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(Travel) A Jackalope in France and England

Myth 150My Husband, The Dragon and I got back to the United States last Wednesday afternoon, and it’s taken us a minute to catch up to things after two weeks out of the country. We’re still not entirely done; news moves fast these days, and laundry piles up faster still. We really wanted to take it easy over the few days we had between vacation and work, and I’d like to think we did a good job! But that only means that the news cycles have moved on without us; we’re still in shock and disbelief over the things that happened a week or two ago. So I’m declaring a kind of “news bankruptcy” for now, and I’ll jump in again when I feel able.

First I wanted to take a minute to thank the staff of Confuzzled for being so amazing. Ryan and I had a wonderful time, and I was incredibly impressed by just how smoothly the con ran for the most part. The convention clearly has a great rapport with the hotel, which enables them to do a lot of really cool stuff with the space. Kitting out one of the rooms with beanbag chairs for the more interactive and crowd-oriented panels is a stroke of genius, and I think the tabletop RPG room was well-designed and really fun. Setting aside con space for newbies and “quiet groups” is also wonderful. The gender-neutral bathrooms were great to see and well-used without a hint of trouble throughout the con. Confuzzled is a great example of putting its attendees first. It was awesome.

I played in two tabletop RPGs there: a D&D5e module and Honey Heist, a Fiasco-style game where you’re playing a group of bears who intend to pull off an impressive theft during Honeycon 2015. It is just as ridiculous and hilarious as it sounds. Our group was able to get the motherlode of ultra-dense mega-honey AND take over the venue at the same time, so I’m quite happy with how things turned out. In D&D, I played a Goliath cleric named Harcourt Weatherby (Thanks, Jeeves!) who managed to piss off a were-tiger into climbing an enormous tower.

The weekend was a tremendously good time, filled with great conversations and beer. I even got to see a few friends from Arkansas that I never would have expected to catch up with in England! Now that I’m back and settling into life again, I’ll definitely have to reach out to them. There’s always the danger, especially with me, of just falling off the radar as life takes over and I’d like to do a lot less of that if at all possible.

After Confuzzled, we visited Paris and London in order to be proper tourists. The deep, rich history of both cities were a source of fascination with us, and we really wanted to visit a lot of the places that made each city what it is. I wasn’t expecting to see this difference between how each city interacts with its history, but that’s a side benefit of travel, let’s say.

Paris is a beautiful city that reminds me a lot of San Francisco — at least, the modern parts of it do. There are cafes and shops almost everywhere, for just about anything you could think of, with apartments above them for folks to squeeze into. Pockets of history dot the city, far enough away that they’re a good walk from each other but close enough to encourage you to walk it anyway. The language barrier, at least for me, was fairly strong — we had to rely on our guide most of the time to navigate situations (and thanks so much for that necessary and exhausting work, friendly guide!). It could be isolating at times; there was the constant feeling of disapproval for speaking poor, broken French but that could just be my brain being an asshole about it.

We went to so many places: Notre Dame, The Louvre Museum, Palais de Luxembourg, the Church of Saint-Sulpice, the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, the Arenes de Lutece. They were all great — I cried in Notre Dame (again) when a service started and the voice of the featured singer filled the space. It was unexpected, and completely magical. My favorite day was Louvre day, though — SO MANY GREAT PIECES beyond the Mona Lisa and the fact that the space itself was a huge part of Parisian history was really cool.

As much as I love Paris, I have to say that its approach to history (at least to this relatively ignorant American) makes it feel alienating. Everywhere you go, it feels like you’re meant to enjoy history and beauty at a distance, like you’re at your auntie’s house with plastic covering all the furniture and delicate ceramic figurines that you are not to touch under any circumstances. It’s really pretty, but mostly you just walk around to look at it. There’s a distance there, a reverence for the glory days of France that doesn’t include us here and now. With the exception of the Arenes de Lutece, there aren’t many places you can go in Paris that allows you to interact directly with its past, or that the history of the city is baked into the fabric of daily life. It can feel like that Paris is two cities, really — the historical romanticized Paris, and the one where everyone lives.

London felt different. History is all over the city as well, preserved and available, but it’s included in the foundation of the city as its grown. You could be walking down the street and spot an alley that dates back to the 16th century, or worship at a community church that’s been around in some form or another since antiquity. Even the big churches, like Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral, have regular services open to the faithful public. (To be fair, Notre Dame offers public services too.) So much of the ancient parts of London are part of active businesses and organizations, still in use today. It makes the history of the city so much more lively, direct, and connective; when you’re there, it’s cool to know you’re on a road or using a door that has been in use for hundreds of years.

In London we went to the Tower of London, Greenwich Observatory, a river-boat of the Thames, the Tate Museum, Westminster Abbey, and we visited Geoff Ryman, one of Ryan’s Clarion instructors and a passionate advocate for science fiction and fantasy from the African continent. He turned me on to SO MANY writers and resources to connect with the speculative fiction scene there, and the clear knowledge, affection and appreciation he had for the authors and their work there meant so much to me — the only time I cried in London was in this dude’s living room, which he was kind enough not to say anything about. But seeing someone who’s gained so much fame and authority in the space work so humbly to lift up the writers of Africa (and the diaspora in general) is amazing, and I appreciated it so much.

If you’re interested in learning more about African sci-fi/fantasy, I highly recommend his series of articles in issue 18 of the Manchester Review here or the African Speculative Fiction Society website here. The Nommo Awards is a tremendous resource offering a yearly short-list of the best in speculative fiction that comes from the continent.

It was an amazing trip, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have gone. You learn so much about yourself, your culture, and your place in the world through travel like this; connecting with other people who have entirely different backgrounds and frames of reference really helps you to shake loose things you thought were fundamental. It feels much more possible to change ourselves and the communities we’re in for the better, just because we see how different people have set their priorities. Travel keeps me from calcifying, from seeing only one way of doing things — I can’t wait to do it more.

For now, though, it’s time to come back and build on this experience. I’m looking forward to doing that.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2018 in Furries, Self-Reflection

 

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Have a Joyous Kwanzaa!

Myth 150Habari gani?

My estrangement from the black community happened really early. To be fair, I didn’t have a lot going for myself when I was a wee leveret; I was mousy and had strange interests, and my mother was an older woman who had adopted me and my sister even though she had her own problems. We didn’t have much money, we didn’t share the same religion that everyone else did, and I didn’t have the temperament that let me overcome any of that.

So I was teased a lot in school. I had a few friends, but even they were fickle in the singular way boys are. I tried to keep my head down and be a good kid for the most part. I was only really passionate about school and books — I read just about any science-fiction and fantasy stuff I could get my hands on. I loved The Wind in the Willows and The Chronicles of Narnia. I wanted to live in fairy tales, where you could actually live in the forests and wild animals were your neighbors. I wished I could be more graceful, playful, charismatic, less afraid.

Over the years, there would be a few chances to connect with various pockets of community — but at a price. In order to fit in at school, I would need to develop a swagger that didn’t come naturally. I wore suits to stand out from my peers; I gave myself nicknames and personality traits to see how they fit. In high school, I developed an offensively-stereotypical Australian character for writing advice columns in the school newspaper. None of it really fit. At church, I could sink in with a group of people if I filled my days with trying to evangelize the Word that I couldn’t bring myself to see as the truth; some of my brothers and sisters there liked more of the same things I did, but I couldn’t share my love of fantasy for fear of being labeled as a dallier with the demonic.

In my junior year of high school I discovered the furry fandom. When I graduated, I had plans to work a lot, save my money and go to a tiny liberal arts college in the south of Maryland to get a pre-veterinary degree. The tenuous bonds I had to the communities of my youth were completely severed there. I found acceptance in the theatre geeks and pagans on campus; there was only condemnation and “prayers for my soul” among the other black people. This fit with my previous experience; the only place I felt I could truly be myself, where I felt ultimately accepted, were with the sci-fi/fantasy geeks. As I’m sure you could imagine, almost all of them were white.

It’s been about 15 years since then, and I haven’t felt the need to double back towards the community I’ve always felt rejected by until now. This year has been something of a revelation for me about race. Through Ryan’s involvement with Clarion, I’ve learned that there’s an entire community full of people with one foot in the sci-fi/fantasy fandom that I love while keeping one foot steeped in the traditions and interests of our shared ancestry. Afro-futurism is an excitingly new concept to me, and a great chance to learn about narratives other than the ones I’ve been exposed to. For the first time, I can actually read stories written by people like me, about people like me, dealing with things that I can personally relate to. It’s a chance to construct our own stories, determine who we are, to respond and contrast to the things that are said about us in our own words. It’s a delicious idea.

I’ve also been exposed to more intense and varied forms of racism this year than I ever have been through my entire life. What’s happened in Ferguson, MO (and Ohio, and Nevada, and Florida, and New York…) and the reaction to it has opened my eyes about the many, many forms inequality can have in this world, and how people like me are still subjected to it. Even though I don’t feel like I’ve been a part of the black community for a long time, I couldn’t sit by any longer and watch this happening without saying something, without doing something. Speaking up about this exposed me to really surprising viewpoints, and showed me that even if I haven’t considered myself a member of the black community, I was going to be seen and treated like one.

This has forced me to confront my place — not only how I see myself, but how others see me and where I feel I should be right now. I think, after all this time, it’s time to reunite with my heritage and background. I can do so on my terms, and lend my own voice to the diaspora of the many African-Americans making their way through this deeply fragmented country.

So, this year, I plan to observe Kwanzaa. I know the reputation it has among the African-American community, and I definitely know it doesn’t fare much better outside of that. But I think it’s a great gateway towards reconnecting with my heritage, and I’m hoping that an honest examination of it will help to make it my own. I want this to be a legitimate celebration where honest discussion doesn’t necessarily mean that I take the holiday too seriously; there needs to be a sense of perspective and joy that weaves through the proceedings.

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, which celebrates Unity (Umoja). I’m happy that I’ve come to a place in my life where I feel the need to reconnect with my roots, and I’m overjoyed to have found a small branch of my ancestral tree that shares my interests and priorities. At the same time, I feel well and truly planted in many communities already — this virtual one I’m speaking with now; the wonderful group of intelligent, hard-working writers and artists I’ve had the great fortune of knowing for over a decade; countless friends, guides and teachers who have shaped me into the man I am today, spread out across the country and the globe. Far from narrowing my focus towards one part of myself that’s been neglected for a while, I feel that this sense of unity has expanded my ability to consider all of myself, and the many varied relationships I have with the world around me.

So that’s my focus today. I’d like to open myself up to kinship with the people around me, to unite with my fellow black geeks and well — anyone else I come across. There’s always a way to feel connected to someone, even if you think you couldn’t be further apart.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2014 in Politics, Pop Culture, Self-Reflection

 

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