Sunday, December 25, 2011

Coming Home

Between this post and the previous, this blog hit 3,500 views.

This is my 150th post.

Starting points: Joseph Campbell and xkcd. Specifically, Joseph Campbell's discussion of going off to/coming back from war and this xkcd.

The xkcd immediately makes me think of Narnia, though I only know Narnia in basic terms, so that may show more of my ignorance surrounding the books than anything else.

I remember the opening scene of the first Narnia movie, where all the kids are sent off in a train, which leads to the wardrobe, which leads to the lion and the witch et al. The kids are leaving because there's a war going on, and there's a war brewing in Narnia. Fairly clear parallelism there, unless one misses the time period.

When we send soldiers out to fight, we recognize that we are sending them into this new world. We have things one has to go through an accomplish before going into that world, because people who grew up over on this side aren't properly prepared. Part of this is simple skills--for example, this is how you hold this weapon--but part of it is also mental training. These people are entering a world where it is expected that you will kill fellow human beings who are attempting to kill you and those around you. Even if one comes from a place where that happens, the structure of teamwork in the military is almost certainly different.

The children's literature that the xkcd is talking about also tends to go through this sort of preparation. "What? You must have the wrong guy, I'm not the hero!" Then whoever gradually warms up to the idea, or learns humility, or makes whatever sacrifice and shift needed to settle into the role. Part of the story may even be devoted to the horror that shocks a prepared into the right place and others out of it. An entire village destroyed, a comrade in danger of death, something like that.

And then the soldier comes home. This is, by definition, an equal shift to what going away was, as |A-B|=|B-A|. So we've got a cultural understanding that the soldiers are going to have an adjustment period after coming back, in which many of them will be traumatized, given that they just went off to war. We've got another ceremony to bring them back, just as we had one to send them out. Right?

...Kind of?

What xkcd highlights is the major issue, one that I would guess the Narnia books can get around: our hero is alone. No war buddies who get it, no one realizing what the hero has just been through, simply home->adjustment->war->home. This would be ever-so-slightly traumatic.

Luckily, it's not always this bad in real life. We do not go to war alone. There are things we do to help our veterans adjust back. But, through it all, there's this assumption snaking through that any difficulty switching back is only adjusting to physical or mental health issues gained in the other country. It's a culture shock. They have been at war in a country not their own.* The healthiest veteran still has to come home to a home isn't the same home, because the veteran is not the soldier is not the person who signed up. This is not to say there aren't issues with mental and physical health, given that the person just went off to war, just that they aren't the whole story.

As a professor of my mother's would say, I've now told you a little more than I know. I've never been, so I only know secondhand. Still...each ceremony has its complement, else it isn't complete.

* Civil wars excluded, but being at war with one's own country brings in another thorny set of issues.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

College Audition

The part in the beginning is because some schools require extra comments in order to be considered.

Stream of Consciousness

"Who are you to tell me that I'm less than what I should be?"

There is a difference between logically realizing that one has intrinsic worth, and feeling that it is so. This is a matter of life and death.

There is a difference between guilt-tripping someone into staying with one because one needs them, and one saying one needs them. This is the difference between smiles and exhaustion.

There is a difference between losing someone from death and losing someone from disloyalty.

There is a difference between saying it doesn't matter, and meaning it.

Inadequate communication is not lying. Well crafted lies are fine instances of communication.

Beauty used to be separated from the sublime.

Beauty is an empty place at the table: This world is ordered, and wants to accept you.

Sublime means destruction you are sheltered from. The burning ship half a mile from shore, the thunderstorm rattling on your roof while you watch the windows.

Hope is realizing it gets better.

Fear is doubting that it will.

Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow...this is where a lot of emotions come in. Fear, anger, and joy can be present tense, but so many emotions are based on anticipation. Hope, fear, worry, confusion (anticipated understanding)...

Running for the fun of it. Before the load breaks one's back, turns flat one's feet, simply...running. Wind rushing, feet slap-slapping, free. There's something clean in a chase, in a run.

If the chased is worth catching, the run is a reward in itself.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Linda and Raoul

Linda had bound her hair back neatly, so she could focus on the bread. This much dough always took a certain amount of focus, even when she'd been at her first home and kneading regularly. Now, it was a strain, but a good one.

"Why are you baking bread, Mom?" Ruth asked.

"Because it's good to like your own cooking, and I won't if I'm out of practice."

Whether Linda needed the focus or not, Ruth needed entertainment or she'd leave her chair to find mischief outside. Linda set into the story she could recite--had recited, for some years--in her sleep.

"Once upon a time, there lived three daughters. When their father went on a trip, each asked for a gift: the eldest, for a fine dress; the middle for a set of pearls. The youngest asked only for a red rose."

Ruth kicked the ground, scowling. "I hate that story."

Linda started, looking up. "It used to be your favorite. I told it every night." The redundant You always begged me to hung in the air.

"Yeah, but--it's stupid!" Ruth cried when she got angry, which tended to make her angrier. Linda pretended not to see her daughter swiping a sleeve across reddening eyes. "Beauty gets together with a guy who was literally a beast to her. She could've gotten really hurt!"

"She didn't," Linda said, as if speaking to some ghost at the level of her arm.

"So what!" Ruth shook her head. "The Beast could have killed her! What sort of story is that to be telling? If I just go out and try to change someone, they'll just become perfect no matter how bad they are?" Ruth shook her head furiously. Linda waited. "If Beauty were real, she'd probably be dead." Ruth huffed into the silence, staring at her mother. If it had been anyone else, they'd assume Ruth was an angry person and move appropriately. But her mother saw tears of anger shift to simple tears. This ruined her favorite bedtime story. She hurt.

Linda sighed. "Yes." She leaned into the bread, fingers and arms working the familiar patterns even if her muscles protested a bit more. "She should. And Beauty knew as much."

"Then why did she go?"

Linda shook her head, looking far away as her arms rolled beneath her. "Beauty...she was responsible. Or selfless, if you like. She was the youngest daughter, but she was precocious. The smart one, the one that grew up fastest after Mother died. And she knew it. It wasn't hubris; her family simply told her, looked to her. So when her sisters asked for gaudy gifts, she asked for something simple, something she knew her father could have gotten at the last farm before he came home." Linda's eyes closed. "If it had been a normal trip. It was supposed to be easy..."

Linda returned to the present and worked the bread again. "But the storm came. Father's predicament was twice her fault--first, she had asked for the rose, second, he had seen her first.

"She could help, as no one else could, as it was no one else's duty to. And she was the easiest to lose. She was comforting, but comfort was luxury. They needed a man, if they wanted to do business with anyone. And"--Linda shook her head--"marriage was business. Her sisters could catch good husbands, for though they had less money than they'd like, they had enough to survive, enough to pay dowry, and they had beauty and titles to give. The youngest was not their match in charms, she would fetch a lesser price. She knew it. And was this really so much worse than whatever husband she might find anyway? The girl's fate was never her own.

"So...yes. Beauty could have died. She gave her life. Not as people mean it when they say a soldier dies, but as they should when a soldier goes to war. She went off somewhere unknown, to work under the orders of a person she did not know, beside people she did not know, to keep what she considered her home safe. Beauty might have died; she knew it well. Beauty might have lived in misery; she knew it well. But..." Linda shrugged. "It is hard enough, to know one might be called upon to make that choice, without the story reminding you of those 'what if's. Anyone in Beauty's place would know them well." Linda looked her daughter in the eye. "You find the beast as you grow, Ruth. In any form. It is easy for a nagging fear to work its way in. That's why we teach you happy endings, so early. We say children need them, but we all do. Don't throw hope away so easily."

Linda folded the bread. Ruth swung her feet.

"You..." Linda nodded. "And Dad..."

"Is a wonderful man, who made a mistake."

Ruth nodded.

"Did...Beauty...really scold him when he was all scary?"

Linda shrugged. "He needed it."

Ruth stared at her shoes. "I think...maybe it's not such a bad story."

A smile tucked itself into one corner of Linda's mouth. "Oh?"

"No. Beauty was--is really strong, and smart. And the Beast...he was mostly rude, I think. Not bad." Ruth paused in thought, then grinned at her mother. "I bet their daughter would be a handful."

A grin broke through Linda's mouth. "Oh, doubtless. As fierce as her father."

"And clever as her mother," Raoul called from the next room over, shutting the door after himself.


Linda sighed happily and tore the dough into loaf-sized pieces for the oven. It was good to like one's own story.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Opening the Closet

[A person walks on the stage, wearing clothing that accentuates curves well, and has notably feminine curves to accentuate. Jeans and a T-shirt--nothing fancy; nothing that says definitively "these are clothes a female wears" or "these are clothes a male wears". A smattering of polite applause sounds.]

Voiceover [nervously]: I'm not sure I can do this.

Person [confidently, in the same voice]: You don't know I'm a woman. [offscreen confused murmurs] I mean it. You don't. There are a hundred ways to define "male" or "female". If you say my curves make me a woman, what does that mean for flat-chested women? For that matter, does that definition mean that prepubescent girls aren't female?

Voiceover: They don't like it; you should just shut up; they don't like it; [hysterically] they don't like me!

Person [still calm]: You could define it as the presence or absence of a vagina or penis. People usually ignore what that means for same-sex marriage--do we need to drop our pants or raise our skirts at the altar? Even ignoring that, you haven't seen me with my pants off. I could have both, or neither, or the one you aren't expecting.

Other Voiceover [old enough to be Person's parent, sharply]: You obscene little girl.

Person: You could make a case that it's a case for hormones. That's still complicated, more so, in some ways. It's a spectrum, first of all, and people's hormones vary. In fact, the platonic ideal of "woman" would have eternally shifting hormones--that's what a healthy, wild-type, physically female's body does. Even taking that into account, people can take hormones. If one defines it as the body's "natural" state--well, first of all, that's an insult to trans people, but that's the point of this speech, isn't it? And besides that, what is its natural state? If I'm on the birth control pill, is that unnatural enough to call my womanhood into question?

Other Voiceover: Yes.

Person: So both physical definitions--one's holistic impression and the presence or absence of a vagina or penis--are out. Hormones are, as well. You could use them, I suppose, but you'd have to figure out some way to figure out the ones who fall on the line--and really, anything except the holistic approach is an invasion of privacy. That leaves chromosomes. XX is female and XY male, right?

Both Voiceovers [first hysterically, second still sharply]: Of course. Get down, you're making a fool of yourself.

Person: But there are more viable combinations than that. Nearly anything with at least one X is viable--XXY and XYY, to name the most common. One could say that we could define those by how many of them "seem" male or female, but at that point we come back to the same issue--holistic, primary sexual characteristic, hormonal?

[Person pauses to breathe, drops head. The room is silent.]

Person: I don't know how many of you will listen. But...maybe...I'll be that last nudge, for some of you. Or I'll be a nudge along the way. Gender isn't simple; sex isn't simple. [Person looks up.] I am what I choose to be. So are you. So is everyone. So...please.

Voiceover [quietly]: Please.

Person: [shakes head, swallows] Try to understand.

[Person walks off stage. Quiet applause starts, fade to silence and black before we see whether it polite or genuine.]
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