Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Fencing: Mr. Ho trains me for pain

I haven’t blogged about fencing for a while because I am in some sort of painful, bruising metaphorical valley. First I was going to go down and fight Birgit Salas in Seattle two week ago (a trip to Seattle costs me $500 – which is a lot of blood to sell) – unfortunately there wasn’t enough people going, so I had to postpone that. Then there was a mixed epee tournament in which “mixed” meant 18 guys with A-C ratings and 3 females. So I was going to get beaten up, literally. Then the ferry was booked so I would have to stay an extra night, so I had to back out of that. THEN when the results came out the three women came dead last: which made me REALLY want to have gone. Because since I fence like 11 different guys normally, I can’t believe I couldn’t beat at least ONE down in Seattle.

Right now I am doing about 7-8 hours of bouting a week and about 1-2 hours of training. This is a bad ratio. However, when it is freezing outside cross training is a hard motivation. Want to hear what Mr. Ho has to say about cross-training: 1) “What the use?” 2) “You could run to top of mountain and back, how that make you a better fencer?” 3) “Don’t be stupid, no running.”

Mr. Ho however does see me as a person who is preparing for competitions. This means that I get more of his abuse...I mean attention. Like last Tuesday when we did 25 minutes of one to one training, then William and I did three bouts of 5, a 15 point bout and a 10 point bout. Mr. Ho was ref and used the time to make long and extensive comments about anything I did wrong. Yesterday he climbed up some scaffolding left behind to yell out orders ala the commandant in Bridge on the River Kwai. 20 minutes after everyone else had left he has William and I hopping on and off the strip (“Faster, faster, no rest!”), the guy from the Y who wanted to close up the room to go home was there. But we fight on with Mr. Ho saying, “One more 5 point bout between William and Elizabeth” (William is between his first and second trials for the Canada Winter Games, which he has to finish qualifying for, so he gets focus now too).

Some classic Mr. Ho comments from this week:

“You lose point because you empty up there” he says touching my forehead.

“You okay?” He asks me as the sweat is dripping out from the bottom of the mask, “I’m Great!” I say. He comes and hit me on the leg with the sword for lying to him, then we go back to doing lunges.

“Number one thing Elizabeth, stay centered.”
“And Number two,” I say, “Get point.”
“Yes, that important too.”

“In competition fight, fight, fight, you only been fencing one hour and you look tired.”
“Training session and one hour fencing” I mumble.
“What’s that?” Mr. Ho demands.
“Said, I’m not tired Mr. Ho! Let’s fight!”

The last couples weeks I have had what Mr. Ho calls “Combat Training” too, where he suits up and fencing you, giving specific opening, for which, if you don’t hit on time and precisely, he will punish you. He may be old, but he does spend several hours a day with a sword of one type or another in his hand. With me, he plays defense, trying to get me to extend my arm with an opening he can hit. With the guys, he charges, fleches and lunges.

Last night was a good night: Steven, William, Gerald, Rodney and Amanda were there. I bouted parries with Rodney, practiced retreats with Gerald, arm hits with Steven (tall tall Steven), attacks to 4 (the space left of the right arm) with Amanda and engaging the blade with William.

I wish I had a coach. Mr. Ho doesn’t want to invest too much into me, since as he puts it; “You are too old, so old.” Which he tells me every time I ask him for two one to one lessons a week. Last week he said, “With your joints, the more you train, the more pain.”

“Yes, Mr. Ho,” I said, “But it’s MY pain.”

He grunted at that. I’m off in an hour, as while others trick or treat, I fence: a personal lesson, then some bouting, maybe some footwork. I am trying to convince me to show me how to fleche. He says that he will show me in 5 to 6 years, because “I need a good lunge first.” Hopefully tonight he will show me beat attacks. Last week it was avoiding the parry during a lunge. He would parry either right or left while I lunged and I would have to make a SMALL circle to avoid it while not slowing down. Get tired, or get it wrong, and get verbal abuse. “What wrong with you?” Mr. Ho demands.

“Mortality” I tell him.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Dancing naked to The Monster Mash & other adult activities

This is the time of year to reminisce about all my Halloween memories. Ready? We shut off all the lights and stayed in the basement when trick or treaters came by (Our Church didn’t believe in keeping Halloween – nor did they approve of my idea to combine Thanksgiving and Halloween into a “Harvest of Dead” festival). In later years we would go out to empty restaurants while others drank and partied with the type of debauchery I so yearned for.

This weekend, while everyone else went to parties, we invited some people over for Thanksgiving. It wasn’t really Thanksgiving, since the date falls between the Canadian and US dates, but represented “that day at which Linda’s need to cook a turkey could no longer be denied.” This meant that our apartment had to be cleaned, which is a week long job, since neither of us are blessed with “love to clean” inclination and after an hour or two of cleaning we tend to flop down and do Sudoku’s. We were forced (for a week) into new and painful behaviors like: Doing ALL the laundry, instead of an emergency load when you have run out of underwear and forced to wear the thongs and sexy stuff; Doing the dishes AFTER you eat, instead of when we run out of utensils (which is why we only keep a few utensils). Doing the dishes twice a week sucks, but doing them everyday sucks even more. Also for a week there was no more “stripping out of clothes, leaving them everywhere as we dance naked.” That whole, “a place for everything and everything in its place” idea is a real killjoy. I did however enjoy vacuuming. I did it with the free vacuum we snagged from the trash – yes, the belts on it scream so loud the neighbors bang on the wall, and since it was from a hair salon our entire place smells like perm solution for six hours after vacuuming but that just adds to the whole excitement, danger, mind-altering fumes of the experience.

That Saturday, we cooked, we baked, we mashed things, we microwaved and did all those debates one does when people come over: Should we put out the “good” glasses or the ones we got free from gas stations? Should we use paper plates or Corell? And who would get the broken chair that sinks lower and lower as the night goes on (that would be ME!). They were late coming because the home baked pumpkin pie had flipped over onto the floor of the car. We had wine, they brought chocolate flavoured vodka (ug?). The men quickly obsessed over my 600 DVD collection left over from the heydays of my life as a rare DVD supplier. No one noticed the gigantic 200 year old bookcase taking up an entire wall. The ice was broken quickly when people started telling their stories of going to strip clubs, and Linda’s friend told of her first time and how when the woman took off the last piece of clothing she was a little shocked, as it was the first time she had seen that. “That was the FIRST time you had seen a woman naked?” I asked her confused. Things kind of degenerated after that; we educated men on what The Rabbit was, and our Rubber Ducky was brought from the bathtub to display his awesome vibrating powers. I got the guys talking in rapturous tones about their game systems while their female partners looked more and more like wanting to strangle them. They talked about their favorite TV shows while I educated them on which characters were gay and which were secretly sleeping with who in the Beth’s Queer World version. So, all in all, a nice adult evening, almost lifted from the dirty and queer friendly version of ThirtySomething (or for those in the UK, the TV show This Life).

Sunday was recovery, since I felt more beat up than after epee. After all, epee is only 2.5 hours a night max, while with the cleaning, cooking, etc this was a 14 hour event. We had leftovers and watched enough of House Season 2 to glare at most men walking with canes and make vows to each other never to be taken to THAT hospital. The show House is a lot like a Romance, since we know the ending (patient lives) the only interest is in seeing how the obstacles are overcome to arrive at the ending. Except most romances don’t have Lumbar Punctures and six feet of tubing shoved up the colon...at least I hope not. So that was the weekend, doing the adult thing. I am glad to say that I DID, Sunday morn, strip off all my clothes, leaving them scattered about the living room as I danced naked to The Monster Mash. Linda closed the blinds. I just don’t think she’s gotten into the spirit of Halloween yet.

(Bonus Reader Halloween game here)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I'm a Master of the Macabre? Plus a nice treat for you.

In their Halloween writing series, the CBC (the Canadian National Broadcasting Corporation) has reviewed Zed and named me in an article on six authors titled “Canadian Masters of the Macabre.” I, however, am far too modest to bring any notice to this article (wait a minute, I’m vain, really vain, and I’m as self-serving as a time-share salesperson). Oh, in that case, here it is:

“Her debut novel Zed (2005) doesn’t seem to be classified as a “horror” but holy crow, this book sufficiently filled my horrific quota. A NOW review tweaked my interest on this one and I wasn’t disappointed. Despite being written from the point of view of a 12 year old girl, Zed, this book is most definitely not for kids. Heck, this book is not for most adults. Murder, rape, addiction, sociopaths…all that and more, navigated by young Zed within the confines of an inner city project. Zed is appalling yet believable. I can’t wait for Ms. McClung’s next book!”

I just wanted to point out that not many authors of just ONE book can be a literary writer in June, a Science Fiction Writer two weeks ago and a Master of the Macabre for Halloween (I prefer “Mistress” actually). Zed works for all major holidays. I think there’s enough cocaine mentioned in the book to truly make it a Christmas classic (hint, hint!).

And to get your freak started for Halloween, try watching this (click on "watch this movie") non-child appropriate themed short flash film called Candy from the creator of Childrin R Skary. Mmmmmm.....yummy treats....yummier tricks!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Vampire Romances, UK Camp Music and some other Darkness

I accidentally passed an important milestone in a girl’s life: reading your first romance (excluding lesbian romances, Bronte’s and pre-Edwardian romances). At the library I picked up what I thought was an interesting how-to book, A Girl’s Guide to Vampires. It sounded practical and the back cover had useful tips like “No matter how attractive the dark man in the corner, don’t just accidentally give yourself a paper cut and ask him to kiss it better.” Instead of a how-to’s on garlic earrings it turns out book is a romance about a skeptical female with her goth obsessed friend who is dragged to a GothFaire in Europe; a place filled with sad posers and hunky guys. I kept reading because having a goth friend earnestly explain to a guy wanting to be your potential boyfriend the six steps to bonding eternally in love with a vampire according to her favorite author is actually something I have experienced. The whole goth, vampire obsession is done very tongue in cheek, indeed, the whole book was humorous, including the “sexy” parts about her new boyfriend being hung VERY large and sex blowing out the end of the condoms. Okay, maybe that supposed to be romantic or sexy, but it totally had me in stitches (I can never tell what supposed to be sexually serious with you wacky heteros).

And moving two steps to the left, a walk down Youtube’s memory lane reminded me that regardless of the UK’s homophobic population, as a country they do seem to produce and embrace music so camp it staggers the brain (normal straight people avidly go to see ABBA imitators!). The Christmas #1 Song is THE closely watched event of November to January. As the countdown gets closer, each song in the top 3 or 4 has its own fans and adamant supporters. In 2005, a group called The Darkness simply walked away with a title called “Christmas Time: Don’t let the Bells End” in a song which made the group Queen look like conservative Christians. We have four guys half naked and dressed in OTT fur vests seen only on Ely girls made neuvo-rich.After hitting falsettos you have to hear to believe, and rollicking in the snow in outfits stolen from Britney Spear’s wardrobe, they end with the lead singer surrounded by children, who he still manages to sing TWO OCTAVES higher. I’ve probably watched over 50 times: from jaw dropping amazement, to wonder, to “what the…”, to my daily dose of camp. (if you like that try his I Believe in a Thing Called Love where he starts naked, before dancing in a jumpsuit zipped open to…well, yes; with statues of lesbians making love in the background – which won UK best new musical artist).

Probably the most challenging film I watched this year was Fateless (trailer here), written by the author of memoirs of a Hungarian Jew, shuttled amongst several concentration camps as a teen during WWII. The film expresses his view that time is a prison, one which is lived through every second, but also that there the camps held not just terror and despair but also anticipation, joy, routine, and longing. Returning home, the lead character finds no one wants to hear that about the camps; they ask; “You were beaten?”, he says, “Of course” but then they turn away, not wanting to hear about how he stops in the street at 5 pm, the best part of the day in the camps, remembering everyone coming together; his obsession with carrot soup, in short the complexities of life in every circumstance. His book was published in the 70’s but only determined to be acceptable for public viewing a few years ago. I really do recommend it for anyone who like myself started groaning during Schindler’s List (the author of Fateless on the DVD interview has quite a few things to say about that film), or anyone who wants to challenge themselves to tell the whole truth about their experiences, no matter how unacceptable that is (count me in as someone who wants to, even if they haven’t the courage yet).

I have also been watching the Latin American TV psychological thriller series Epitafio, produced by HBO. The closest I can describe it is a 13 part series of the film Seven, but without any of the daylight, resolution or optimism. The series starts five years after a botched hostage rescue, with one of the pair of police involved, Renzo, is burned out living day to day as a taxi driver. Called to an empty house, they find a dismembered body and things quickly degenerate as the killer maneuvers our hero, Renzo in a bizarre punishment where everyone in any way connected to that day, is killed, with Renzo chasing on, determined to stop him, and the killer just as determined to make it through his list to finish with Renzo’s death. If you wished they made a TV series out of Silence of the Lambs, then I recommend picking this up.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

LGBT rights; why I give a damn, and hope you do too

My experience in LGBT rights is that, when you are not a large or visible minority, trying to get someone to actually give a damn is pretty hard. Which would be fine if all things were equal; but they are not. LGBT individuals rely constantly on the goodwill and trust of retailers, employers, police, fire and rescue, local and national governments, school officials, customs agents – basically the dozens of interactions with people that make up a day (those don’t count the people who actually hate you...because you’re still gay and breathing). The problem is that when 80% of the population doesn’t care when 5%-10% feel they have the right to treat LGBT people as sub-human at worst or an irritant at best, then you can end up with a pretty shitty life. Of course if we were to believe the stats of the dozens of states which have voted to amend the law to make sure LGBT people can never have the same rights as couples heterosexuals do then it would be 30% don’t care about the 60-70% who care enough to go and vote about it.

Let me give a few concrete examples. If you are a LGBT teen in North America, there is about a 50% chance you will try and kill yourself because of the environment at school; you will hear anti-gay comments multiple times a day, you and those suspected of being gay will be harassed about 5 times more than any other group. 1 in 3 will be physically harassed, 1 in 5 will be beaten (sexual orientation is the number one motivator for youth assault in BC – woo hoo!). And you have a 1 in 3 chance of dropping out of school, regardless. Oh, and there won’t be any specific policy page regarding sexual orientation/gender identity harassment, and there won’t be any teacher training. Why? Because, most LGBT kids are closeted, those who can be, while certain parents, on the other hand, will start immediately screaming if any policies are included, and they will have press releases. One recent example is in Oklahoma City, where school officials removed the topic of homophobic bullying before printing (too much hassle…for the school board; ongoing hassle for the gay teens). If you live near me, don’t slow down in Surray or Richmond, BC which have FOUR different parent groups to “combat the erosion of heterosexuality in the schools” and is notable for having an anti-gay straight alliance protest at a school in a district which did not have a gay straight alliance. One group, the CASJFVA, gives annual awards to those teachers and parents who have combated homosexuality in schools (constructive things like book banning, sending kids to ex-gay counseling, opposing harassment policies).

As Gayprof, pointed out, gay people become VERY QUICKLY attuned to situations of danger; situations which most people simply walk by because it is NOT dangerous for them (like having a police officer walk toward you while holding your partner’s hand). Last night, while fencing on the strip, I could hear the foil coach telling “gay jokes.” It’s not the first time (lesbian jokes come up too). And while I may not be in immediate danger, being at a club where older members are teaching younger ones that LGBT people don’t get the same respect as other humans does make me pretty confident about the concern of those at the club if/when a member does decide to insult or harass me: none at all.

Let me tell you a couple stories. Last year Linda and I flew into Belfast and stayed at the hotel at the airport, taking the bus into day during daylight and back again. Why? Because one of the Christian Protestant militias had vowed to rid Northern Ireland of all gays and was in the midst of their campaign; breaking kneecaps of gays, setting fire to the apartments of gay couples. So we were very careful downtown, not just about touching but about all those little actions that give away you are a couple. And even so there were some places, public places, places in the guidebook, that were simply too risky to enter. Pretty wild, huh? Actually, not at all; it was completely ordinary. If you avoided everywhere LGBT crimes occurred regularly, you wouldn’t get out much. At home, our friends had windows smashed, people yelled things at us, our car was vandalized every six weeks – this is normal. Everything has risks to be weighed, Linda sold some things at a garage sale, and a guy ended up standing there yelling about her going to hell. Now hundreds of people went by and only one started screaming and damning her...but 25 stood by and watched. If I call the police, will they come? If they come, will they take us seriously or treat us like a joke? Police departments CAN be understanding, or they CAN be total jerks, so can Custom Agents. That’s life (a slightly sucky life that could be better...hint, hint!).

I used to think that once people knew what LGBT people faced, things would change; but every year at least 25 gay men in the US are killed in hate crimes, some tortured as much or more than Matthew Shepard, even more LGBT people are killed in those states that don’t count sexual orientation/gender expression as a hate crime (or whole countries, like CANADA that don’t). Instead of hate crime, typically the local paper reports that a well known small town gay man in Alabama, found in the woods, was tortured for three days before being set on fire. “There is no evidence this is a hate crime” the local Sheriff states. In Britain, at our local gay bar the police only guaranteed protection for the first 10 feet, and the “lads” ride back and forth across the street, yelling out anti-gay slurs, waiting to see if anyone would leave alone.

I remember the day I knew I had lost my job; I was talking to the regional manager, trying to explain why asking me who I had slept with during divisional meetings wasn’t appropriate, and why I thought the current management position of allowing anti-gay slurs from customers “expressing their opinion” toward me wasn’t appropriate. I told the manager a story, about a recent case in the States of a best straight friend who shot his gay friend in the head when he was told his friend was not only gay, but HIV+. The straight friend later didn’t understand why he was arrested; the guy was gay...and HIV+. The male regional manager sitting in front of me said, “Well, he (the gay guy) did lie, I mean if he had told him the truth...” while the female division manager said, “We once found out a woman here had HIV...that was very tragic (she was fired).” I knew right then, it was like someone hitting me in the gut. Ahh, the idea that gays and straights should be treated with equal respect, what a fool I was. When your regional manager thinks that if you don’t tell your friend you are gay then you KINDA deserve being shot in the head, you know that little thinks like being called “dyke” aren’t going to matter.

The truth is that nothing gays or lesbians could do by design could wreck as much annual stress and damage as what is done by heterosexual society’s apathy to injustice. I could say that by educating yourself, actively stepping in you are saving your son or daughter, granddaughter or niece who hasn’t come out of the closet yet, except that family members are usually the first to turn nasty. When it comes to my sexual orientation, I can’t change it and I won’t hide it (not anymore). I’m not a sexual predator or pedophile, I’m not unnatural or evil, but unless some more people stand up every time those things are suggested, who will know otherwise? Even Minnesota, known for their advanced and sweeping gay rights legislation made specific exceptions in employment saying any employer dealing with youth, children or role models for youth are exempt from hiring equally. Because the last thing youth need to learn is that LGBT people can be role models? That life doesn’t have to be a living hell as an LGBT youth growing up? No, no...keep the children safe, safe from what? US? Or the view of us that is lodged in your head?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Mountain training and time with the squirrels

Yesterday I went for “mountain training” which meant climbing up the 1000 foot elevation to the top of Mount Doug (around here, lots of things are named for Doug, who must be a hip guy – maybe it refers to James Douglas, Governor of Vancouver Island, or maybe just for Cool Doug who opened the Bowl-a-rama, hard to say). You start at sea level and wind up an almost 2 km road to the top (for those who don’t know metric: 2 kilometers=35 miles). The road is spray-painted with different messages for those doing “mountain training.” First comes “Smile, you’re half way”, then “1 km”, then “Almost there”. I would have taken pictures but by the top, I wasn't looking so pretty. Had that "glow" which tends to drip off and leave pools on the ground. The only insight I gained during mountain training was “oxygen is good!”

I haven’t been blogging quite as frequently, and this must be because I am helping various think tanks, right? Well, almost, it is more like there are several beautiful sunny days and I have been in the park getting mugged by squirrels. Linda bought some unshelled peanuts to give to the squirrels; here on the island there are grey squirrels and black squirrels. The grey squirrels are like the three stooges, and I really wonder how they survive year to year as waiting patiently or throwing peanuts near them tends to confuse their very small though processes which go: “What’s this? A peanut? Wait, wait, I used to remember what to do with this?” And then they run headlong into a stump.

Black squirrels on the other hand all seem to be members of the mob; they are smart, they are paranoid, and they practice intimidation and extortion. Two days ago, I tossed a black squirrel a peanut, which he grabbed, looked me over, started toward his hiding place (they bury them in the ground), before looking back over his shoulder, reversing, running up the tree, leaping to the next one and racing down the trunk 15 feet away in some masterly technique to lose anyone following (which would have worked if I wasn’t like 400 times his size). The next day, Linda and I are walking though the park and this black squirrel about 100 yards away starts running toward us – no deviation, just full on, directly towards me. Linda is fumbling with the bag as the squirrel barrels on closer and closer and I start to panic, “hurry, hurry, he’s coming.” By the time I got the peanut, the squirrel was a few feet away and showed no signs of slowing down. Freaked that he would just continue right up my leg and go for the soft parts of the eyes, I dropped him his peanut extortion right away. Later another came straight at me again, even though Linda had the peanut, and I had to keep positioning Linda between it and me to stop it from coming after me (now, I’m not SCARED of these black squirrels exactly, just cautious!).

Today Linda says that before we can go outside we have to do some ancient tribal ritual she calls, “Cleaning up”. I’m not exactly sure what that is, but I think it means less time in front of the computer and more time as a fetch and carry girl.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I try optimism: which comes out kinda depressing

I am going to put aside my magic bag of angry (magic like Santa’s because it never gets empty), and actually try a new word I learned yesterday: optimism. “People really use this word?” I asked Linda, “You’re not just making this up.” This is when she brought up the glass metaphor and how it could be half full. “What does the ratio matter when someone is offering you a glass of poison?” I puzzled. Linda slowly explained that for some people, people other than me, the glass is not assumed to be containing poison, but opportunity. Yeah, like that’s believable. Anyway, here goes.

For me, dying and living is not about mortality, but about the moments within ones life. And so, there are a thousands ways to live, even when faced by the greatest of adversity (and to be clear by ‘greatest’ I mean things that happen to you and the people you love like breast cancer, or death of a love one, or illness, exhausting poverty, assault, rape...fill in the blank). For me the essence of choosing life comprises of two elements: one, that I chose to reach for more than myself and second, that I get up literally and metaphorically (when I stop getting back up, then I’m dead). I can’t give much advice about what to do in face of a good job, social respect, and excess of money and the close network of friends and relations; I suppose these situations can present their own problems since a lot of people with these situations still split up or are unhappy. If someone would like to drop a load of money on me, I would be happy to report on such problems as they arise. For the rest of us, there might be some sense of snatches of happiness between God/life using us as the ball in a cosmic ping pong game.

I do not believe in facing adversity well, or having a stiff upper lip. I find terror, whining, loud laments and anxiety to be quite cathartic. I tried the “struggle on in silence” thing but found that no one really cared, least of all me. What I did find was the separation between becoming a self obsessed, depressed and consuming annoyance to myself and others and being human was simply in whether I could step back from myself, just a little bit, where I could choose to reach out to others. This usually comes in the form of a joke. Or a question about another’s life? Or both. I have to admit, that sometimes, overwhelming terror can SEEM like a joke; for instance when I start questioning the anesthesiologist before an operation that they did actually finish their courses right? And they did well at them? And they got a certificate, one made of paper? And MOST of their patients survive? I usually have the entire surgical staff in stitches.

There are those times when life is pretty awful and painful which I call “falling down”. And it really doesn’t seem like there is any particular point to going forward. And for me, there is a realization that going on, regardless of any particular meaning it might have to me that day or minute, is a choice, an affirmation that I believe in getting up, in moving, against adversity toward a future which can be unseen, and unknowable. But that I take on faith it is better than wherever “here” is. I am reminded by a quote from Zenna Henderson’s book Pilgrimage, the best description of those moments when one has well and truly fallen face down in the shit of life:

"There is no reason to go on. I could stand it when futility wrapped around me occasionally, but don't you remember? Remember the morning I sat there dressing, one shoe off and one shoe on and couldn't think of one good valid reason why I should put the other shoe on? Not one reason! To finish dressing? Why? Because I had to work? Why? To earn a living? Why? To get something to eat? Why? To keep from starving to death? Why? because you have to live! Why? Why? Why!"

I would say the answer to “Why?” is that joy and happiness for every person is just around the corner. I would, except that I promised to try optimism, not a frontal lobotomy. How about, because, even incapable of finding any pleasure in yourself, it is still capable of giving it to others. This is why choices are made; choices to get out of bed, shower and go outside, choices to not drink or take drugs as an escape, choices to visit someone, to write a note to someone, to show up to support someone, to help someone. And not even because they deserve it; these choices are an affirmation that my life is more than what is going on with me. I do not have a sunny disposition, or a naturally bubbly personality, but I will, occasionally, ask you, sincerely, how you are. Indeed if I ever ask you, you can know that I genuinely want to know how you are, that I have no interest in “fine” or “good” because I had my social niceties sandblasted off long ago and would only ask if I genuinely for at least a few seconds, cared about you. Some days, that’s as good as it gets. Which to me, is choosing to live.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

America tests religious equality; doesn't like it

In taking a trip to the US yesterday, I was on the edge of a conversation with mature (25-40) American males when the topic got around to the Army and Iraq. “You know why there aren’t any Arab speakers in the army?” One said, in all seriousness, “it’s because of their...gay...I mean, bisexual nature, so they get kicked out. (referring to the belief that men of middle eastern descent like having sex with boys, when they can get it).”

“Yeah, that must be tough for the army,” another replied, “they have to kick them out because of their nature, but need them for their skills.”

I was the only one who found the comments to be jaw droopingly offensive, it seemed. But the conversation highlighted the difficulties of a 9/11 world, where the pre-existing prejudices against Muslims and those of middle eastern descent have been allowed free reign, assisted by government policy and attitudes; policies like profiling which ensure that all know, when it comes to certain ethnicities or religions, equality in America is secondary.

This may not be news to anyone, but every time I pick up a US newspaper I am reminded by how “out of touch” I have become. Due to the November Elections, the Republican candidates have been hitting the scare issues hard: Muslims and gays. One half page ad in the Seattle paper stated that the candidate should be sent to the Senate because their democratic opponent was “soft” on torture and “proactive interrogation techniques”. They on the other hand, were not “soft” and wanted stronger interrogation techniques, more tortures for a “safer America.” I thought this highly unusual as a campaign promise (sort of like pre-WWII German politicians campaigning on “more efficient death camps”), and mentioned it in conversation to the Americans I talked to, universally receiving the “And? What’s the problem?” look. See, very out of touch.

Another example of how out of touch I am was my surprise to find out that so far, no muslim has been elected to Congress or Senate, though in November Keith Ellson may change that. I mean I knew that the US is the one western country where the leader MUST for reasons unclear be married, openly Christian, white and male (in some European countries, the leader saying that God is telling them what decisions to make would indicate to the population to get a new leader; in the US it indicates probable re-election). And I know that female representation in the two houses is far below that of the rest of the Western world, but I was unaware that Congress has de-facto religious limitations; but it does, and not just limited to excluding Buddhists and Muslims (check it out for yourself here at Religion of the US Congress). Sadly (typically?) the Republican candidate facing Keith Ellson has sent pamphlets out to 100,000 voters telling them that Keith Ellson election is funded by terrorist groups, specifically CAIR, (you know the whole Muslim groups=terrorist groups thing), a group the Republican states “is a clear and present danger to our Constitution and our way of life.” CAIR is a Muslim American Advocacy group which catalogues the levels of Anti-Muslim harassment in the US (up 30% last year). Both the FBI and President Bush have and continue to meet, liason and photo op with CAIR.

Ironically, the most recent challenge to the American “way of life” has been the misunderstanding of Muslim taxi drivers that the movement across the US to demand “faith based choices” in workplaces applies to them. For Christians, there is the ongoing movement to try and pass laws (37 bills in 14 states last year) to allow health workers and pharmacists to act according to their beliefs in the workplace. These are backed by a broad band of Christian groups from the Christian legal Council to Pharmacists for Life. Illinois, Mississippi and Wisconsin all passed laws (Wisconsin’s vetoed by the Governor) allowing any medical personnel to deny treatment based on their religious beliefs, including refusal to treat gays and lesbians. Meanwhile several organizations in other states, including California have sued to maintain their “right” to deny medical or other services to LGBT people, again under their religious (Christian) beliefs. Not only are Pharmacists refusing to sell birth control, morning after pills and condeoms but for example a Texas Pharmacist refused to fill a woman’s Ritalin prescription for her son (what part of the bible was that in again?). In Illinois, the “religious belief” opt out has spread to an EMT ambulance driver who refused to transport a patient on the belief they were going to get an abortion, to a health employee translator who refuses to translate anything regarding abortion.

In this turnabout, the Muslim's taxi drivers in Minneapolis-St. Paul, among other areas, are refusing to take passengers carrying alcohol from the airport, citing their religious beliefs. This has also spread to the refusal to take blind seeing-eye dogs (which are religiously “unclean”) and transgendered individuals, again due to religious belief. Minneapolis Airport Commission is enacting a system of lights on roofs, denoting who would or would not take certain passengers (after a flight attendant was refused transport by five different taxi’s due to her carrying alcohol for example). The reaction to this proposal has been strong and quick: over 500 messages all saying NO. The reasoning is that if this is started, who knows what further demands of accommodation Muslim workers might demand. There is some dark irony about that in a country where in just over a month, massive boycotts will be enacted and threatened (as they are every year) to organizations which say “happy holidays” instead of the explicit and Christian affirming, “Merry Christmas.” Oh, where will it end? Will no one think of the children!

As for those who will be denied rides this coming holiday season due to carrying some duty free liquor, please try to remember what the majority of people in almost every state told gays and lesbians while rewriting their constitutions last election: they don’t have anything against you, they simply aren’t willing to acknowledge or assist what their faith clearly shows is a dangerous and destructive lifestyle choice.

Jpeg 1 - http://www.oilempire.us/graphics/torture.jpg

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A ramble about coming out and being out

Thursday was “coming out” day, which has had me thinking about coming out, being out and the whole process of coming out, which does not happen all at once, but over a long period of time.

My experience, growing up in a conservative, almost fanatical religious environment is not typical, but not unique either. The closest emotional equivalent I have felt was watching the film Europa Europa about a Jewish orphan, based on a true story, who through accident and happenstance, ends up enrolled in a private school for Hilter Youth, presumed to be the best of Aryan promise. Of course, he is slowly going insane, threatened almost daily with exposure which would be the ruination of him, and the only solution to be as convincing as possible to everyone that he is something he is not.

For myself, from a young age onward, I was aware, more and more as I grew older that I held, not just my life, by my entire family in my hand. My father and mother worked for the religion, my older brother went to their university. It was not a question of “coming out” as much as being found out. And if that happened, the most optimistic option would be that I would be turned out on the street, and that if my family never spoke or contacted me, they might keep their jobs and place at university. Of course, considering the religious viewpoint we all grew up in, not speaking to me would be normal, since it would be revealed I had sold my soul to Satan and was an influence of evil and all that.

I had no need for ex-gay ministries because I worked hard, very hard, and prayed, very very hard to stop feeling the way I felt. I tried to exercise out my demons, to slap them away, to look in the mirror daily and tell myself how disgusting I was, how disgusting God thought I was (Our school was filled with posters saying “God knows your every thought” – cheery stuff). I went away from everyone, going up into the mountains, to wash that “worldly influence” out of me. Didn’t wash, did have some horny dreams however.

Now, most people, thankfully, do not have such a strong environment, some have worse. Some women I know come from families where beating women who “act out” is normal, so bringing home the girlfriend simply isn’t. One woman I know, her father and brothers are from the back hills and are the biggest anti-nonwhite, anti-gay drinkers around. She comes homes with her girlfriend because her father is convinced her girlfriend is in love with one of his sons. He tells his daughter to bring her on the weekend, and she can sleep in her bedroom. What a fucked up tightrope to walk.

The thing about coming out is that you can never “unout” yourself, even the Christians who go through an ex-gay ministry are viewed with such suspicious they seem to need to tell someone constantly how they aren’t gay anymore. Still doesn’t mean they aren’t out, now they are just “was gay, may still be, so better watch carefully.” The problem is, that this is a world which does not treat gay people equally. Coming out means that you are a target; and you quickly become aware of that. That can be minimized by moving somewhere friendly, or taking vacations somewhere friendly, or finding employment somewhere friendly but there will be people out there who do not know you, do not care to know you but will still be unjust, hurtful or at worst violent, just because of who you are attracted to.

All that being said, I think it is better to come out, and be out, than not. Because being out is about starting your life, as who you are. Not being out is about spending that energy making sure that people DON’T find out who you are. And that really is an important difference. Not being out makes you more than a bit twisted inside, even if you can’ t see it, trust me on this. I think now to a closeted law lecturer I know who always selects young, great looking boys/men to give individual tutoring at his house. It’s creepy and sick, but he doesn’t see that because...he’s not out, so it’s not sexual right...right? Yeah. Coming out pushes you in some ways to face things, sometimes things entire societies haven’t faced.

In an America which tries to get everyone in the world to promise to not have sex, coming out is a process of saying, “I have sexual attractions, they are part of who I am, and I AM going to act on them.” Gay and lesbians aren’t going to abstain till marriage; particularly when the same society tells them they can’t marry, or if they do, it doesn’t matter anyway. Which is pretty much the only useful thing North American societal homophobia has taught LGBT people, that in a relationship, it is the person and the relationship itself that matters first, not group approval, not the symbols of togetherness, not the rites of union.

Coming out is your choice, though if you live in backwoods, or religious or other certain environments it may not be a choice, not till you finish the prison sentence and get the heck out of there and somewhere where you will meet people like you, only at ease with themselves, at ease with being sexual beings. I have been missing my gay friends back home, particularly L, whose first statement would usually be, “It’s Friday night and I’m out of the valleys, who wants to go to the gay bar?” and while standing next to his partner at mardi gras would be asking, “A guy in ass-less chaps? Where? Where?” I think he likes guys, don’t you? Coming out doesn’t solve problems; it often creates them. But coming out is living life, openly, messy, full up falling in love and getting heartbroken, having people who respect turn on you because part of their mind hasn’t grow up to include you has a equal human, but also someone come up later and say how much they appreciated, how much they needed seeing you as an out person. And sometimes, if you are lucky, it is about seeing people change to understand and respect the real you; something that will never happen if you are not out. I forget to mention that there are really cool LGBT people out here; waiting to meet you, to get to know you. This is not to say that we all don’t have our issues too, still there are a lot of friends and people who want to know the whole you. But it’s your choice.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Epee: winning against Amanda & Olympic training

I went to Tuesday night fencing practice with grim forebodings. The day had sucked, full of those minor omens of doom from leaving the milk out to finding a hole in my clean socks; those host of mishaps which let me that this is a day better spent in bed, if only the neighbor wasn’t hanging his set of 14 pictures on the other side of the wall. “I’m going to lose every bout tonight” I told Linda. But since Tuesday is the night I get a lesson from Mr. Ho, it means if I want to keep getting lessons, I better be there.

Walking down the bus to ride to the Y, we passed a police car staking out our old residence (and setting for Zed), View Towers. An officer had her binoculars trained on an upper floor. We found out later the entire building was on police lockdown due to two drunks on the 16th floor who were having an argument...and had a gun. It’s good to know that building’s zesty charm had not been too altered since we left. But one might ask, AGAIN, why a permit was given to set up a liquor store directly across the street from the building. Oh, those wacky city planners.

At fencing, I suited up and as Mr. Ho got ready, I did my stretching exercises. Mr. Ho was mad at Monica Kwan (who won gold in foil at the Commonwealth Championships). The reason? Monica had pneumonia. To Mr. Ho, this indicated some sort of determination/training weakness (which is why I hide all of mine). He was especially irked because she was supposed to leave to go to the Pan/Am Games in 10 days. I pointed out that sick or not she still might go (since she already fenced after 4 days of food poisoning this year). “She do no good if go.” Mr. Ho determined.

I pointed out that the Pan/Am games come only every 4 years and she might still want to go. “It’s nothing,” he said, “She have to get ready for Olympics.”

This is when my imp of the perverse reared its head, “Yes,” I told him, “I know, I’ve got to start getting ready myself.”

“What!” his eyes bugged in his head, “You cannot go to the Olympics!”

“No, not right now, but let’s see how I do this year.”

I know that my suggesting these things simply drives him insane because to him, if you don’t start at 12 or 14, you are hopeless; except of course that I am actually improving, and I seem too stupid to understand that I shouldn’t. “How old are you?” he asks me.

“Let’s call it ‘in my thirties’” I tell him.

“Oh, you’re too old, Amanda, she train since 15 and Monica train since 12. If you are old, like you, then every time you stretch, it pulls on your joints and then it going to hurt.” He tells me.

“I know (OH I KNOW!),” I tell him, “But Sherriane MacKay is in her 30’s”

I can see the smoke rising from his ears as he tries to figure out how to tell me the difference between MY epee, and the world #1 in epee. “We’ll see how the year goes.” I tell him and leave him looking after me with a disturbed gleam in his eye.

I start my lesson, consisting of arm hits (which I do badly, after a 5 day break), and lunges to the arm, the elbow and the shoulder, in medium, long and super-long lunges. This is, by far, the longest I have ever lunged. I stand with my back heel on the free throw line, and Mr. Ho stands 13 feet away on the baseline. When he moves his blade so I can see his elbow, I launch myself into a lunge, extending 12 feet from back foot to blade tip, the momentum bringing me forward the last couple inches. If he felt I didn’t lunge quickly enough, he would parry. So as soon as the blade was moved, I launch into full extension, ending with my tip in his elbow, the blade arced against his parry...and again...and again. My back leg’s burning. See what happens when you even joke about going to the Olympics.

After the lesson I stagger over to where Brian, William and Amanda are fencing. My mindset was; let’s lose some bouts, work on a few things and get some practice in without hurting myself, or damaging my shoulder. Amanda beats William 5-1 and I come on the strip to face her. She tags me. We get doubles. Then I tag her, and again. And with no real plan other than my brain saying “Gee, I’m really tired, try to not embarrass yourself”, I’m suddenly up 4-3. I lunge, Amanda counter-lunges, I block and lunge to her side. Bout Beth: 5-3. I’m blinking a lot. This is the first bout I have won against Amanda. First ever. First in seven months. While, I win against people who beat Amanda, but I can never beat her. I figured it was a mental block. And now I’ve won, what does that mean?

I fence William and win 5-2. I’m starting to cheer up, the day is looking better for some reason. I know I should be losing, but I’m not; what’s up with that? Brian beats me 5-1, but in the rematch, I am up 3-2, he comes back 3-3. He backs away, dropping his arm by his side. “Wait!” my brain says, “I’ve been trained for this.” And I lunge the 11 feet between us to hit him, on target, on the shoulder. Brian is pissed. He gets aggressive. The next point Brian chases me down the strip with short lunges until he lunges and I duck, making him miss. I poke at him, he at me as I shrink lower and lower to avoid his point, stabbing blinding upwards. Finally, I am curled into a ball at his feet, my point still up, when Brian finally tags me.

“Elizabeth!” comes the shout from behind me. Mr. Ho has been watching the bout. “That is not good way to fight.”

I peek out from behind my knees in my curled up on the floor position, “Thank you Mr. Ho!”

Brian goes on to win 5-4.

It’s odd, because I’m not that good. I mean, I want to be this good, it just that while every other night I say, “now, when he lowers his head to lunge I am going to raise my arm and hit him” I end up missing, tonight I don’t. I fence Amanda again and she is up 2-0 when I do a lunge at her 4 (inside her body) dropping my point under her arm and blade, to come around and finish the lunge hitting her on her shoulder. I’ve done it over a dozen times against her in bouts. These are the ways to miss: tighten the arm, put out the arm too late, overlunge, rise when you lunge, tighten the shoulder, tighten the hand, pull the arm back slightly or make too big a movement when circling her forearm and blade. I have always missed. Tonight I hit within a ½ inch of my target spot. I get an arm hit on her; then a lunge to the body, and suddenly it is 4-4.

Am I going to beat Amanda twice in one night? “Please don’t screw it up” my brain says, which isn’t very helpful right now! She lunges, I parry and her blade is wide, I move forward, almost keening with excitement because I HAVE HER. She is completely open and can’t get her blade back in time. So as I rush forward, I extend my arm and watch as my point skitters diagonally across her body from her shoulder to her waist without the light going off ONCE. As my momentum continues to carry me forward, my tip passes her body and now I am the one exposed, my blade useless completely useless. Yes, I am the tragic character in the summer disaster movie who is looking up at the giant wall of water/flames/falling buildings going, “oh shit!” Amanda has recovered her blade back by this point and taps me, bout Amanda. I fall on one knee and my closed fist taps the ground once before I get up and shake hands. Inside, I am still back on the floor, kicking my feet, pounding the ground going, “Mine, mine, mine! She was open, that point was MINE!” But, I’ve learned as a mature competitor to not do that anymore, at least not until I get home.

Jpeg 2,3 - http://www.studio296.com/fence/2006/EPEE/220906WE/

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

So you've never been to a Science Fiction Convention?

Why am I going to a Science Fiction convention? Will everyone there look like “The comic store guy” from The Simpsons? Will people expect me to know all the character’s names from Babylon 5? I was unsettled in going to a science fiction convention; but thankfully the PCL Bus driver taking me from Victoria to Vancouver Airport distracted me from these concerns by replacing them with larger concerns, namely his continuous homicidal road rage. His endless yelling at a non-English speaking Japanese girl, concerned me, but it was when he ran off the bus (twice) to chase drivers, screaming and waving his arms that I began to be truly concerned. Being held hostage by a man whose heavy use of the two bus horns while he surged forward before slamming the brakes to convince drivers he was going to flatten their vehicles took my mind off VCON completely.

I arrived a little early to get ready for my panel. The organizers weren’t. There was a guy walking around in a giant floppy hat, colourful breeches and stocking. There were no signs. People wandered about aimlessly, some talked to themselves (I was one of them). The box of books Arsenal Press had sent was missing. It was unsettling, so I did a line of cocaine to calm down. No, no, wait, that’s supposed to read, “I bought a coke to drink and calmed down.”

The first panel was titled; “What makes a good ending?” and the moderator was the fan guest of honor, which meant he had been to a lot of these and knew what to do. I learned that a good moderator MAKES the panel as every panel will have a mix of the following. 1) Writers who are freaked out by public speaking and say very little until prodded. 2) Writers who love to hear themselves talk and may even refer to themselves in the third person and will do 30% of the talking in a panel of six people IF there is a good moderator (otherwise they will do 60% of the talking) 3) Writers who will only talk about their book, regardless of the question – for example, Q: “What is an example of a good cross genre book?”, A: “Is there one? However, MY BOOK, which features talking squids from space….” 4) At least two writers who are incredibly dogmatic and will spend most of the time on the panel countering each other and making digs and 5) Some genuinely nice and interesting people with a lot of good anecdotes (which due to panelists 1-4, you will never get to hear).

The first question in this panel was “What is the best book ending you have ever read?” They started at the opposite end of the table and the first writer started debating on which of two of her books contained the best ending ever. Then next writer did same. I was stunned. I mean, I like to think of myself as a vain and self-centered person but to claim out of the thousands of books I had read that the “best” ending was one I had written? Afterward Linda reminded me that even the times I am not talking, I am still at a table at the front of the room, so everyone can still see, for instance, when I start making gagging motions and stick my finger down my throat. For the “best” ending, I chose Moby Dick, since it not only resonated with the classic myth type of “one left to tell the tale” but involves EVERY single person following their obsession into oblivion leaving but one poor innocent to ride a COFFIN to safety. Smashing! However, I was the only person on the entire panel to not choose my OWN work (heck, Zed was a great book, but you know I can’t really do the whole, “Gee, well you know the Bible was influential in its day…but now I’ve written my book” thing).

So between that and Friday night being Richmond’s groups of young offenders on a spree night, it was a fairly crap day. But with some feedback from Linda, I went into Saturday with a plan; Mark Twain them. Mark Twain created his career by responding to the audience and getting the audience to respond to him. I figured that with what limited time I had, it was better that the crowd look forward to whatever I might say than anything else (after all, they had paid money to come). That worked well.

I’ll have to say meeting Dave Duncan was a bit of a disappointment as we sat next to each other on a panel. My telling him that I liked his book, Impossible Odds, got a muttered, “Not that good.” He does convention after convention, going from here to another Con before going to a Texas Science Fiction Convention as the Guest of Honor. During the panel he spoke once, to promote his latest book and fell silent the rest of the time (at one point appeared asleep). Barbara Hambly alternated between being bored and verbally sparring with the woman next to her. Everyone but me felt that a good book was one which made the publisher want you to write lots of sequels. My notion that a powerful type mystery/science fiction hybrid (Blade Runner for example) was in how it made the nature of the protagonist and thus the reader themselves an unfolding mystery, beyond that of the “who done it?”. Pooh, pooh the panel said, no sequel there.

This is not to say that VCON was all sour parsnips, as I met the Brian, the publisher of Edge press who travels from Con to Con promoting his authors, as well as publishing annual anthologies. Considering that the market for short story writing, particularly in Science Fiction, is dead (writers are paid the same per word now that they were 60 years ago), to have this guy putting his weekends, his finances, and himself into the field like this is inspirational. And, after conversation with Brian, there is a strong possibility that I will be one of the people to assess the books off Edge’s “slush pile.” So the wheel turns, now I may soon be one of those narrow-minded regressives who doesn’t understand the true potential of what they hold in their hands (like so many unnamed publisher’s readers who have delivered rejection letters to my door).

Also, while I met some of those people who trap you into rambling go nowhere conversations I also met a lot of people who were there simply to have fun and mingle with people of like mind. Yes, there was one older guy in a sailor moon outfit (I believe he goes to all the anime/Sci-Fi Cons), but also lots of nice costumes that suited the individuals (though why do so many guys dress up as villains?) Admitted, I did turn and run away from one conversation which had to do with a species from Farscape elevating sexual unions to the next level (All I could think of was the part from the Simpsons when the “comic store guy” passes a law emulating the Vulcans where everyone has sex only every seven years: “While for some of you this may mean much less sex, for others of us, it will mean much, much more.”). As well as inadvertently starting a fight by using the words “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” in the same sentence, which caused one of the people who had gone to several of the panels I was on to tell me that “Harry Potter is Lord of the Rings lite.” which soon erupted into violent arguments I thought it best to move as far as possible from.

By the end of Saturday I was a “known” person and people were coming up to talk to me or ask me questions, including one guy who told me that I was the Christian Right’s worst nightmare, a tall articulate lesbian. “Who’s good with a sword,” I added, wondering exactly what conversations had gone in rooms the night before to make my orientation a matter of public record. No one kissed my feet, and no one bought my book, at least at the Con, but, I think I would go to one again, though only if I could do more panels. This was my first experience directly interacting with a reading market and the connection between being a “personality” and sales. Basically, for a newly published writer like me, being cool or interesting and somehow larger than life, is the best way to interest the hundreds of potential readers to check me and my work out. Luckily between my build, my big mouth and my personality I don’t have a problem being “larger than life” (like on the panel on Future Humans, one audience member felt that being able to manipulate sexual orientation in insects as scientists do now is meaningless, as human sex has nothing to do with insect sex. “So why?” I responded, “after sex, do I feel often like ripping the head off my sexual partner?” Please note, Linda laughed.)

I was frankly disappointed in the “big name” writers and didn’t bother stealing anything from them (though we did come away with some dragon fridge magnets). From now on, at Cons or public events I will take my cue from a gay guy I know in Wales called Stephen Best, who when off stage, always made you feel like you were the total centre of his attention (until he politely made his excuses 30 seconds later and moved on). This, combined with preparation and wit in the panels, gives the visiting Con members what they paid for; the idea that favorite books along with the people who read and write books all gathered together in one place are more interesting and exciting than everyday life.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Zed gets a review; VCON gives me life lessons

I have returned from VCon, of which I will give full details on the morrow. I will say however that is was a learning experience of which two new life rules come to mind: 1) Never talk about Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter in the same sentence at a Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention unless you want the excitement of trying to escape people screaming abuse at each other in near riots and 2) When on a panel, never acknowledge the guy in the black faux SS uniform waving his riding crop in the air to ask you a question.

Rain Taxi, a print and online literary journal based in Minneapolis/St. Paul has printed a review of my novel Zed which makes me want to take the reviewer, Rod Smith, out for a drink:

“So what's to stop some intrepid director from giving the novel the cinematic treatment it so richly deserves? Well, remember what David Cronenberg said about Naked Lunch: a literal film version would cost a billion dollars and be banned in every country in the world. Zed wouldn't cost half as much, but would easily be twice as banned--if only for the nail gun scene and its aftermath.”

Just so you understand, in MY view of the world, that’s high praise.

The one thing I’ve come away from this weekend with is a confirm conviction that while I will do my best to write as well as I can from and for an unspoken voice, it is due to a wide range of people that this is in any way possible. So, thanks to the many, many readers who liked and passed along Zed, in the truly excruciating 14 month process between when Arsenal became “interested” to when they “accepted” the book (how many different approval boards can an independent publisher have? You’d be surprised). Thanks to anyone who bought the book. Double thanks if they read it. And my genuine affection for you if you recommended it. Every year there are 170,000 books published in English. That means, as a reader, you are the elementary school softball captain, and there are 170,000 faces bouncing up and down going “pick me, pick me!”

Let's just say that those Elementary school days were never good for my moral or self esteem. So thanks for picking me (buy two copies, you know this is just the kind of book your Grandmother wants for Xmas! Donate extra copies to Nuns!).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I won't be your Game Master: going to VCON

Tomorrow I am off to attend the Vancouver Science Fiction Convention (VCON) which involves three bus trips and one ferry trip (this is when living on an island becomes a pain in the ass!). I'm going because a) they asked me and promised me attention (I'm vain, so very, very vain) and b) because there might be goodies! The guest of honor for this year is Barbara Hambly, though notable writers like Dave Duncan and Robert J. Sawyer are also attending as panalists.

I will be on three of the writer’s panels. The first is on Friday called “How Stories End” which is about endings and whether stories need to end happily. I think anyone who reads this blog knows my position on that. I mean, how can we count mere survival as a “happy” ending if there hasn’t been a lot of pain, sorrow, loss and potential disfigurement leading up to it? I’m on that one with the prolific author Edward Willett and the erotic and horror writer Arinn Dembo, so I can imagine it will be....different.

Saturday afternoon I am on two panels; the first is on mystery/science fiction hybrids with a gang of people including Dave Duncan and Barbara Hambly as well as Cynthia Ward (who writes for Garden of the Perverse: Fairy Tales for Twisted Adults). I imagine that any comments I make will only make audience members wonder why I am up there with such notables, so I will be spending my time trying to steal pens and stuff from “real” and important authors in order to sell later on ebay.

The second panel is on the future of “Perfect People” ala genetic engineering. I am mostly going as a wet blanket, to point out that technology is usually only developed or used to do some pretty horrific things. For example last week India came up with a new way to tell the gender of a fetus at only 7 weeks. While using gender typing to determine abortions is illegal in India, it hasn’t stopped the ½ million female fetus’ aborted in that country already. Another example is how genetic mapping is already being used in the US by health insurance firms to deny coverage. Welcome to our cool new future! Unfortunately for me, Bridget Coila, is also on the panel (a Molecular Biologist), so while I have the history of human atrocities going for me, she has science. For some reason, people at a Science Fiction convention seem to trust science...bummer.

I am not sure what I will be doing the rest of the time. As they had announced they were adding GAMING to this VCON, I had plans to play Halo and the like. No, no Beth, you have not understood the true geek nature of GAMING. This is gaming which requires 20 sided dice and where calls have gone out if you want to volunteer to be a GAME MASTER. Two weeks ago I was asked, with some mockery, whether I had played Dungeons and Dragons in school. Though I think I had the geek cred, I had not played D&D; primarily because the religious school I went to believed it to be a gateway drug to Satanism since D&D leads to Ouija boards leads to sacrificing goats at midnight. Of course, they also believed teddy bears with red heart shapes on them were pagan (as the red valentines heart predates Christ coming from the Greek & Roman green leaf symbol) since Care Bears leads to swearing which leads to prostitution (or something like that). Anyway, I am not versed in the ways of being a Game Master or Mistress, though if there is a whip and black corset involved, I might be persuaded.

There is also a Masquerade, which sounds like a costume party but turns out it isn’t. To participate requires a plot and up to six people (and optional music) and probably a lot of stagy entrances. There are also going to be costumes and performances from the Rocky Horror Picture Show from ENTIRELY STRIAGHT people (I really do shudder to think, what’s next – non-lesbian Xena's?). The rules are strict, very strict and include rule #7: Costumes with electric power requirements must be self-contained. Also rule #4 eliminates projective weapons, working firearms AND live flame and flamethrowing devices. I mean, with rules like that, it’s hardly worth going, right?

So, I think I’ll probably be drinking during my off times. Or like Clive Barker did, I’ll be offering to sign my book in blood. If you pay me enough, I’ll even sign in it my blood, or the blood of handy people nearby (another reason you might want to steer clear of me when I have a drink in one hand and a scalpel in the other). Can't wait to let you know what loot I've “liberate” when I return.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dear America: sexual abuse makes victims; not predators; not piano teachers

Former Congressman Mark Foley, who inappropriately sexually harassed young men under his supervision has fled behind the defense of, “I was abused as a teen.” I was immediately reminded of the second season of Veronica Mars, where the question of who could have blown up a bus sending 8 teens to their deaths is answered in a single insight: Beaver was sexually abused in little league. Ah, now the question of exactly what type of sociopath who could have murdered indiscriminately time and again is answered; the lurking time bomb of the abused. Indeed, this seems to be the year for America to reaffirm the myth that those sexually abused are not victims, merely future predators.

This idea is a double insult to the hundreds of thousands of victims of sexual abuse. The double insult is first the assumption that abuse, instead of damaging or crushing some part of a person, implies it instead creates something new: a lurking monster. Second, it is that this act of sociopathic creation only occurs with men; who are somehow more damaged than women, for whom, societal values dictate, this sort of stuff is second nature (and remember, “good girls” don’t talk about being sexually abused!).

The first idea has been extrapolated from stats that show that a percentage of male sexual and physical abusers have been abused themselves. This creates an idea that being a victim of abuse puts you on some sort of “reaction scale” rating from the latent to overt potential for becoming an abuser. However, this makes as much sense as assuming survivors of concentration camps are going to join the SS or start carrying out medical experiments of their own. Getting raped is not a creative act. It doesn’t teach you how to play the piano, it doesn’t help your emotional development, and it doesn’t instill in you plans to murder, stalk, sexually predator or damage other human beings. Yes, some people who sexual abuse have been abused, but more haven’t. And of the dozens of cases of rape, incest and sexual abuse that occur in the US every day, only a tiny, tiny fraction go on to be sexual abusers. A far greater portion go on to become medical workers, or teachers, or work in computers or in finance; but getting raped doesn’t help one succeed on wall street. Get it? Of course, law enforcement knows that, though often TV land cops suddenly break a murder case when they find out a suspect was abused. There are no potential predator warnings out for the several million victims of sexual abuse alive in the US today.

Sexual abuse can only hurt, twist or stop things inside a person; not develop them. It can stop trust, ways of communicating, ways of seeing others and ways of seeing yourself. People who have been sexually abused work to get on with their lives; they do not; as Season two of Veronica Mars states, go around raping people just to see if they are “normal.” Nor do they as Congressman Foley wants to imply, manage to NOT sexually harass anyone in their long years of campaigning and work building up their power base, but now, with teens in their employ, are suddenly incapable of doing otherwise because of what happened when they were 13-15. Men in positions of authority, who are often considered above suspicion and even the law, will harass and abuse simply because there is often no consequence. Such dubious acts need not even stop one’s career, as in the case or Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose sexual relationship with a 16 year old when he was 28 hasn’t stopped his movie or political career. Strom Thurmond’s affair with the teenage sevant “help” while in his twenties didn’t stop him from going on to be one of the longest sitting and most powerful Senators. If Foley can claim anything from the “I was abused” defence, it would be the perception that males in positions of power sexually harassing or abusing other males is something easy to get away with. But it was his view that his own desires and interests were more important than those in his care which he should answer for.

If you want to blow up this myth, and I certainly do, then lets start talking about sexual abuse and harassment, openly in North America. When only the rapists, creeps, snipers and cannibals stand up to talk about being abused, and when that is the only occasions news outlets will talk about it, then we are led to believe, even more than the overwhelming cultural pressure toward abuse victims to “shut up, shut up, shut up about it”, that abuse in men creates monsters and that abuse to females produce…women. Back to Veronica Mars, it is notable that the one crime in each season she can’t solve is rape. In the second season, cutely titled, “The Rapes of Graff”, Veronica during her visit to a university, finds her boyfriend is charged with rape. Veronica, while exposing a frat tradition of harassing girls for sex in order to score points, does not chose to find the rapist, but rather only the evidence to prove that it wasn’t her boyfriend, just some run of the mill university serial rapist. Oh well, the frat boys don’t get to have parties for six months, Veronica’s friend is cleared, another friend gets a scholarship and all is well (hello? The serial rapist and the raped girls? Shhhhhh, “good girls” don’t talk about getting the short end of the stick regarding “justice”).

The best way to stop all of this is to stop sexual abuse, and that is by talking about it and treating it as the crime it is. Which is a fairly new concept. In Britain, until the 70’s, women police officers were part of The Women’s Branch, which only had limited powers and dealt with “women’s crimes” (aka not REAL crime) which include domestic abuse and rape. The US has the highest rate of reported rape per captia in the world (4 times higher than Germany, and 13 times higher than Japan). Yet most rapes will go unreported, and according to the 2003 US National Crime Victimization Study only half of reported rapes result in an arrest, 20% are not prosecuted, and of those who are prosecuted, only 58% are convicted, and only 2/3rds go to jail. That means only 1 in 6 of the minority of rapes which are reported ends up with someone going to jail.

I do not believe a society which views women as equals could stand so far above the rest of the world, not just in the way women are viewed as sexual prey but where there is any credence put to the belief that it is the act of being abused which turns, not the abuser, but the victim into a threat. The US catholic church has faced 1,400 lawsuits regarding sexual abuse of over 10,000 child victims. The church’s solution? Aggressive attack by claiming that the abused children and parents were at fault, and then blame the gays; telling everyone the “problem” has been solved now that gays or people with “gay tendencies” are banned from being priests (regardless that 98% of male to male sexual abusers are heterosexual).

Abusers are just that: abusers; the people where the blame and focus should belong. Victims should not be silenced or blamed, or led to believe that they are damaged in a way that is a threat to society. I just wish enough people would speak up about this that the creators/viewers of Veronica Mars and Congressman Foley would put away this type of reasoning. They can place it on the shelf of “bigoted defense ideas only used to blame victims” right next to “gay panic” and “men can’t help themselves sexually.”

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Impressed by nature's wonder; wonder what's wrong with humans.

The good news is I saw a humpback whale (or two) surface three times yesterday beside the ferry while coming back from the US. Combine that with the saw-whet owl I saw at twilight last week near the cathedral (something perhaps to do with the massive amounts of squirrels in my area, perhaps) and I am thumbs up for animals.

Humans however, collectively piss me off no end. The Canadian government has been apologizing AGAIN for having illegally handing over a Canadian citizen to be detained and tortured thanks to the CIA. While the Canadian government still doesn’t seem to find a problem with the fact that instead of handing over their citizens to be tortured so the USA is safer, they might try helping their own citizens feel safer (from say….being tortured under US orders). But no, they apologize because they now realize that just because a) the US says someone is a terrorist and b) they are male and of Arabic ethnicity, it doesn’t actually mean they always are a terrorist, and maybe they should have investigated themselves. Gee….sorry, but, as the RCMP commissioner and man originally in charge made haste to point out; I’m not quitting my job (though I made terrible, terrible mistakes!).

Watching Ken Burn’s nine part documentary of the US civil war one can’t help but notice the strange difference between a conflict to ensure that all people’s are free and equal, and one where the stated purpose is to keep the killing and conflict on someone else’s doorstep while generally decreasing the equal quality of life for Arab-Americans. But then again, as historians pointed out, while in the Civil War, the North may have been the ones holding the guns at the end, the “equal freedom” for Black Americans would not arrive for another 100 years (unless one believes equal means separate equality). It seems us humans have a hard time living up the few times ideals are touted.

Meanwhile it seems that guns and sex seem to rivet the attention of the population, whether in titillating downfalls of republican emails or the continuing high schools shootings in which sexual abuse appears as a wonderful garnish to the excitement of all. Indeed, there are so many school shootings this week that news desks are frothing in frustration at having to move on before the juicy marrow is sucked out of each one. Alas. But, I can assure you there is inappropriate sexual conduct by people in charge and abuse occurring in your own neighborhood; your church, your school, maybe even closer to home – wowie! Hmmm, not quite as exciting eh?

Like I said, I’m not really pro humans today. No philosophy, no point of view, sorry, just...we suck!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Carmanah: If you go into the woods today....

On Thursday night Linda gave me the percentage chance I could go fencing on Friday: 2%. For some reason she was convinced I would start fencing before I was fully healed, that I would stay too long and strain myself and that I would come home as bad or worse than before. Gosh, she sure has a distrustful nature. She believed I would somehow wreck both myself and our special trip to the Carmanah Valley the next day, and was willing to use leg irons to get her way.

Six weeks ago in an online auction to raise money for Breast Cancer research we had bid and won a trip to Carmanah Valley. When Linda and I first met (and fell in love)in Winnipeg she took me on a trip through the “forest” and kept referring to anemic shrubs as “trees.” “Those aren’t trees” I told her, and so one of the first things I did after she moved in with me was to take her to Carmanah Valley. There, in an original watershed, stands the Carmanah Giant, the largest Sitka Spruce in the world at 313 feet tall, 31 feet diameter; Carmanah is where the Western Red Cedar and Sitka Spruce number in the hundreds; where the biomass (plant growth density) is double that of a tropical rainforest in a valley housing trees up to 1000 years old. “That,” I said, as she gazed up, “Is a tree!”

This would be our first time back and as the auction allowed three people to come, my father tagged along. To get there required a genuine 4 wheel drive and driver. Trevor the co-owner of a computer company had donated his jeep, his driving and his guide services to the auction we had won. It was a three hour drive each way, and we got an early 7:30 start. The last 90 minutes was done on unpaved logging roads, which Trevor raced over at 50 mph, sliding around turns, changing gears constantly as we entered potholes larger than the jeep, which threw sheets of water completely over us. Trevor seemed to be experiencing a rally road race fantasy; while for us, we were all glad we had taken Gravol before leaving.

Carmanah is the best example of the 2% of temperate rainforests existing in British Columbia, most of which have been logged into extinction. On this dry, overcast day, we would only see three people in our 4 hours of valley hiking, but many, many slugs (giant slugs). On the way into the valley we came across a LOT of bear poop.

“Bad berries?” I said.

“GOOD berries!” Linda replied. We did not, sadly, see any bears.

With the giant trees looming above, the valley floor is dusky, but a thousand shades of green (Vert and Verdant were there in plenty) amongst the plants growing out of the loam and fallen trees. When a giant tree falls, it becomes a nursery for dozens of new trees, which, over decades, jostle each other for light and nutrients until a few remain, their roots surrounding the slowly decomposing spruce tree, until they too reach the canopy above. I like walking in these woods as it is one of the few times I feel truly small. To a 300 foot tree, everyone is “shorty.”

Surrounded by gigantic ferns, oversized mushrooms and slugs over a foot long, it is easy to believe that you have stumbled into the Land of the Lost, and a dinosaur will soon burst out of the foliage to hunt you down for dinner.

Down in the valley we left the Carmanah Giant and the equally large, Heaven Tree and continued over walkways, under fallen giants, over root systems and along the bark of fallen trees, following the meandering path the three kilometers to The Three Sisters. These three Sitka Spruce trees are joined at the base in a massive root system, each over 20 feet in diameter yet growing over 200 feet tall in a triumvirate.

Because, the root systems of these giant trees rest above ground, they are particularly sensitive to human interaction (like stomping all over them). Stephanie Hughes, now living in Tofino, studied the trees in the valley and spent two years developing the walkway systems to allow people to visit and interact with these giant trees yet without permanently damaging them. Linda raced up to the platform to peek back out at me from between the trees.

Carmanah exists as a park only through a movement of popular protest. The BC government had secretly given the permission to clearcut Carmanah to the logging company Macmillan Bloedel but in 1989 a series of protests around other original growth forests on the island convinced the logging company to try and cut this valley, previously considered too remote for logging. The Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC), its members numbering only a few hundred, decided to try and save the valley, bringing attention by staging street theatre and protest in front of the parliament. They also brought together environmentalists and native band leaders to create a united front. In an inspired act of creative resistance, they took over 100 famous artists to Carmanah, creating the Carmanah Art Project; the creation of a book which brought the beauty of the valley to the general population, winning numerous book prizes and increasing the WCWC membership numbers into the thousands. Carmanah was saved and the population grew aware, and interested, in the irreplaceable beauty it was losing to logging each year. By 1993, in the fight for Clayoquot Sound, 12,000 protestors came together to recognize a unique environment too valuable to lose. Nearly 900 people were arrested, including teenagers, for civil disobedience, but the logging stopped. Seven years later, the area was recognized as a UN Biosphere reserve.

Walking in an original growth rainforest, where six month old trees sprout in the shade of 800 year old giants, while a entire system of biodiversity erupts from below your feet to above your head, it is hard not to face that here, humans are the intruder, and that the only gift humans can bring is destruction. As Trevor pointed out, many of these trees were alive when Columbus landed in America. “Yes, but they didn’t have a very good view.” I reply. Trevor mutters that it is probably why they are still standing. There are a lot of potential boat keels, Japanese temple beams and tables & chair sets in these woods.

Smaller trees are completely covered with climbing moss while the ground is covered with salal, deer fern and hackberries along with tiny toadstools to gigantic brown, yellow and purple mushrooms, all being munched by banana and freaking gigantic black slugs (you step on this sucker, and he is taking your shoe with him for pissing him off). On the way back we stop at a stream to watch the steelhead trout and salmon as big as my arm.

Back in the jeep, as I held on to the overhead bar for dear life while Trevor shifted gears his road rally race toward civilization (with Linda in the front seat egging him on), I reflected how renewing, even for an urban loving dweller like me, it is to see and remember how good the unplanned, unorganized, slow life, death, murder & decay of nature really can be; till the humans screw it up.