Religion: Learning from Lent

Easter has just passed. Every year, Lent reminds me of the one year I gave something up. I was a sophomore in high school and I gave up wearing pants. Not that I went naked, but I wore skirts and dresses during lent.

I know, weird right? I remember that I knew it was what I was supposed to give up well before lent started, like two or three months. I talked to my parents and arranged with school to allow me to wear skirts in gym class.

It taught me several things. First, it taught me that wearing a skirt doesn’t have to stop me, prevent me, or even slow me down. I could be as feminine as I wanted and still be a feminist. Secondly, it taught me some humility. I only had a handful of skirts and dresses, so I had to repeat my clothes a lot more than I had before. Something I think every consumer-driven-Christian should make sure they do sometime in their walk.  Lastly, it gave me insight into something new I could be, that I could remake myself and become the person I want to be.

God had me give up wearing pants to get me to see that I can be me no matter where I am or what I am wearing. Nothing so silly as pants vs. skirts to make me feel like I am doing it wrong (whatever “it” is!). So when I see my guy friends wear utilikilts, I cheer. When I chose to start wearing pants to church, I knew it was because God doesn’t care what we’re wearing. What he wants is our hearts and our hands.  So I don’t have to wear skirts. Or pants. I can keep walking towards God and following God’s plan no matter what I wear.

Or as Herbrew 6:1 says “[…]let us go on unto perfection[…]”

Review: Timber and Stone

Timber and Stone (Game)

I don’t know exactly how I found the Kickstarter for Timber & Stone, but I decided to back them. I got to be part of the Alpha testing group, so I got the game before most – back when it was seriously buggy. Since then, I’ve continued to follow the development of the game with enjoyment. When the latest version came out at the end of January, I downloaded it with glee.

Premise: A group of settlers has come to a strange land and tries to make a home. This is a dangerous land, full of monsters and dangers. You are the guiding force helping them. Build. Fight. Survive.

In case you can’t already tell, I enjoy this game. Oh, it drives me bananas. I get sooo frustrated. I might play for six hours and then suddenly get totally swamped by a goblin raid and lose everyone. I might play for less than hour and everyone starves. It’s usually my own fault. The challenge is what makes it fun, and the creator Robert has consistently replied to feedback to dial up and down the difficulty – trying to find a perfect medium. When this latest version (1.6.3) came to the Alpha group, I feel like he might have found it. When I screw up, people die. When I manage correctly, they survive.

Anyone who enjoys real-time-strategy and/or building can enjoy this game. For me, who loves these two genres above pretty much everything, this game encompasses everything I love to see. I design. I build. I fight. I grieve when I fail my people. Someday I hope to plunder as well.

Even in a beta status – this is one of my favorite games. It has come so far – I can’t wait to see where he continues to take this game.

If you are a gamer who likes RTS, you absolutely should go to Steam’s Greenlight and get this game!

Writing: Villians are more fun

I love writing villains.

Heroes are easy. Determination. A clear sense of right and wrong. Justice. Hope. Just a dash of threat and weakness to bring them back to be “related to” by the reader. Something special to make the reader imagine they are special too. Easy. It’s like cooking a good dessert. Just enough savory that you aren’t gagging on the sugar overload.

Villains are more fun. They are a challenge. I’ve always liked to avoid the “I’m just a bad person out to rule the world” villain. WHY do they need to rule the world? WHAT motivates them? My favorite villains have always been the ones that have something “good” motivating them. It’s why I’ve enjoyed the show Once Upon a Time so much. Every villain has a past haunting them. Driving them. The worse the villain – the more pitiable the tragedy.

It’s hard to write that villain. Mostly because I struggle to keep the plot alive. Or to remember who my protagonist is. If anyone could gets their hands on the trash I wrote in high school… GOD that stuff is terrible… but the villains keep turning into the “good guys.” I kept coming up with their motivations and then I needed to find something else to drive the badness of the plot.

“WHY is this guy enslaving his people? OOOH, his heart was stolen by a demon and if he doesn’t feed the demon the fear and suffering… they’ll kill him and make him a puppet. So he’s trying to minimize the suffering that would cause.  Awww… shit I’ve got 20,000 words without a lick of foresight about that.”

I still struggle with it. I want to write the novel (I keep trying to write the novel) where the protagonist becomes the villain. I’ve read some books that got close to it. My favorite is Imperial Woman by Pearl Buck which is a fictional biography of Tzu-hsi, the last empress of China. It’s even better because it has facts mixed throughout the personal telling. But by the end of the book I was growling at her for being afraid of change – even as I understood it and grieved for her fears and trembled (knowing the outcome of things like the Boxer Rebellion).

My villain would begin the book/series as a hero. I think a classic hero, chosen for goodness and justice and all those good virtues. Then put the hero in tough positions where sometimes it’s hard to say there is a right answer. Slowly the hero starts to gain faithful followers, but has to crush enemies in order to maintain peace. Not that the hero wants the power, but it’s expected – and those opposing the hero do sound pretty awful. The flout the law. They disrupt lives. They kill good people. The little people need their hero leader.

So the hero must stop them. When prison doesn’t work, death must be delivered. When mere death doesn’t stop a pernicious rebellion tortures more and more extreme are pulled out to convince people to stop fighting. Staking this innocent village to draw out the bandits in the woods. The hero doesn’t want to kill everyone, just keep them from fighting against the hero’s naturally good and just leadership. Fear is better than killing, right?

I have tried to start this project several times, and I’ve slipped, fallen, twisted, and cried. But I’m going to keep trying to tackle this tale. I think it’s important for us to see the slope where we justify our actions. Where we look at our choices with our personal influences and therefore don’t question. When did we cross the line? When did we look at the enemy across the room and not see they are the hero and we are the villain?

I think villains are more fun because they are like me.

Review: All the music ever

I am not a “music person.” By a far cry. I did band and chorus throughout middle and high school. I could/can read sheet music. If I try, I used to be able to pick out a melody on a piano (I haven’t in years). But I’m tone deaf. To me, music is one of two options: background noise and/or poetry.

I’m not kidding either. In high school in order to letter in chorus (I’d been in chorus for 3 years, so senior year when they said I could letter I said “why not”), I had to try out for All-State. In order to prep for this, the chorus teacher hosted some after-school sessions to help people practice things like sight singing from a sheet and this thing where they play the tune and you have to sing the tune – no sheet music. I was “ok” at sight singing, except I usually started on the wrong note. I was hopeless on the other part. I couldn’t ever seem to get it right.

I remember the day Mr. Bunn said “Stop, let me try something.” and he took me through a series of listening exercises. He finally looked at me and said, “I think you might be a little tone deaf.”

I was relieved.

Everyone around me loved music in a way I didn’t. Couldn’t. They seemed to get lost in something that I just never heard. What made this or that so amazing and special? I listened to Hanson and said “meh.” I listened to N’sync’s “bye bye bye” and cringed – because I was listening to the lyrics – which aren’t terribly positive for either the male or female in the song. Even music like the Siberian Orchestra – which I like – I could never get quite as excited as my friends. When I was 18, I finally found out I wasn’t stupid, just a little broken.

What is hilarious is the people who [still] don’t believe this. They can believe in color-blind, even red-green color-blindness. They can believe in people with perfect pitch. But not in a person who isn’t hearing what they hear.

Musings: When does a hobby turn into work?

I know a lot of people with true hobbies – golf, kickball, computer gaming, board gaming, etc. – but then there are people who I can’t quite tell if it’s a hobby or a really-poorly-paid-job.  Sometimes they even “earn” money from their hobby – woodworking, knitting, LARP (yes, there are people that make some money on this… maybe just enough to cover costs but…)  So at what point does the hobby turn into a second job? At what point would you call it that?

As a writer, I sometimes feel like my novel IS a second job. I’m tired, my brain is twisted in knots, but I force myself to sit down and write a hundred words, or five hundred words. There are days where writing is more “job” than hobby – and I’m not getting paid for my writing.

I have been struggling to write lately.  And by lately, I mean since about November. My work has gotten very busy. Not in just hours (although there have been weeks of that too), but in mental power needed. I’m stretching professionally in my role as we’re making some changes in the company and I’m getting to take a lead on them. Add to this a major home-renovation project of my bathtub in my one-bathroom condo and… sitting down to write is both a guilty pleasure and a chore.

So I’ve let myself write when I have the urge, and let myself not-write (binge-watch tv and crochet, play video games, etc.) as well. I have written a few thousand words in the past few weeks, but we’re talking like 5,000 words in three weeks. That’s like 250 words on average per day. Granted, there was one day of like 2,500 words.

At what point does a hobby become something more? I’m not a “professional” writer. I’ve never been paid for anything I’ve written. I want to be paid. I want to be published. I have a soft-spot in my heart for the idea of holding a hardcover copy of a novel with my name on the cover…

It’s not questions I have answers to. Do I call myself professional if I write daily? Do I call myself a professional if I’m paid? Only if I’m making my living at it? How do I balance sanity and social-life with my desire to be a writer?

Feminism: The Goethe Spectrum

This morning on the elevator there was a man who was giving me the total hibbie-jibbies. I can’t tell you why, there was something that made me want to cringe away from him. My stance shifted so I could keep him in the corner of my eye without facing him. He was dressed nice, rolled a briefcase (looked like a sample case really). But there was definitely a piece of my brain running through the reactions I could take if he addressed me/threatened me – because if he addressed me it would be a threat. Even I was wondering what was wrong with me – the level of reaction is pretty unusual to a normal looking dude.  My tension evaporated when the elevator doors closed and he was on the other side of them.

A few years ago, this idea of “Schrödinger’s Rapist” started to circulate the internet. At first I lauded it, it does help to explain when a woman might be nervous around strange men (the first five minutes of meeting someone).  But I feel it is incomplete.  The problem is in the concept of Schrödinger’s cat” – that in an instant both universes exist and thus you must treat them as equally plausible.

This just isn’t true when addressing human interactions. So as the past few years have gone by, I have pondered on how I would adjust the theory. And it’s not really Schrödinger’s rapist as much as it is the Spectrum of Threat. Or the Goethe Spectrum.  Newton was the one credited with breaking apart white light to identify the seven colors “of the rainbow”, but Goethe used the word spectrum – meaning the blending between the colors in between the stark colors Newton identified.

Because that’s the kicker, it’s not a 50/50 sort of thing. There are a million little clues that I filter when assessing threat when I see someone for the first time. Taking a 0-10 scale isn’t a bad start, but it’s really more like a 0-100 when you start considering the nuances.  For the sake of this blog, we’ll simplify this to 0-10:

0: No threat. Dead body or otherwise incapacitated to potentially threaten me in any way.

1: Breathing human. Might be a man? So the possibility of threat still exists in some universe from this person, but not likely this universe. If I haven’t seen a slider’s hole or heard the TARDIS, I’m probably safe.

2: Visibly a man. He’s a man. Probably. Threat so minimal that I can feel safe to continue my normal actions. As long as I’m not 150% stupid, this is a totally manageable interaction.

3: Might be a straight man. So he may or may not be giving indications of interest, but there is nothing to concern me of a threat. This means either a rejection has already been gracefully handled or it is clear he would never pursue action (i.e. he is in a happy relationship he wouldn’t risk even if I hit on him).

4: Definitely straight. This is a guy who might have indicated interest. Or has “that look” (which is almost indescribable in text format) that says he admires what he sees in a female form. There is no sense of danger or threat, but if a lot of cards hit the table in just the wrong way… there is just enough here to keep me wary. It’s unlikely I’m unsafe, but I must be the one making sure the appropriate barriers are retained.

Frankly, this is where most of my male co-workers fall when I meet them the first time. I am infinitely aware that most of them are probably “safe” guys, but if I do not make sure I keep my shit in line – we’ll use the inept phrase “misunderstood signals”…

5: Unknown danger levels. Dead in the middle of the spectrum, this might be someone I can’t get a read on, or getting mixed danger levels (i.e. the guy in the elevator this morning retained a “5” because my gut reaction was more dangerous, but he had all the signs of like a 3 or 4 kind of guy)

6: Small danger. There is something this person is saying, wearing, or doing that makes me edgy. The way their eyes rove. They’ve admitted attraction and when rejected say “Your loss baby.” They are the guy who I have doubts if I was drunk they wouldn’t take advantage… I don’t think they will attack me, but if they got a drunk yes – they would classify it as a yes…

7: Don’t be alone. This is the guy who might have asked more than once – and remember, this is a first meeting, the first time I meet them they can’t take a no. Made advances after rejection. Sometimes there is a space invasion – Probably not actually a threat, just an asshole. Probably.

8: Threat level: high. This is my line for “get me out of here.” because this is when the guy is doing more than talking. He is making it quite clear – if the opportunity presents he believes it’s his right. Sometimes this is not in words, but in body language. This guy holds the door and purposefully stands in so you have to squeeze by and gives a dirty grin. Calls you a bitch if you don’t let him “be a gentleman” and in other ways attempts to assert inappropriate control over me and my body.

9: Danger Zone! This is the guy who is trying to get me to drink from a glass which I did not have control over for a period of time. The guy who called me on my phone when I knew I never gave him my number. There is a physical threat here and it may not be right now but he has made it clear that verbal “no” will not deter him.

10: Rapist: I am being raped right now.

Fortunately, I’ve never had too much exposure above about an 8.5 on this scale and those have been few and far between (and I have gotten damn clear about calling them out). There are still men I will not be alone with because during this initial meeting they pinged as a 7+, and in a group I maintain a discrete three-person-buffer zone. It’s very difficult to come back from a back first impression.

So I don’t even want to talk about Schrödinger’s Rapist anymore with my friends. I get why men might get annoyed by the black-or-white idea. There are a million variables to filter:

  • 40-something man on subway car reading a newspaper, wearing a suit. 3.2
  • 20-something man/boy with his buddies. Possibly drunk. On subway. 9pm Friday night. 7.9
  • Group of any age men talking and staring at me (location matters). 6.8-7.8
  • Man in gay bar flinging a drunk arm over my shoulder. 4.1
  • Car with a male in the driver seat following me home in the dark. Rises from 4.1 to 8.1 when he follows me through a neighborhood that horse-shoed back to the main road.
  • Man I see in the grocery store three times and keeps smiling at me with too much tooth. 7.1

Location, age, appearance, and body language are the major factors. Body language is one I know I rely heavily on with these strangers. How are they choosing to orient to me? (casual, direct, leaning forward or away) What are they doing with their hands? Honestly, I have found the phrase “idle hands are the devil’s playthings” to be all too true. Someone with something in their hands (drumsticks, book, phone, hell-cigarette- etc.) is far less threatening than the man doing nothing with his hands.

The scale once I get to know someone becomes far more complicated. It isn’t two dimensional. What are your friends like? How do they influence your behavior? Are you close to your family or estranged? Why? How do you behave to me on a regular basis? How long have I known you? Have I met any significant other(s)? -The factors beyond first meeting are ten times more complex.

As limited as I believe Schrödinger’s Rapist is to defining the initial impression of threat, the scales to define relationships after I start to know someone… it is the difference between a wheelbarrow and the Enterprise.

Writing: #WeNeedDiverseBooks Debate

As a writer, I do feel some draw to put my two cents into the debate which has arisen around “Spend 12 months not reading cis white male authors” (CWM) or not.  In case you’ve missed it (somehow), K.T. Bradford challenged readers to take the next 12 months and either focus on a group of writers you normally don’t read (women, LBGT, race, etc.) or at least cut out the CWM authors who dominate the market.

To me, this challenge would be both easy and difficult. Many of my favorite authors are women. But many of them are white cis women… so I still have room to expand my repertoire myself.  I do think it is an excellent concept for people to expand their reading exposure. Get a new view of the world. Get into the head and heart of someone alien to yourself.

It is one of the things I miss about school.  My high school had amazing English teachers who introduced me to books and ideas I never would have discovered on my own. Both in class and outside the classroom, my teachers encouraged me to read great books. (Granted, one of them also suggested I read The Lovely Bones and I never quite forgave her for that one.)  In college, my history professors encouraged us to the look at literature as an integral piece of the culture(s) we studied, we would read political pieces, short stories, and poetry very regularly when we studied history (not usually novels, but I’m sure that’s only because of time constraints of semesters).

Without school pushing to have people read and study context, people do fall into a place of comfort (as John Scalzi discussed) and read authors similar to themselves. I do. I have found myself picking up a book and thinking “God, this is just like the last 3 series I’ve read.” and then follow it with “why can’t I ever find something original anymore?!?!”  That’s my sign I’m getting entrenched. For me it feels stifling, and I seek out new authors. I sniff into different sections of my local bookstore. I pick up a few $0.99 titles on Amazon or Google (or now I’m going to start looking at Scribd). I look at curated lists on Goodreads.com. That’s how I find new books. New authors. New ideas.

It was only a little while ago I hit one of these funks and found The Twentieth Wife Indu Sundaresan, and immediately read A Feast of Roses (the sequel).  Personally, I can’t imagine getting so ingrained with CWM authors to avoid seeking out others.

I think it’s healthy to expand your horizons. See how others are different (and the same!) Explore the world from a new set of eyes. And yes, sometimes it’s good to get uncomfortable because the author presented something you are unfamiliar with.  And yes, you may walk away thinking “no. never. Baaaaad” – I find I can say why I dislike the idea(s) much better having read about it.  (Perfect example: Twilight).

I do think as a political statement, it might help the book industry to see that we (readers) want and need that diversity.  I have been looking since I read the initial few comments and articles on this, but haven’t been able to find primary resource (census data, industry reports, etc.) which back up the statement that CWM dominate the market.  I can only say that the bookstores certainly reflect that.  Google Play is a little better (or at least presents me with the oddities of my reading that let me explore outside CWM authors).

So will I avoid cis white male written books this year? No. Will I seek out non cis white male authors this year. Hell yes. I will always seek out diversity in my library.  I have loved The Tokaido Road, The Twentieth Wife, Imperial Woman and Dalai Lama, My Son: A Mother’s Autobiography too much. I do think this has made me think about being more deliberate in finding some of those groups where I haven’t read as much. And I will continue to encourage my friends to also be deliberate. Look at your reading list. Are you in a comfort zone or are you seeking to grow your reading list outside those lines?