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Monthly Archives: July 2016

(Friday Fiction) X-Men: A Tale of Two Kitties

Writing 150(Continuing my little snippets of fiction imagining Beast settling in at the Jean Grey School, because the news from Marvel coming out of Comic-Con sounded really really bad for our merry band of mutants. While the X-Men line has…maybe seven titles out right now, many of them will be taking a hiatus once Civil War II is over. Then we’ll get the ominously-titled Death of X, which then spins right into Inhumans vs. X-Men. The promotional material tips the scales pretty heavily against the X-Men, though this could all be a swerve seeded by Marvel to get X-fans riled up. It’s working.

The worst part, of course, is that Beast doesn’t actually feature in ANY of the promos. He’s working with the Inhumans right now to find a cure for the Terrigen Mists, but it looks like that won’t lead anywhere. He doesn’t show up in any of the Death of X variants, Inhumans vs. X-Men, or any of the X-Men OR Inhuman titles for the rest of the year. 

Someone has to write about Dr. McCoy. Might as well be me, right?)

Henry mumbled to himself as he squeezed beneath one of the computer panels of his shiny new basement laboratory. Something about the electronics just wasn’t flowing right, and while he had narrowed it down to the tremendous and chaotic bundle of wires beneath the main monitor, that still left literally hundreds of tiny insulated cables that had to be checked by hand. It would have been a chore for anyone, but with thick and brutish paws like his the work went twice as slowly as it should have. Not for the first time, Dr. McCoy regretted relying on Shi’ar tech so heavily. It allowed him to do so much, but it was an absolute nightmare to troubleshoot.

He held a dozen or so of these impossibly thin wires, feeling them roll through the leathery pads of his fingertips. He used his other paw to adjust his glasses, squinting in the dim light to see the colors of each one. He felt the wrench he was holding brush against the fur above his brow, and was certain that there was now a thin sheen of synthetic oil sinking into it. Another mutter under his breath, this one just quiet enough for him to hear. He was going to take a long, hot bath after this, drying time be damned.

It was hard work, of course, building the tools that would go on to build the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning — but then, he knew it would be. That was part of what drew him to seek out the position in the first place. It had been far too long since he had been able to put his considerable talents to use for a cause he believed in unreservedly, and now he had his chance. He had a hand — paw — in rebuilding Xavier’s dream from the ground up, in shepherding a new generation of young mutants towards the ideal that one day human and mutantkind could live in peace. That thought was what propelled him through countless long nights, several hours of poring over manuals of alien technology and navigating his own physical difficulties with performing fine detail work. Most of the time, it was enough. Today, though…

The fur on the back of his neck stood up. There was someone in the lab.

He bumped his head and broad back under the console as he tried to slip out, rubbing the back of his head with a grumble. He tilted his nose up, sniffing the air — nothing but metal, coolant, the lubricant he was rubbing into his fur again…

He tossed the wrench down with a frustrated “Bah!” and looked around the lab, his goggles glinting as they caught the much brighter fluorescents beaming from the high ceiling. There was no movement, just the chaos of his dream lab being put together. Still, something didn’t feel right…

He felt a breeze ruffle the whiskers on his right side, and his ear flicked as he heard the barest whisper of fabric rubbing against fabric. Someone was behind him. He turned his head slightly in that direction and caught the scent he was looking for.

He leaped before the arm had even lifted, flipping a twisted somersault in the air to land on his feet (and one hand) while facing the spot he had been just a few seconds ago. Henry snarled instinctively, ears flattened, mane lifted; it embarrassed him to show his teeth that way, so he followed up quickly with witty banter.

“I don’t know who you are…” He looked up then, and saw Katherine Pryde phasing into sight, eyes wide and clearly startled.

“Well,” he said, “Kitty Pryde, as I live and breathe…” Henry straightened, grateful for his fur for once. As uncomfortable as it was, it did a wonderful job of hiding it when he blushed. He threw out his arms and rushed into a hug before she had a chance to recover.

Beast felt her stiffen for a split-second before she relaxed, letting her arms drop around his neck. His heart skipped a beat when she laughed; he spun her around and gave her the briefest squeeze before setting her down. For a moment, it was just like old times. All was right with the world.

“Hey, Hank!” She bounced on her feet as she landed, pushing a lock of her hair behind an ear. “Logan told me you were down here, so I thought I’d surprise you…probably wasn’t the best idea.”

Henry smiled, but not too wide. He knew how off-putting his fangs could be. “Ahhh, my dearest Kitty, a thousand apologies! It’s…been an eventful few months. I’m afraid my fight reflexes have gotten a bit too good.”

“You don’t have to explain that to me!” She smiled back. “When you live the life we do, you learn to hate surprises.” She turned around, looking at the enormous space that was only now just taking shape. “Look at all this, though! I’m impressed! You’ve really outdone yourself.”

Beast took her hand in his when she turned around, unable to keep himself from smiling wider. “Ahh, you’re too kind! It’s easy to do something impressive when you have access to alien technology and unlimited resources. Would you like for me to give you a tour?”

“I’d like nothing better.” Kitty squeezed one of his fingers and stepped to the side, letting him lead her. “I thought I recognized Shi’ar tech in this place. It has this really distinct feeling when you phase through it.”

Hank’s eyebrows lifted. “So that’s why I haven’t been able to get the main monitor working. I knew the design would be quite touchy, but I figured it wouldn’t be so bad once I had safely ensconced them behind the safety paneling.”

“Oh, no! I didn’t think you had turned anything on. I’m so sorry Henry…here, I’m not doing anything this afternoon, why don’t we order in a pizza and I’ll help you fix it?”

Henry paused as he walked along with Shadowcat, clapping his other massive paw over her hand. He looked into her eyes, his whiskers practically bristling with contentment. He had his doubts about the Jean Grey School — it was quite a risk, after all — but this was the first moment he was certain he had made the right decision.

“Nothing would make me happier. Let me show you the Warbird Fusion Reactor, and then I’ll tell you about this marvelous place I’ve found. They’ll even take custom toppings! I had an extra-large steak tartare pizza that was just delightful.”

Kitty laughed, “Oh Hank, that sounds awful!”

“My dear, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.” Beast smiled, then lead Pryde through a narrow passage and behind a panel that hadn’t been affixed to the wall yet. This place would be really something, once it all came together.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2016 in Comic Books, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Gaming) Finding My Path

Gaming 150The first game I ever ran was a Changeling: the Dreaming campaign way back in high school. My players were an eshu, satyr, redcap and sluagh, and somewhere in there I ended up crossing things over with The X-Files because I was young and didn’t know any better. Do you remember those metal spikes they killed people with by stabbing it into the back of their necks? It was cold iron given to government agents to snuff out faeries. Yeah. I know.

I’ve run sporadically since then — mostly Dungeons and Dragons in its various incarnations or Pathfinder. This latest campaign was an old idea that I dusted off and spruced up, thinking that I would finally get to tell it right this time. I quickly discovered, though, that Pathfinder can be just as crunchy with numbers as D&D, thank you, and that if you don’t really understand the system home-brew rules will seriously fuck you up.

My players are a bunch of wonderful people — they’re smart, creative, passionate and fun. I’m not ashamed to admit that there is a huge amount of performance anxiety around running something for them. I want to do something that makes one friend feel like a bad ass, gives another friend the chance to explore psychological terrain he finds interesting, provide another friend with the political drama he’s discovering an affinity for, and let another friend find an ingenious way out of a difficult situation. All while keeping a whole set of rules and story beats in my head, improvising characters and plot details on the fly, and struggling to keep track of what has happened, what needs to happen, and what CAN’T happen. Running a tabletop RPG is really difficult you guys, especially if you have good players.

I’m also not ashamed to admit that I often let that anxiety get the best of me. I’ve snapped at players once or twice for trying to tweak their characters to maximum benefit when really, that’s just how they find enjoyment in the game. I’ve taken feedback badly, and let constructive criticism blow my perception of how poorly things were going out of proportion. I take storytelling very seriously, and perfectionist tendencies, chronic anxiety and an unfocused, disorganized ADHD brain is quite possibly the worst mix of traits to tell an improvised and collaborative story with people who are in all likelihood way smarter than you.

Now that I’m diving back into the pool, I’m trying to ease off the idea of telling a perfect story. I’ve learned a great deal about the way the story delivery mechanism influences what works best, and with tabletop RPGs I’ve found it works best to keep things a bit simpler. We’ve trained ourselves to think medieval fantasy has to have these sprawling, complicated worlds with rich societies and a gigantic number of characters, but when you’re getting together with a bunch of friends for six hours once a month there is no way people can hold these little plot and story seeds in their heads. Dense, sprawling mythologies work well in stories that are a bit more permanent — TV shows, novels, even movies. But I’ve found they work less well when you’re basically sitting around a campfire.

The direct approach tends to work better. The immediacy of creating the story around the table lends itself to scenes and situations that grab your emotions by the throat. The games that are most memorable and fun are the ones where you have a bad guy you clearly hate, a tough struggle that you barely make it through, and a reason for triumph that’s personal and reaffirming. The patience required to lay down a complicated story, brick by brick, is better spent parsing how characters can grow, change and excel within the confines of the system and the world you’ve built. Making sure your story is clear enough that your players know the next thing they need to do and why they need to do it goes a long way towards making sure they can get invested in what’s going on. Shadowy figures and mysterious conspiracies work for a few games, but at some point there needs to be clear progress and a strong sense of momentum pulling the characters from scene to scene.

So what I’ve focused on with this latest attempt at verbal storytelling is crafting scenes that make for fun jumping-off points for the characters while having hooks that appeal to my players or at least their characters. It’s been fun taking the metaplot, distilling it down to a series of actions, and then breaking up those actions into progressable goals from scene to scene. It makes the skeleton of the story strong but flexible, capable of carrying us all along but bending to suit the needs of the people around the table.

I’m so nervous about running this weekend, but really excited as well. I can’t wait to put what I’ve learned to use and see how I’ve progressed as a storyteller. Wish me luck for this Saturday, folks!

 

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(Writing) The State of the Rabbit

Writing 150This summer I’ve been trying to focus more on my writing — after all, I’m a writer, and that’s what I do. The trouble is I lead a pretty full life as it is. I have a day job that’s fairly intensive, so I need to spend my work hours actually, you know, working. My commute is pretty long, and while I can definitely fill the time with podcasts (and I do) that takes a bit more time away from my passion. I’m married, and I love my husband, which means I want to spend as much time with him as I can. And I have friends that I love to spend time with too! There’s exercise, and cooking, and making sure the burrow isn’t an absolute mess, and spending time with our rabbit Puckles, and reading, and general adult responsibilities, and…you get the point.

I’ve said all of this before, and if you’re a writer who isn’t making a living at it chances are you have the same devil on your back too. It’s not easy, but the struggle makes success that much sweeter. Or so I’ve been lead to understand.

Despite the difficulty, I feel like I’ve been doing better with writing these days. That means sacrificing time spent doing other things while also learning to become more efficient with the time I do have, but even that’s a good thing. The fact that there’s such limited time to do everything that I want to do means that I really have to sit down and determine my priorities. Once that’s done, I really have to make sure I know how I’m going to focus on them. And then, I painstakingly develop the skills necessary to actually execute on them. Little by little, day by day, I’m growing up.

The blog and the Patreon are top priorities, of course — I’ve committed myself to a certain amount of output for each one, and I must set aside time to make sure I hit those goals. That’s still a work in progress. I had to let the blog drop last week to concentrate on work, the Patreon and a few other things, and I’m still behind. It’ll take some dedicated time and focus to catch up, but I think I can do it.

This weekend, I’ll be running my Pathfinder game for the first time in a long while. If you’ve ever run a tabletop role-playing game, you know how daunting the prep work can be. I went into the whole affair relatively unprepared for the kind of story I wanted to tell, and paid the price for it. When Ryan went to Japan earlier in the year, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to step back, get some knowledge about how to properly run Pathfinder, and actually tinker with the game so that balance and story issues are hammered out.

I’m still not 100% there, but I’m pretty close. I’ve used the race creation rules in the Advanced Race Guide to retool my homebrew races so they’re not quite so overpowered and I’ve made sure that my PCs were mostly up-to-date with their sheets. It was a good chance to revisit their power sets and really understand what they’re good at. I’ve also taken notes on the players and my understanding of what they want out of their games, tinkering with how I tell the story to include more of that. Mostly, I wanted to re-dedicate myself to making the game fun for people. My anxiety about running got in the way of that in this really big way, so even though I’m trying to be more careful and focused I also want to be more relaxed. Not every experiment will work, but being adaptable is one of the most important traits you can have as a game master.

Beyond the blog, the Patreon and Pathfinder, there are a number of projects I’ll need to tackle before September rolls around. There are two story commissions that I need to complete and publish — one needs an editing pass while the other still needs the first draft. A third short story will need to be written for a zine that I’m lucky enough to be a part of, so I’ll need to jump on that. And a short story for a Changeling: the Dreaming anthology needs to be pitched; I’ve finally locked on to an idea for it, so I’ll be putting together the submission for that very soon.

At the end of August, I’ll be headed back to college. I’ve enrolled part-time in a local community college with an aim to get an Associate’s Degree that transfers to a four-year university. I haven’t decided if I’ll try to get a Bachelor’s in English or Psychology, but either way I’m tremendously excited. School’s no joke, of course, so I’ll need to get even better at squeezing every drop out of productivity time that I can.

I’m juggling a lot right now. It’s important that I’m smart about how I spend my time but also self-aware enough to know when I’m being overwhelmed. Stress management is just as important as being productive, and for someone like me — prone to avoidance behaviors when my anxiety kicks into high gear — it’s imperative that I take the time and space necessary to remain grounded and focused.

That will mean having to say no to a lot more things, just for the sake of preserving my sanity. A cup that’s completely full will not retain anything, of course; and the whole point of most of this stuff is to learn and grow as a writer and human being. Having the space to hold what I’m already working with is a necessary part of that process.

I might be a little harder to reach online and sparse in my usual hangouts for a while. I want to get better about setting expectations about my available time and energy, so this is part of that.

Things are busy right now, and they’ll be getting busier. I might be able to dip my toe into the waters of the Internet when I’ve gotten my time figured out, but for now, the limited time and attention has to be devoted to other things.

I’ll still be here, of course, and I welcome comments. I’ll make it a priority to engage here!

 
 

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(Comic Review) The Totally Awesome Hulk #1-4

Reading 150The Hulk has been one of those characters where it’s been impossible for him to settle down for very long. Every writer has a wild idea with him that they’d like to try out, and that means over the past several years he’s had wildly different status quos. After Greg Pak’s legendary run with Planet Hulk and World War Hulk, Bruce Banner has been imprisoned and replaced as the Hulk by his nemesis, Thunderbolt Ross (Hulk by Jeph Loeb); separated from the Hulk as payment for services rendered to Doctor Doom (Jason Aaron); remerged and used as a “tactical nuke” for the worst case scenarios (Mark Waid); underwent a moral inversion to become the villainous Kluh (AXIS); and finally managed to remain the physical Hulk with Banner’s intellect intact, intent on depowering every gamma-irradiated hero or villain in the Marvel universe.

After Secret Wars destroyed the old Marvel multiverse and replaced it with…something else, it was time for another big status quo shift. As part of Marvel’s ongoing initiative to replace its A-list superheroes with more diverse legacy characters, it was revealed that Amadeus Cho — teen super-genius — would be the new Hulk in the All-New, All-Different Marvel. Better yet, Greg Pak would return to write the series and the character he created, while Frank Cho would be the regular artist. I’m not entirely sure, but this is the first time one of the Big Two publishers have had an Asian superhero written and drawn by Asian creators. It’s kind of a big deal.

So…how is Amadeus Cho doing as the new, totally-awesome Hulk? Not bad! I don’t know an awful lot about Amadeus before now, but he’s considered the eighth (?) smartest person in the world and has been the sidekick of both Banner and the “god” Hercules. Amadeus was convinced that if he had the power of the Hulk, he could remain in control and be the “best Hulk ever”. Under mysterious circumstances that unfold over the course of the first arc, he gets his chance.

TAHCompared to Bruce, Amadeus is remarkably well-adjusted. He’s a happy-go-lucky kid that seems to relish the chance to be a superhero, and with his sister Maddy there to keep him focused and level-headed he might actually have a shot at sticking the landing. What’s clear in this first batch of issues, though, is that he’s got a few blind spots that are going to bite him pretty hard in due time.

His first set of missions sees him finding and capturing giant, powerful monsters before they can wreak havoc in populated centers. This puts him at cross purposes with Lady Hellbender, who wants to collect the monsters for an intergalactic reserve where they can run and play and be monsters to their heart’s content. I think folks would like Hellbender’s civilization, which sees insane power as something to be respected, almost idealized; though Amadeus thinks this is a good idea, Maddy and others think it might not be the best thing.

Once Amadeus “proves” his might by defeating Fin Fang Foom, Lady Hellbender then tries to take him as Earth’s ultimate monster. Which, you know, probably doesn’t go very well for anyone involved, right?

What’s interesting about the comic so far is how character-focused it is. Amadeus is a vastly different person than Bruce Banner, so his Hulk is triggered by a different set of emotions. It’s not his anger that you have to watch out for — it’s his youthful inexperience, his arrogance, his irresponsibility. Now that Amadeus has achieved the great power side of the equation, the consequences of not mastering the other side has risen to unacceptable levels. What happens when he makes his first major mistake?

This being a Hulk comic, there’s still plenty of smashing to be had. Frank Cho — he of Liberty Meadows fame — is one of the absolute best superhero artists out there right now, so it’s a thrill to see him taking on this monthly comic. Each character is excellently-designed and wonderfully detailed, and he has a particularly good eye for the feminine figure. He can draw women as powerful, dynamic people while not necessarily pushing them into objectified figures for the male gaze. It’s a tricky balance to strike, and I think he does it well. That might be me unable to spot his excesses in an industry where women-as-sexual-objects are more or less the norm, though.

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Even though sales figures for The Totally Awesome Hulk aren’t stellar, they’re solid enough that I’m not really worried about the series being cancelled. With Cho taking part in Marvel’s big summer event — Civil War II — and being promoted as part of the Champions (a sort of “Young Avengers” who have different ideas about superheroics), it’s clear he’s not going anywhere soon. It’ll be interesting to see what Pak and Cho have in store for Amadeus after the dust settles from the latest superhero dust-up. For now, though, his solo series is a solid spin on the traditional Hulk tale, and a worthy update for a new generation.

 

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2016 in Comic Books, Reviews, Uncategorized

 

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(Personal) Cracking Myself Open

Myth 150One of the earliest memories I have about my mental illness is breaking down in the middle of lunch in sixth or seventh grade. Things were not going well for me. I was a shy and awkward kid who loved reading fantasy books. I was really sensitive, so I didn’t hold up to bullying very well. And I had gotten into trouble enough that in addition to homework and everything else, I had to write a sentence “I will not…something something something.” 1000 times.

I was sitting alone, trying to think of what impossible task I should do over lunch and how I could justify putting off the others, when I just needed to put my head down. It didn’t help. Tears welled up and I let them fall. My entire body locked up. All I wanted to do was curl up tighter. Someone found me, stood me up, and asked me if I had eaten anything. Then they marched me up to the lunch line.

It felt like my entire body had fallen asleep. I didn’t have full control over the way I moved, so I just lurched around like Frankenstein’s monster. I couldn’t stop crying. There was no way I could eat, or speak, or open my mouth. When the lunch lady asked if I needed anything, all I could do was sob and shake my head and lurch back to my seat.

To this day I have no idea what to call that episode. A panic attack? A nervous breakdown? Who knows. But it happened again when my sister ran away from home, and again shortly after I dropped out of college and moved to Arkansas.

I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety for my entire life. Most of the memories I have of my childhood are unhappy ones, where something in my brain just snapped and a response rose from within me that I still don’t understand. What’s more, I can remember similar things happening to the people around me; my father’s mind going after his divorce, retreating further into himself; my mother disappearing for hours to sleep off depression; my sister’s mood swings; the strange rumors that dogged certain neighbors. When I was growing up, our understanding of mental illness was little more than being able to identify “crazy” behavior; if someone did something “crazy” once too often, then they were branded. And there wasn’t anything they could do to shake that off.

Even now, knowing what I know about my family history and the struggles that my siblings and I face, I see that for the most part that understanding hasn’t deepened much. My sister is on medication that makes her incoherent or sleepy. My brothers still do things they don’t understand. And, now that she’s reaching the end of her life, my mother is beginning to forget things and become confused.

It’s taken me a long time to come to grips with my mental illness, to accept it and learn how to incorporate it into my self-image. But there are so many black Americans and others in the diaspora who either can’t or won’t for a constellation of reasons. Most of us simply can’t afford treatment for mental health issues, and wouldn’t know where to begin even if we could. There is a stigma, even now, around therapy and medication that makes it difficult to encourage folks to seek out. There is still this narrative that those of us with mental illnesses are just “weak” or “whining” and only need to “get your mind right” to overcome them. We know so little, but we have such strong opinions.

Talking about my personal struggle with these things is still frightening to me, even though I do it so much. But it’s important that I do. Within black circles, and geek circles, and even Buddhist circles, there is so much misinformation about mental illness and what people who deal with them are like. If being open about them can help to dispel that, then that’s what I have to do. For my family, for my friends, and for my community.

If you are dealing with a mental health issue, please know that you’re not alone. There are more of us than you know, willing and able to lend a hand. If at all possible, do what you can to lessen the stigma around these issues — especially in minority groups. There is no shame at all in having a chronic mental illness, or in seeking treatment for it. There is no shame in doing what you need to do in order to be the best person you can.

 

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(Personal) What Makes Me Anxious

Myth 150One of the new podcasts I’ve picked up recently is Fear The Boot, this great gaming podcast that talks about aspects of role-playing in tabletop games, MMORPGs and other things. It’s really a bunch of gamers who get along really well shooting the shit and offering their perspective on games both modern and…historical? They recently had this deep dive into one of the first D&D boxes that one of them found at a yard sale, and it was really interesting.

Their most recent set of podcasts talk about RPGs and mental health, and they’re amazing. I’m all about talking openly about mental health issues in geek spaces, and it makes me so happy that other people are relating the experiences and perspectives that have shaped them. The gang talks about depression, anxiety and PTSD, offering perspectives that hadn’t occurred to me before. One of the biggest things I took away revolves around talking to people who don’t quite understand the irrationality of these things: if there were a legitimate cause for my depression or anxiety, it wouldn’t be a disorder — it would be a rational response to the things that are happening to me. The thing that makes depression and anxiety disorders is the outsized response they force us to make.

Since learning about my anxiety disorder last year, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the anxiety responses within myself. They typically manifest as avoidant behavior; when I sit down to confront something that makes me anxious, my brain develops a Teflon coating that makes the task slide off until I focus on something else. This can happen with difficult issues at work, interpersonal communications (it’s a big reason I’m so bad at email), or projects and hobbies I’ve given myself deadlines for.

This is especially bad with things that need to be done by a certain time. I get anxious about them, procrastinate, and feel guilty about not being productive. When I try to work on them again, I’m *more* anxious because I know that I’ve failed to work on it before and the deadline is even closer, so I can’t take the pressure and procrastinate some more. I miss deadline after deadline, because the worry that I won’t be able to perform this task perfectly freezes me until I just…don’t do it.

I really hate that this prevents me from doing what I want to do, or being as present as I’d like to be with the folks that I know — especially in difficult situations. I can be paralyzed by the desire to say the right thing or do the right thing; when it really matters what I say or do, the worry of doing the wrong thing is so strong. A lot of the time, it’s irrationally strong; during normal things, where the consequences for mistakes aren’t so bad, I still can’t figure out how to move forward.

This feels like the result of a few things in childhood — the fact that I was considered gifted when I was a kid and the expectation was to excel; the time when I misspelled a word during a spelling bee and my mother stopped coming to any of those competitions because “I always lose when she’s there”; the stress of going to a really tough high school without learning how to work hard on anything I didn’t get right the first time. When anything less than perfect is viewed as a disappointment through most of your primary education, you tend to develop a bit of a complex around these things.

I don’t want to make this another “My mother didn’t love me enough and it fucked me up” kind of posts, but…it’s true. I know that this is a really common narrative in geek circles, and everyone navigates their way through and past it in different ways. But for me, the fact that I had no one who I felt loved me no matter what I did made it very difficult for me to accept myself for who I was. And when it comes to anything I do — whether it’s fixing a customer’s problem or finding just the right order of words — anything less than perfection is a disappointment, and disappointment can lead to abandonment and rejection. If I don’t do things perfectly, I cannot be a person worthy of love. So it’s better to do nothing than to make mistakes.

Of course this isn’t healthy or productive, but the behavior has been ingrained within me beyond a rational point. Uncovering that rock to see what’s there, then doing the difficult work of cleaning out the toxic self-talk, is one of those things that takes time and persistent effort. It also tends to happen in stages; cleaning it out might only enable you to see there’s more there, more deeply ingrained, stuff that will be even harder to scrub out.

I am a fundamentally anxious person. I care about getting things right. While that’s a reasonable impulse, the fear of getting things wrong is not. It’s time to start working on that, which means leaning in to the things that make me uncomfortable, making mistakes and learning how to recover from them. I know that my husband loves me no matter what; I know that I have friends who support me no matter what; I know that no matter what, I am someone worthy of love and life. But there is some scared little child deep within me that believes none of these things, and it will take a lot of coaxing to change his mind.

I’ll talk about more of my progress here occasionally, as part of that work. If you have issues with anxiety, performance or other mental issues, please consider this a safe space to share your experience and perspective. I welcome you. Let’s work through this together.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2016 in mental-health, Self-Reflection

 

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(Politics) In(ter)dependence Day

Politics 150Today is the 240th anniversary of the birth of our nation. The Declaration of Independence was signed (at least apocryphally) on this date long, long ago. It stated that as a nation, “we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

This is such a powerful and simple statement. Every single one of us, no matter who we are or what we do for a living, is equal to the other. We all have the same basic rights; we should all be allowed to live freely and be happy as best we’re able, as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of someone else to do the same thing. That is the ideal that should be the North Star for every action our country takes, the opportunity to make sure anyone in the country — or the world — has these rights.

As with anything, our country is imperfect — because it’s operated by imperfect people. We allow our fears and desires, our greed and jealousies, our worst instincts to determine what we do more often than not. This happens especially when we get together in crowds. It feels like we’ve been taught to believe that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is a zero-sum game. If someone else is allowed to do what makes them happy — even if it doesn’t harm or restrict me — then it means that I don’t get to be.

The ideal of personal freedom is a great one, and it’s what makes this country such a beacon of hope around the world when it strives for that ideal. But that ideal requires significant responsibility to be achieved; in order to make sure that there is a level playing field for everyone out there, we must take care to protect the vulnerable from the powerful. Our government must make sure that those of us without money or influence has a chance to exercise our rights just as well as the richest multi-billionaire. And in order to make sure our government can do that, we the people must furnish the government with the people and tools necessary to achieve that goal.

Because our country is full of people from all races, backgrounds, religions and philosophies, just exactly what that means will be different for everyone — and that’s OK. There is nothing wrong with different interpretations of what the government should and should not do. Sometimes, the will of the people will carry that in a conservative direction; what we have (or what the founders intended) works well and there isn’t much that should be changed. Other times, the people will call for a more progressive direction; times have changed, and our relationship with life and liberty and happiness has shifted accordingly. The government also needs to change in order to reflect this.

Recently, however, the tension between conservatism and progressivism has grown to the point that the fabric of our country is tearing apart. Our bases have grown further apart and worse, more intractable. Instead of recognizing that our colleagues across the aisle simply want what’s best for our country and have different ideas of what that means, we’ve taken to calling them our enemy. To conservatives, I’m part of an invading horde who wants nothing less than to tear down America and replace it with a godless socialist paradise that looks more like Soviet Russia than anything. And to progressives like me, conservatives are heartless racists who only want to make sure America is white and stupid and loaded with guns. Neither of these images are true. But we buy them when the people we admire in our camps perpetuate them.

The truth is we need each other. Progressives need conservatives to remind them of traditions in our country that still work; to encourage more efficient and smarter ways for the government to work; to take practical considerations into account for policy. And conservatives need progressives to remind them of ways the world is changing; that their experience isn’t universal, and others have a different kind of struggle achieving the American dream; to dream about radical ways in which our country might be better than we or the Founding Fathers ever imagined. In a healthy society, we forgive each other’s flaws, recognize each other’s strengths and respect each other’s perspectives.

I want my country to be one in which I can disagree with a conservative friend or colleague and respect them, knowing that the feeling is reciprocated. I want to be certain that my government recognizes my basic human rights, and that my perspective and experience is understood and woven into the fabric of America as a whole. I want my friends to know that I respect their traditions — no matter what they are — and that we can have conversations about the things we believe without demonizing those beliefs or the people who hold them. I want a country that recognizes how interdependent we are, and how we’re better for those entanglements. I want people to listen when they’re told they’re being exclusive or prejudicial. And I want people to listen to the people who want the same lives they’ve always had, and why these changes are upsetting to them. We can’t understand each other without entering into a dialogue, and that dialogue requires we both speak clearly, respectfully, and listen just as well.

Today, I really want to recognize my interdependence on the people I disagree with, but respect. You make this country great, and I appreciate your contribution to my life and my world.

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2016 in Politics

 

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