next identical link in a very long chain.

Saving the world is necessary; I rarely found it interesting.

By the rules, my story should not still be going at this point. But I think I'm owed a little something, even if the only person who owes me is myself. I owe something to the little girl who dreamed, perhaps; more importantly I owe it to the woman I'm starting to be.

Echo was a good name. Echo is necessary, showing things back almost as they are, and that's how I've redeemed the supposedly irredeemable on more than one occasion. Now...

I am a good person. But that is, I think, not quite the same thing as being a good girl. Not in the way my once-superiors mean it. "You're such a good little girl." I think... I think I need to think of myself a little, too. Maybe be a little selfish. Not hold myself above others, but hold myself as important.

The simplest way of finding where my happy place is is to go beyond it in several directions. I've been Echo. Someday I may settle on a permanent name: not a magical girl's name, not a child's name. Maybe I'll even be Emma, someday.

Today, I am Narcissus.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Midway

Is your flight on-time? Andrea texted.

Yeah, Em texted back. Yours? Though she wasn't asking whether it was late so much as how late, given that Andrea should have boarded already.

Twenty minutes late. Then, after a pause, Sorry.

Not your fault. Em sighed, shifting her legs behind the counter, poking at the remaining bit of her pulled pork sandwich. Both of them had three-hour layovers here, but they hadn't been able to schedule their flights to overlap completely. She should be waiting an hour and a half, though now she'd be waiting closer to two.

Em threw her trash away and picked up her bags. I'll be at Gate 18, okay?

See you there.

Napping was out of the question, and Em had already finished the book she'd brought for the trip--which she'd seen coming, but she'd only had room for one book and she wanted to finish it--so she unzipped her laptop bag and opened her computer. There wasn't any free wifi, but she could work on her resumé and a few applications that she'd downloaded. There were lines she should be running, but she'd hit the point where the script wasn't looking like words anymore, which definitely meant she needed a break.

A few minutes later, her phone vibrated in her pocket. Boarding!

Yay! Em replied without any particular change in expression. It was still an hour and a half away, assuming no complications; Em's excitement tended to spike the day before and when Andrea first came in sight.

Em swapped to her script. She figured the words would probably look like words again.

*

Andrea shifted, nearly bouncing in her seat. She'd gotten a row to herself, which was good, because even on the flights where she was stuck in a middle seat between two people she had trouble keeping completely still when she got to see Em so soon. She knew Em would not be so excited right now, but she never got excited about things just before them.

Andrea took out her phone and fiddled with it. A few more hours, and they would be next to each other again. She grinned.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Winning

The trick to winning is recognizing that you get to define what "winning" means.

For example, if you see a little dog bites a big dog's ear, and then the dogs proceed to fight until the little one limps off, bloody and with quite a few new marks that are going to scar up, you might say that the big dog won. After all, the big dog is barely hurt, if hurt at all, and the little dog is going to be hurting for quite some time.

What you don't know is the history. You don't know that the big dog has been picking on the little dog for weeks, months, years now. Nothing major, but something painful, every day, at unexpected times. And the little dog took it, because the little guy could not possibly win against the bigger dog. The fight would end up exactly as you saw it end up--one is beaten bloody; one walks off with barely any annoyance.

So the big dog picks on the little dog, wins every day, until the day the little dog thinks, Screw this. And the little dog turns around, all teeth and claws. Still small, still hurt, and knowing exactly how this is going to go.

After the fight, the big dog walks off thinking, What a weird little dog, and never hurts the little dog again.

The little dog accomplished a goal. Who's to say who won or lost?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Elizabeth

My name is Elizabeth, and I’m a cheater.

Most people will tell you that this is not a good trait, and therefore is not a good introduction. I would point out to them that my sisters were not cheaters and they are dead, while I am a cheater and am alive, which is proof enough that it is a positive trait. It makes sense. Most people learn to be strong or cheaters, so saying you’re a cheater usually means you’re weak. You’d think that that would be a good thing, since they usually don’t like strong girls, but apparently I’m supposed to be weak and not a cheater and not lose. I imagine that other people are just better at lying than I am.

I learned very early on not to lie. That’s why the Folk killed my little brother, because he told a lie. I suppose that could have made me a compulsive liar, like one of my sisters, but I went in the other direction. I decided: if they are going to make me play their game, I will sit down and play it, and I will follow every rule.

To the letter.

I’m alive because of that. Not because I could win, precisely, though that is what got me out—I saw a way that was supposed to be too small for me, so I starved myself and slipped out. They’re not supposed to let you out after you eat their food, but I didn’t go out through one of the normal doors, so they don’t count me as having left. That was cheating, and I’m proud of it. I went into the Realm younger than anyone else I know, and still managed to wriggle out. They can’t take me from here, unless I’m bad, and so I’m always honest and forthright and clear.

And I cheat. That’s what my eldest sister would have called it, anyway, so that’s what I call it. I make myself look smaller than I am and dirtier than I need to be, though never so much that I don’t look cute. I use what I have. And there’s always someone who’ll give a poor, little, dirty, cute girl food. I’m good at figuring out which one.

The dreams are the hardest.

I wriggled out through a gap in the bars, but that doesn’t count as getting out, so I go back when I sleep. At first, they offered food, but I was smarter than that, this time. Soon enough they started getting meaner.
I travel town to town, on my own to feet, begging food when I can find it, and mourning the parents the Folk took and the siblings they took after. Even with the dreams, it’s better than what happened when I was in the Realm.

My name is Elizabeth, and I’m a cheater. Since I’m a cheater, I’ll never win, never prosper, but since I’m a cheater, I’m alive and I’m out.

I’ll take that trade.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lessons

Once upon a time, in a country which now exists only in the earth which houses its old stones and the breath that houses its old stories, there lived a king and a queen. The queen had a daughter and a son, and then had no more children, for inheritance rules were tricky at the best of times, and became no simpler for those of royal blood.

The young boy was taught to fight with and without arms, was taught to care for his animals and to clean his weapons, to be polite at court and to be impolite without causing a war.

The young girl was taught to fight with her voice, to cut as deeply as her brother. Where her brother was taught only, "You can go this far and no further," she was taught each intricacy: how to form or strengthen an alliance, how to inspire an attack that would take few lives but give an excuse for conquest. When her brother was learning to fight with fists or swords, she would learn dance steps, a dozen curtsies, a dozens of implications in a single sentence. When he was caring for his animals and weapons, she would practice what she was learning with forgiving friends of the family.

As they grew, they began practicing in earnest. The prince would duel, and the princess would work out treaties, forming personal alliances so that the country's power would not fade if those loyal to the current monarch liked the prince or princess less. They each paid close attention to their own lessons, both what they were being taught and how they were being taught it. Of course they did.

Quietly, when most of the castle slept and the guards looked on with approving smiles or pretended not to see, son and daughter met. He handed her a sword or a mace or nothing at all, and they fought in the dirt. She met him with a book or a fork or a smile, and they play-acted through diplomatic scenes.

So it came to pass, with very little fuss, that the prince married and became a king fierce and diplomatic, and the princess became a warrior who knew how to avoid a fight as easily as she knew how to win one. And, when she was home from war and he from discussions of treaties, they would meet in the same field and tell each other what they had learned.

Some things never change.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Beauty and the Beasts

I'm going to talk about Beauty and the Beast and how I see it. Specifics of the story will be taken from the Disney version, since that's the one that's most commonly known where I grew up and among the people I'm talking to.

First: Beauty is the hero. Beast is the villain. You are not required to agree with me on that, but it is how I see the story. Whenever someone writes a Beauty and the Beast remake where Beast is not at least the antagonist, I'm confused.

Starting from that point, here is a summary of Beauty and the Beast:
The hero's living parent gets accidentally wrapped up in a deal with the villain of the story. The only way for the hero's parent to survive this deal is for the hero to face the villain. The hero faces the villain in the villain's own realm. The hero goes through a variety of trials, which are created by the villain's own meanness. The hero endures these trials, and slowly learns things she did not know before.
It's the hero's journey. There are problematic aspects in the romance that I've glossed over, but I do not recall a time when I thought Beauty and the Beast was a love story any more than I thought of Snow White and Rose Red or Rumpelstiltskin as a love story. They include a marriage, but that's not the point. It's a fairy tale. Because Beauty is brave and loyal and strong, she gets a happy ending. That does not guarantee me the same. But it means it's possible, even when it looks bad.

Beauty's marriage to the Beast is about as relevant as Gaston. Both of them serve to show that the antagonist has changed, that mean people don't necessarily remain mean. I understand the issue with this, the implication that a person should stay with an abusive partner--but would it really be any better if Beauty had killed him, as is the more common fate? If I am alone with an abusive partner, I am probably not going to be able to kill them. Beauty shows the virtue of endurance, of being able to pick herself back up again. She is not staying with the Beast because she thinks they have a perfect love (at first); she is staying with him to save her father.

I was the little girl who didn't always know how to tell people when she was being hurt, and often didn't trust the people who were supposed to protect me even if I did. Beauty did not tell me, "Make them into better people!" Beauty did not say, "Someone will save you; just you wait." Beauty did not explain, "If you are strong, you should be able to fight them on your own."

Beauty told me, "Some people will hurt you. Some are Beasts, who may become better. Some are Gastons, who will not. Either way, you can endure them. Do what you can. Maybe you can't win, but you, little one, you are strong. You can survive this."

Friday, January 4, 2013

Lovely

If you asked someone to describe her performance, the word, 'dexterity' would hover on the edges. Few would actually say it--some genuinely lacked the vocabulary, others felt it an odd word to use in reference to a voice. Her body did move, but slowly, languidly; she was dexterous, but her movements were not, particularly.

Her voice was another matter entirely. She was a scalpel in a room of kitchen knives, a rabbit among wolves and foxes--"Don't throw me into that briar patch!" Not always winning, not always the best, not always the one who was right for the job, but always, always quick and keen and rapid. When she sang, it sounded like a pure sine wave, clear as a bell. When she spoke, there were echoes of that, in how easily her words sliced through others, spreading silence and thought where there had been sound and fury. Or the other way around, when she so wished.

And it all made sense. Sometimes these stories stretched belief, the playwrights had an idea that wouldn't translate properly onto the stage, with no actor to play it properly. "Which always feels like a person from a few thousand years ago being gifted with divine skill for piano playing to me," she would say off-handedly, when someone brought up the subject.

Unless it was a compliment to her, specifically. Then she would smile and laugh and bow, knowing that she couldn't seem too proud or she'd hurt her reputation.

Offstage, she played the innocent, the giggly young girl who had no idea she was so charming, so wonderful, so splendid, whose hair fell perfectly all on its own, whom one would envy and perhaps hate if she were not so nice.

Onstage, she was herself.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Faith

"It's about innocence," Jennifer said.

Kel frowned in thought, strategizing. "So, what, you lose your magic the first time you have se--"

"It's not about virginity," Jennifer bit out. She'd had this conversation before, it seems. "It's about innocence. And no matter what strange ideas people keep confusing, virginity and innocence are not directly related. Someone who'd just been grabbed into a dark alley would probably have more difficulty casting a spell than someone who'd just slept with someone they love."

"Huh," Kel said. "Any idea why that is?"

Jen rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Theories. What magic feels like is...like you're climbing a rock wall, and there's a handhold you aren't quite tall enough to reach, but you could jump for it. But it's difficult, because if you hesitate, if you put anything less than all your strength into that jump, then you won't make it."

"And jumping means letting go of what you know is solid, for what might work," Kel finished.

"Yes."

"So I have to trust...what?"

Jen spread her arms. "Trust that you are built for the world, and the world is built for you. Trust that you are made to fit, designed specifically to be able to make that leap. Trust the universe, trust your body, trust yourself. And"--she closed her eyes and took the sort of deep breaths that Kel had seen Anne take when she had a panic attack. Jennifer flattened her palm and pointed all her fingers forward--"focus." Fire shot from her fingertips in a straight line.

Jen looked to Kel. "You try."

Kel looked at Jen's hands, then her own. I am made for the world. This is nearly indistinguishable from the world being made for me. I am a being of leaps and bounds and energy. I survive. I can do this.

Kel held her palm as Jen had, then paused. I have no need of fire. My survival does not depend upon it at this moment. What do I need?

This was gentler, and so Kel softened the line of her palm into curves, then swept a motion through the air. A sphere of water floated where she had gestured.

"Interesting," said Kel.

Friday, December 21, 2012

How Tumblr Got Me Writing Poetry Again

Happy apocalypse!
When I write poetry, I tend to prefer writing in free verse. I am not sure if I could pinpoint when this started, though I believe it is connected to my obsession with sharing my thoughts, and that my streams of consciousness are more likely to come out in poetry space d     oddly than in  n e a t  l i t t l e  r o w s . Admittedly, I generally prefer to read something with a strict meter and rhyme scheme. This makes poetry the only place where what I like to read and what I like to write differ. At least, it is the only place where they differ due to my preferences rather than my ability.

Tumblr has a dialect of its own, and its own accent, which shares some characteristics with my free verse. There's a tendency to avoid proper capitalization and punctuation, but the thing is, this choice is meaningful. Odd spacing, as I demonstrated in the first paragraph, means something to the reader. It slows the sentence down a bit, and makes it more intense. Similarly, an absence of proper capitalization and ending punctuation makes the text look gentler. Pauses are indicated by commas--commas do not have to be used for their grammatically accurate purpose, which frees them in this way--and more emphatic pauses are indicated by line breaks.

Tumblr's dialect lends itself to more intimate blogging. Is it a stream of words with no particular pausing points? You can see the author meant to do that; there are no line breaks, capitals, or commas. Similarly, does one pause in the middle, as one does for a joke? Just hit 'enter' at the relevant moments. Your audience will hear you.

When I hear people talking about how this format came to be, they usually bring up the tagging system, and the fact that tumblr-users tend to make commentary in the tags. Commas are right out, since inserting a comma breaks the tag. With commas out, putting in periods looks odd, and without periods, there's hardly any reason to capitalize the first letter of a sentence. For that matter, breaks are obvious between tags, but they are not exactly like periods or commas, which encourages various ways of expressing such things outside tags--commas and exclamation marks, yes, and also line breaks.

The origin is fascinating to unravel, and I enjoy hearing (reading) new theories, and seeing new reasons for old and new theories. But there's another question, one I find equally interesting: Why did it stick?

People make up new words all the time, often with very intuitive etymologies. However, unless the terms roll off the tongue, they do not stay around very long, or they stay only in technical discussions. Those sorts of terms often get pieces of jargon attached to them, nicknames.

Tumblr is, by its purpose, not technical. So why did these patterns of writing stay?

They're how we think.

They are at least how I think, or as close as I could come to it in the medium tumblr gives me. People use odd words and acronyms, odd line breaks (stanzas), and even gifs. All of these are part of how the tumblr dialect works. One can write on tumblr and not use this dialect, but it would be difficult to work on tumblr without understanding it.

I began writing on tumblr, and falling into those habits. Expressing thoughts in the way which was most intuitive to me, closest to how I would speak if my speech were a few steps closer to my thoughts.

I feel that rhythm in my bones now, as well as I know how to write stories in English, at least as well as I can carry on a conversation in Spanish. So, when I fall into a rhythm where I might have given up on a poem for lack of ability, or never thought to write a poem at all...I can write it.

Thank you, tumblr community. You got me writing poetry again. I never realized how much I missed it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

If I were not able to play music anymore...

I would keep music in my life. I would likely become a sound engineer, because I am interested in math, though I might also become a music critic to be closer to the audience’s experience of music. If I were not able to play music nor able to participate in the professions related to music, I would still be a fan. Music is too large a part of my life for me to drop it completely. Though I have other interests, such as math, story-writing, and acting, none of them are as thoroughly a part of my life as music. I enjoy them, and I would be distraught to lose any of them, but they are not my passions in the way music is.

I do not know who I would be without music, because so much of my energy and devotion are tied to it. If I could not play music directly, I would still be a part of it.
© 2009-2013 Taylor Hobart