Saturday, December 30, 2006

Beth epee fencing: is it mortality or divinity?

I have either good news,bad news or I’m not sure. Due to last night it seems that a) I am pregnant, b) I have a gigantic brain tumor or c) I did something stupid. The problem is I just can’t quite determine which one it might be. Can you help?

Last night, I went epee fencing with Linda. It was pretty empty and after 90 minutes, when Linda quit, after chasing everyone to the end of the strip in terror, there were just two of us left fencing. So William and I did for round after round of 10 point bouts. I was tired, because it had been 3-4 days since I fenced full out but I knew I had the endurance from my training, I just needed to work out all those holiday dinners. After two hours of intense fencing a couple people noticed I was slurring my words. And after two and a half hours I mentioned I was getting that “vomity” feeling, which means that I am likely dehydrated. But, it wasn’t a big thing, I had experienced both dry mouth and nausea before and fenced through it, and based on my body, I felt I could probably go another hour, though with some effort. And yes, I was exuding so much “glow” it was making puddles on the strip. But, like I said, nothing particularly worrisome.

Only during the next bout, I started to have problems keeping balance and found it harder and harder to walk in a straight line. Then, according to Linda (because sometime during the bout, I just remember getting a very “distant” feeling from my body), I stopped, said something about needing “just a minute”, bent over resting my hands on my knees and, after a few seconds, fell to the floor. I couldn’t get up. Linda helped me back on my feet. "I'm ready to fence" I mumbled, but by the time I got that out, they had unhooked me and Linda was helping me over to the drink fountain saying "No!" to me in the tone you use to a dog that has just jumped up on the couch. I tried to lean over to get a drink, missed, hit my head on the top of the water cooler and fell again, collapsing on the floor. When I focused on Linda I asked her, “am I bleeding? Am I bleeding?” I couldn’t feel my either my head or the rest of my body and for some reason, that just didn't seem right.

In the tradition of our club, I heard Mr. Ho order Amanda to fill the gap I had left on the strip, and continue the workout. Meanwhile, I was on the floor in the hallway, and it was a good floor, very cool and close to the ground for those who want to stay collapsed. Linda opened my jacket, got a towel, wet down my face and neck and rolled me over to the water cooler. Good thing she is a trained first aider. In a few minutes, I was able to go outside and then walk the ½ mile home. I felt better and worked another four hours before coming to bed. I really did feel better. The question that really bothered me was....why? Why had this happened?

I talked over the possibilities with Linda:

B: “The answer seems clear, I have....a giant brain tumor.”

L: “It is NOT a brain tumor, just like when you didn’t eat for two days and fainted ALSO wasn’t a brain tumor.”

B: “You never know, those brain tumors are very sly.”

Linda gives Beth the look to say, “This, like the other 50 times you thought it was a brain tumor, ISN’T a brain tumor.” Beth returns a look that says, “One day it might be though!”

B: “Okay, maybe not a brain tumor, but I’ve looked up a lot of the symptoms; nausea, dizziness, fluctuations in stamina and they all say one thing...”

L: “What?”

B: “Pregnancy!”

L: “You don’t drink anything all day, go and exercise for two and a half hours and you think its pregnancy?”

B: “Why not?”

L: “Is there something you want to tell me......or maybe someone you want to tell me about?”

B: “No. Nothing like that. Hey, it happened once before in history, if God wanted a REALLY virgin birth....”

Linda rolls her eyes.

B: “I decided, it going to be a C-section.”

Linda rolls her eyes.

Okay, there might be one other explanation, which is heat exhaustion, where your body is unable to keep your body cool enough and dizziness, nausea, loss of balance and all that can occur. What I don’t get is why then? I mean, I wasn’t really pushing my body, I didn’t even wake up as sore as usual this morning. I know I’ve fenced up to three hours without eating all day before, do liquids really matter that much? And why did I fall down this time. I had more endurance, I just couldn’t get to it. Does this mean that I am mortal? Does this mean I have to be one of those people who carries a water bottle around with them? Or says things like, “Give me five minutes, I’m taking a break.” I mean I have been knocked down in epee, and fallen down due to pain, and pulled muscles enough to have to stop fencing but I have never just fallen down like a sack of potatoes during a bout. No, no, no, this can't be happening. What if this means I have to change my work-outs and follow “sensible” advice. Ug!

I’m going with the pregnancy thing until time tells otherwise – sure the likelihood is several tens to hundreds of billions to one, but if I have to choose between one world view where I am just not smart enough to remember to drink 10 ounces of water in 24 hours or another where God has decided to manifest a future divine being inside my body – hello? Definitely going with number 2!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Baytown serial rapist: masculinity redefined

What is the one act which negates that a man is a man but which reaffirms that a woman is a woman? Rape.

A couple days ago, a story hit the front page of CNN, Fox, CBS, NBC, ABC and other news services: There is a serial rapist in Baytown, 30 miles from Houston, and he is targeting and raping men, with least five victims so far. Each of the news reports carry the same slightly odd tone, they report that yes, either 1 in 10 or 1 in 5.5 rapes/sexual assaults are male, the last attack was Nov. 30th, this man seems to be targeting his victims, is more interested in rape than money and....drum roll.....the suspect is a black man targeting white middle class 18-21 year old men.

The topic quickly spread in internet forums and newgroups and the second most common response was how the story validated the hatred of many different groups of which the most common was 1) hatred of gays (usually the story was retitled using the term “sodomite”), 2) the need for guns, guns, guns – that this instance was proof that every American male needs a gun, and that if you, particular as a Texan male, don’t have one, your butt hole is at risk and 3) hatred of blacks (particularly black males), usually with “safety tips” like, “Any man that lives in Texas, is around blacks enough to be raped by one of them, and does not have a state issued Concealed Handgun License, is a fool.” And “Actually, african black males will rape anyone, regardless of gender, race … or species.”

Those were the second most common responses, the first most common was: “This is what? A fake news bullitin? shall we go to snopes? I dont buy it.. no dude can be "raped".. I just dont see how that would be possible.” Yes, the most common response was, total disbelief, later mingled to asserting again and again that “it simply could not happen to a “real man” as the first poster on rotten tomatoes forum states, “The day I'm robbed and raped by a clean-shaven man who stands a mere 5-foot-6-inches, is the day I put a bullet through my brain.”

We have a serial rapist who stalks, studies behavior and safe times, chooses younger victims, has a gun and a knife, forces the victims into their deserted homes, he duct tapes the young men’s hands and blindfolds them. But yet, in such a situation, with a gun at their head or a knife at their throat, no “real man” could be raped. Uh huh. This reaction and the reaction of the media itself highlights this strongly held myth which is tied to cultural male identity; a belief in the inherent right or nature of men sexually to control, objectify, dominate or decide. Any study of history, from bank robberies to concentration camps will show that “real men” when confronted with the choice of possible survival, to probable immediate death at the hands of someone with a gun, will choose the path which may lead to survival. Yet we have this idea that when it comes to sex and objectification, this simply DOES NOT HAPPEN.

Now Texas, where these rapes are occurring, is the second highest state in reported annual rapes. This year, based on previous crime rates, there will be 8,500-9,000 forcible rapes in Texas in 2006; not yet quite 1,000 every month, but getting closer to it. Harris county in Texas, which Baytown is a part, has 1.2 million women, of which, when only counting full penetrative rapes, not attempted rapes or other sexual assaults, over 150,000 women in Harris county have been raped. This is Texas, where 15 years ago, the supreme court ORDERED a task force to develop points based on current behavior of gender bias which needed to be changed. It was published five years later telling judges, lawyers and law enforcement to change thier current behavior in sexual assault cases regarding women: blaming victims for causing the abuse or assault, questioning the credibility of female crime victims in ways that the credibility of male crime victims is not questioned and viewing domestic violence and sexual assault as less serious than other criminal acts. Texas only launched its first public awareness campaign on sexual assault 2 and ½ years ago. Rape, for women, in Texas, is a quietly understood event of which over 1 million texas women have unwilling participated. That isn’t news; and until recently, wasn’t something significant enough to motivate law enforcement to make a public campaign. Indeed, a serial rapist two years earlier in Houston, 30 miles from Baytown, who sexually assaulted seven women by entering their house after their husbands left for work did NOT make national news. Indeed there are several differences between the way the two stories were reported, differences which made the story reported on CNN so interesting; because of the emphasis, ever present, that men being raped was “different” indeed, in many ways “more serious.” And though traditionally the public in treatment of rape survivors are quick to jump on the “blame the victim” bandwagon (including sweeping assumptions about what “real men” would do), for these male victims this does not yet seem to include the standard rape versions of “they were asking for it.” For instance, did the young men dress provocatively? Were they perhaps consciously inciting the lust in other men with their lean, taut, bodies defined by sexually appealing clothes? Were they perhaps to blame in opening the door to a stranger, knowing the vulnerability and position attractive young men are viewed in this society. Had they been sexually active, leading others to believe that they were promiscuous, or “asking for it?”, did the police ask or imply if this was really a “rape” at all, or had their boyfriend had hard sex with them before splitting up and this was some sort of revenge ploy? Why hadn’t they taken a self defense course? Why didn’t they have a whistle? Were they aware of their surroundings at all times? And, like the woman in the Mike Tyson trial, is it likely they will have their raped orifice blown up to 6 foot posters to present in the courtroom as evidence?

The way the case is being treated and reported is that this is something horrible, something entirely special which has happened (though today another 25-30 people will be forcibly raped in Texas) because this person was a black stranger who was targeting and raping men. In a way, it is different, simply because in many states, including Texas: “a grown man could not file rape charges against another man who raped him.” Boys get abused, but MEN don’t get raped (It was only 11 years ago that the first male rapist of another adult male was sent to prison in the UK). This is different from the clear societal viewpoint at work in which women (and often gay men) have an understood niche in society if they are raped, even if that might be that they are, in some ways, born to be raped, or where the value of their sexual violence against them is determined by someone other than themselves (that rape for some types, and some women, isn't really that bad), as the continued forum discussion on this serial rapist brought up the opinion that “the gay/tranny street prostitute type kid/young adult who might not be inclined to fight back because risking their life to avoid anal sex is not simply worth it (just as many female prostitutes submit to rape without fighting and report it later)..." Since, "..Raping a prostitute is like shooting a person about to jump off a bridge.”

The instance of men raping men, while given a greater social significance; an attitude nationally that this is a “serious” crime; also puts the victims in a position in which they are excluded from society. There is simply no place in western culture for the individual male victim of rape to be acknowledged as a fully masculine human being. Yes, the act itself is horrific, but perhaps as much of the horror of the rape is the greater horror that such an event occurring threatens the perceived and enforced “natural order.” It is hard to look at these male victims, not just because of the sympathy, but because, as almost every male commenting needs to verify about themselves with statements about guns or wrestling to freedom or how it is “impossible” that the existance of these male victims of rape attacks their concept and definition of masculinity. The typical worldview, in which a person, always either a woman or a child is objectified and used sexually, but then partially blamed for the act conceived, planned, put into effect and created solely by the rapist is overturned by this Baytown rapist. To the North American view of the world, it simply cannot be accepted as making sense, and that is how it was reported.

There are significant differences between the way the story of the Baytown Serial rapist was reported and the potential serial rapist in West Texas last year, or the serial rapist in Houston two years ago. In most news reports involving females there is little to no desire to hide the identity of the women who have just been raped or sexually assaulted. For example, in the Houston story, while the name of the woman is not given, the block she lives on is, along with the age of her children, the name of her neighbor and a picture of her house. The story tells which hospital she is being taken to for rape testing and includes the block addresses of the previous six female victims of this serial rapist. If the rape isn’t an home invasion (and sometimes if it is), there is usually an ending piece telling women what they SHOULD BE DOING to make sure this doesn’t happen to them like only traveling in pairs, take precautions at night, etc. The overall subtheme is that, rape happens, it will happen, it happened to her, and it could very likely happen to you (and that the need for privacy isn’t really that necessary since, after all, as women, you knew this was a significant possibility).

The story of the serial rapist of men was siginificantly different; while AP and CNN report that 1 in 33 men have been a victim of rape in the US, they also state: “That makes him something of a rarity in the world of crime”. “The story quotes one person saying that it is basically only a matter of time until rape turns into murder while another says it is rare for a serial rapist to become a serial murderer. There are no details on the victims, no ages, no specific locations, no specific methods, and no specific mention on what young men should or even could be doing to protect themselves except the repeated thought; I want him off the streets and locked up like yesterday." The theme of the report is these events “make no sense” (as if giving a statistic which stated that millions of men in the US have been raped but then saying it is a rarity didn’t tip that off). Along with the hope that once this person is locked up, masculinity can go back to the status quo – even if that means tossing all the male rape victims aside, since, with the cloak of silence, it is implied and understood that their life as a “real man” is probably over anyway. That, for me, simply isn't good enough. Any view of gender (and masculinity) which means abandoning the people who are most in need of help: the vulnerable and the victimized; may be one which can make the nationals news, but should be recognized as one which needs to be abandoned.

This is my experience: when men talk about rape of men; it is a joke usually with a reference to prison. Haha! (NOT! Particularly when Texas is the number 1 in the country for reported prison rape but managed to only substantiate and act on less than 3% of those reported cases). When women talk about rape of sexual abuse; be prepared; because the stories you will hear are not jokes in any way; and so horrific to normally be unbelievable...if they weren’t so common. The experiences, though almost too much to hear (raped by a relative from the age of 6, gang raped, held by three men; tortured and repeatedly raped, repeated spousal rape and physical abuse, date rape, etc), give a feeling that if you haven’t been sexually abused or experienced attempted rape then you probably either didn’t date enough guys, didn’t go to enough college parties or weren’t left “in good hands” enough times as a youngster. I am not trying to diminish the pain and simple inhumanity every single act of rape or sexual abuse demonstrate; I am trying to highlight a problem when the way one gender looks at rape is either with disbelief or a joke and when the other has the threat of it, or the effects of it hanging over them constantly. The confustion, need and threat felt in the reports of the Baytown rapist shouldn’t simply be about finding him and getting him locked away so everyone can forget about this “rarity” and return to status quo. Instead how about wondering how it possible we live in a country like the US where several hundred thousand women AND men are raped EVERY year. That is the great challenge to gender issues, and a fact which continues to threaten and confuse me.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Xmas Epee Fencing and the Battle in Seattle

What did I get for Xmas? Linda gave me several stabs under the collar bones, and I loved it! No, this isn’t an introduction to “Tie me up, tie me down: an S&M Xmas”; we fenced epee on Christmas day. Several years ago, Linda did six months to a year of foil fencing and thought it would be nice to try some epee; but without the intense bruising from the guys in our club. Plus, after two days without any one to one epee training I was getting twitchy and she didn’t want me running off on the sly to a low-down epee haunt to feed my need; some back alley joint where epee addicts go. After digging out her breast protector we picked up at Leon Paul last year in case of just such a whimsy, and repacking her into one of my jackets, we got our helmets and swords and went down to the open parking lot for some stretches and footwork training.

We did the warm up and then a series of five point bouts for Linda to get a feel for the blade and the difference between foil and epee. Then we played the “arm game” which is a game I play with beginners to the sport where I can only get a point if I hit them between the fingertips to the elbow while my whole body counts for them. The arm game is good because it means both fencers can fence all out, since I have such a small target and if she guards her lower arm well, it becomes very difficult for me to get points. I thought because I sleep, eat and live with someone I would be able to read her moves easily – not so. Linda had a very quick learning curve and doesn’t telegraph her moves, plus she keeps very good distance and retreats (a lot of people don’t retreat – which means when they stop retreating, bam – I get the point), but more importantly, she can switch from retreating to attack almost instantly and she has a very hard rhythm to read. Most people, after their first and second attack, slow down and stop, which is when I counter: point me! Linda slows after a couple attacks and then suddenly speeds up and launches another series of attacks. We started some 10 point bouts with her getting 2 points for each hit. At the start I was winning, but by the last bout she was skunking me. She was surprising, unpredictable, defensive and aggressive and had me laughing. She helped me remember that epee can be really fun. That's good becuase, except for tournaments, which tend to be kinda intense, epee hasn’t really been that “fun” for me lately.

Speaking about tournaments, I will be going down to The Battle of Seattle from Jan. 20-21st, 2007. After some deliberation, I decided to enter the mixed (read “95% men”) epee as well as the women’s. The “mixed”, with four weeks to go already has 45 epeeists from Washington, Alaska, Oregon, California, and even Atlanta Georgia (7 A ranked, 10 B ranked). The women’s has 17 so far and hopefully will get up to 25+ before the event. My main concern is that the women’s is on the Sunday and the mixed is on the Saturday and all those guys will treat me like a big cloth doll and leave me with bruising and strange tread marks as they run right over me. I on the other hand have a severe case of Annie Oakley (“anything you can do, I can do better!”) since usually if there are six women in a mixed tournament they will end up the last six places. Now I am convinced I can do better than that, I mean, how hard can beating a few A and B ranked men’s epee fencers be? So whether male of female, if you have lusted after fencing me, this is probably your best possibility – The Battle in Seattle, “be there or be square, dude!”

On a sad note, unless something unexpected happens, which in my life is fairly common, I will be unable to continue competitive fencing beyond Feb. or March. That is when the funding I have available runs out. Since I have already sold what limited edition books I have to extend my ability to go to competitions; I simply don’t have anything left to sell to raise funds. Plus, since I still do not have a coach, nor can I get a commitment of training lessons beyond 3 or 4 a month, as well as a lack of steady training partners it makes it very difficult to make advancements comparative to the training hours and financial commitments I put in. My desire would be to continue this year to go on to do the Canadian competition circuit as well as some of the US tournaments perhaps including the Div II nationals (since I have dual citizenship). That is what I would like. However, I cannot see right now how to get from there from here. To give you some idea, at my location, training fees are currently about $1000 a year, while equipment and competitive events costs would be another $5,000-$6,000 (yeah, fencing seems to take a close second to "drug habit" for consuming money - be thankful I am not into competitive polo!). At least I’m glad I don’t live in the Queen Charlottes or Alaska. I’m not saying I am quitting fencing, or that I will even quit competitive fencing, I am just saying, from where I am sitting right now, that is how it stands. I probably could find the money to fly to the Canadian Western Championship but unless I have a coach or training partners, I wouldn’t want to go to a competition in a few months with LESS skill than I have now.

Wow, what a downer, huh. That said, I am currently still competitively training, around what obstacles I have, and trying to figure out ways to make myself a better all around fencer – Linda gave me that when I laughed at how fun it was during our bout. Truly there is nothing more terrifying that being chased by a beginner with a blade down the length of a parking lot. You have no idea where their arm is going to be, you’re not sure if they have any idea where their tip is going to be and the only thing you know is that they see this really big white target in front of them and they WANT it!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Female Masturbation and why it is a GOOD thing

Incredible; powerful; fulfilling: those three words are the ones used by 69-75% of women who masturbate. I know, I know, women aren’t supposed to talk about female masturbation (though 80% of us or more actually do it). And we all know that guys talk about endless detail. In fact, if you start a mainstream film with a guy masturbating (like say American Beauty or Bubba Ho-Tep), you almost ensure a cult classic (not to mention the cult status masturbation brought to American Pie). As for female masturbation...oh that’s right, we’re supposed to be waiting for the guy to exchange intimacy for not so great and probably not orgasmic sex (it is well known that more women will reach orgasm from masturbation than from penetrative sex alone). A 2002 study funded in part by the Canadian Government (I’m so proud to be Canadian!) sought to find out if all female orgasms feel alike? Are clitorial orgasms different from g-spot ones?

What they found out was: “gee, women are really complex, particularly when they are having orgasms” – seriously, they couldn’t create a model or context to subjectively evaluate female orgasms. What they did do was ask women out of 60 adjectives, to pick ones that represented orgasms, both with partners and in masturbation. Number one word regarding masturbation picked by 75% of the women: Incredible (add your own exclaimation marks as you please), number two: powerful (73%) and number 3: fulfilling (69%). Those are the kind of experiences worth having, no?

At this point you are probably having an “oh my god…” moment; yes it is Xmas eve, yes I could have written about peace on earth but let’s face it; you have relatives, you have stress, you have time....on your hands (will the fact that female masturbation can help cure insomnia help you read on: “an orgasm may work like a charm to help you fall asleep”). As for those relatives…a 2001 study found that an orgasm can relieve migraine pain FASTER than medication and result in relief of more than half the women with migraines (Evans & Couch, 2001). See…it IS good for you! Although most evolutionary scientists are puzzled by female orgasms; Scientist Elisabeth Lloyd wrote a book which collects the 21 different theories that different evolutionary scientists have developed and it comes down to this: “Gee, women are really complex, particularly when they are having orgasms.” - or rather that as far as they can tell, the clitoris has no function (now before you start reaching downward to prove them wrong – what they mean is no EVOLUTIONARY function) – women have orgasms, women have multiple orgasms and the clitoris is an important part of this – however, unlike men, this has NO IMPACT on their rate of pregnancy (though a possibly huge impact on their headaches, confidence, and a good nights sleep). Which just emphasises my belief that God loves women: ergo clitoris.

But female orgasms is a field in which what little is known has only recently been discovered. Until 1998, no one had even tried to empirically quantify the aspect of a female orgasm. And after a few millennium of guys building entire cultures around their orgasms and masturbation (In Greek culture the god Hermes taught Pan how to masturbate to “relieve misery”; Pan taught shephards....word spread) while it was only a few decades ago that in 1950 Ernst Grafenburg found and published about a spot in women which created orgasms (named the G-spot in his honor). Right now we live in a society where it is accepted and expected for males to “beat the bishop” (there are over 1300 different phrases in English to refer to male masturbation”) and even make mainstream movies about it, but it is not acceptable for women to openly admit to “making kitty purr” (there are only 372 synonyms for female masturbation), at least not “good girls.” A study of 178 women who actively masturbate found that 80% of parents either did not talk AT ALL about female masturbation to their daughters, or when they did, lied to them about it: “70 percent of the females reported their parents told them nothing about masturbation…six percent said their parents told them myths, and another four percent of parents told the specific myth that masturbation was something boys do but that girls shouldn't.”

Okay, what should you know: 1) Talking about it, writing about it, blogging about it and admitting it is socially taboo and has a long history of being so (London Doctor, Isaac Baker Brown, performed his “clitoridectomies” from 1858 onward in order to try and remove the possibility of females masturbating…without their consent). Linda said the one piece of advice she would give about masturbation was “get rid of the “virtual” aunt at the end of your bed” (50% of females feel guilty when they masturbate). Remember it was just over 10 years ago in 1994 when the US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders was fired for suggesting that masturbation was okay. But be assured, it IS okay, not only that 2) females can have (and do have) masturbation experiences earlier than males: a Canadian survey with NOW magazine (who also did a great review of my book Zed), found that of the thousands of responds, 18% of women started masturbating at age 9 or before, 32% before the age of 12. We are hardwired to be able to experience pleasure genitally, but socially condition not to. 3) visual and mental aids are the number one stimulation (think pics, movies, romance books, or as this Harvard student recounts, TV shows: “I myself was quite the practiced masturbator by sixth grade, probably outdoing all of my male peers in the precocious department. I had started in elementary school, reaching between my legs during the sexiest moments of Saved By the Bell—like when Zack Morris finally met Kelly Kapowski’s lips. The habit quickly got so out of control that my mother had to ask me to please not do that when company was around.”).

That being said, over 50% of women who masturbate own and use vibrators which can range from clitoral stimulators like the Ladybug to ergonomically designed vibrators for your whole vulva like the femblossom (PLEASE do not use your electric toothbrush – while a common vibrator substitute, it can tear up the fragile vaginal skin). Vibrators are fun; like the name implies, they vibrate! Turn them on, let them vibrate in your hand; get out all of your pent up nervous laughter as you scan the room and realize that the “sex police” aren’t about to bust down your door (and hopefully neither is your mother). Look, considering how taboo this subject is, having a few hang ups is quite normal – ordering a vibrator online is a painless experience and it comes in a plain box. Okay, you have the vibrator in your hand: have a drink, relax, laugh a little, start off however feels comfortable to you. The whole purpose is to feel good, to relax, and to learn about yourself and how you best respond sexually. The one thing sexual expert agree upon is that the best way to improve your sexual experience is to know what stimulates you, so that you can better instruct your partner (The highest percentage of straight women had orgasms while on top…pass it on!). Though, that being said, in one study, 41% of females said that masturbating itself was more fun that sex with a partner (don’t worry, outside of teen years, most women masturbate 10 times a month or less – so, this isn’t going to become a “life destroying addiction” no matter what your Baptist Pastor says – as to “life altering”; I hope so, don’t you?).

There are many guides online, to help you if you want a few tips to masturbation or have questions. But you won’t know how you respond until you try some things out. Some females orgasm with their clitoris, some vaginally, some both, it’s all part of finding out. After a few times, your body will “tell” you or help guide you to what it likes best, sometimes it tries to go ahead without you (which falls under “I don’t think I’m going to read THIS book on the bus anymore”). Without going into explicit detail, this is an example of MY inner dialogue:

Body: “Mmmmmm......horny, want sex!”
Me: “Okay, that’s sounds pretty good.”
Body (now tends to view everything around with an erotic charge): go read that book, you know, THAT book.
Me: “Should I run a bath?”
Body: “GET BOOK!”
Me: moves “quickly” to find appropriate material; starts reading.
Body: the thighs tighten as they rub back and forth
Me: “Whew, did someone turn the heat up?”
Body: (suggests a variety of things from simply rubbing hands over body to going and getting a vibrator)
Me: “And how I am supposed to hold the book?” (heart rate increased, breathing increased, vagina moist)
Body: “Yes! Over there! More of that! Yes! YES! YES!”
Me: “Oh...I'm tingly all over. Mmmm....”

I imagine that for a lot of women that falls under TOO MUCH INFORMATION. But why, it is the vaguest description of what a lot of us do – masturbate. And it isn’t bad – it’s good, that’s why the number one word other women use to describe it is “incredible.” As with many things, for the best results: practice, practice, practice. I am reminded the short film we saw at a film festival: in this German funded sex aid film one lesbian finds out her partner has never masturbated to orgasm. They set themselves up on the rooftop as one instructs the other. Let’s say the lesson of the film was: “good things come to those who persist” – as the non-orgasmer is a source of humorous chatter, even during the rolling credits:
“Am I done yet?”
“If you are asking that question, then no”
“Can I switch hands now?”
(Average masturbation experience is 10 minutes for women)
So, this holiday season, try "Hitchhiking South" or "Rocking the boat" as you give yourself (and your sexual partner) the gift of finding out more about what makes you say “Wow!” or “Again!"

Friday, December 22, 2006

Getting a 'talking to' from my pimp and watching Jean Reno films

Here is my insight for this week: life is always a surprise. Sometimes that is good, when there is so much going good it’s like an ongoing birthday party but sometimes like feels like riding a run down rollercoaster in the fog (a little TOO much uncertainty). In the last few days I’ve be surprised by a stalker (and had to consult on calling the police) and had a different guy tell me I was his property, to do, speak to and treat me as pleased him. Odder still, he thought and still thinks that by trying to blackmail me, he can “control” me; that he "owns" what I will do and what I think. Hahahahahaha! He must be pretty stupid. (guys who treat other people the same way pimps/rapists do remind me of Hosea 8: “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”)

Also had one of those moments on Wednesday when humor is turned against you. I get a lunch pizza on Wednesdays after my Monday and Tuesday training. At the pizza place they had this sign advertising “We are searching for maniacs!” (which was a lead into something about being nuts over customer service). So I pointed to the sign and asked if medication was necessary for the job. The guy holding my pizza stared at me. “Uh, odd sign.” I said pointing to it again. The guy holding my pizza stared at the sign and then at me. “So, you aren’t actually looking for people with mental illnesses?” I asked with that, “going down with the ship”, last attempt. He looked me up and down a long time. “No.” he said and handed me my pizza. O...kay!

On the rollercoaster in a fog side, I also got my grandmother’s Xmas letter, which turned out to be a bragging letter about her new and improved sex life at the rest home (she’s 89). I’m just glad she didn’t send pictures this year. Linda thought it was pretty funny till I said, “What if your grandmother sent you that letter for Xmas?” I’m just trying to resist the urge for having lots of sex since I don’t think a subconscious need to prove I have a better sex life than my grandmother is the right motivation for intimacy.

So instead of having compensatory sex I have been doing what all North Americans do when they could be doing something else: watching TV; Well in my case, French films – all involving Jean Reno. District B13 was financed by John Reno and stars David Belle doing his amazing Parkour magic. All the essential elements are there: urban jungle, feisty girl, muscled guy trying to save his sister and neighborhood and limber enough to leap from building to building and honest but tough cop who can dish out brutality with the best of them. I couldn’t understand how this ended up with poor reviews until I found out there was dubbed version (insert me screaming, hands held to sky). Ted Turner may have had a dream to buy up and colourize every classic black and white film he could find – I have a dream to destroy every crap dub that America has created under the guise of “subtitles are complicated.” Not to mention that every time things get dubbed they also get culturally cleaned up (which is how for instance in Sailor Moon, a lesbian butch and femme couple ended up translated as a male and female cousin). District B13 is brainless and at times sluggish, but with plenty of vivid action and jaw dropping stunts to make up for it.

The next film I watched and best of the bunch is Jean Reno in Empire of the Wolves from the same producer as The Professional. If you can imagine how cats sometimes shiver all over with pleasure, this is how I feel when I watch Jean Reno in a French thriller – first off, they don’t explain ANYTHING for at least 20 minutes – you either try to put the pieces together or wait and hope things will make sense later. And of course, it is virtually impossible to tell who is a bad guy versus a good guy, or maybe a bad good guy, or is he a good bad guy – who knows. Jean Reno is an ex-cop who used to police the Turkish Immigrants, terrorizing the mafia which ran them so much he was called, “The Shaft” – he is brought back by a young captain who is investigating a string of murders and mutilations amoung the illegals that no one in authority seems to care about. Of course, there is also an “innocent” young woman who is capable of overwhelming force (including one scene where she takes out three police officers with guns trained on her). And no Reno film is complete without an extended scene with explosions in the French catacombs as we see Reno being dropped, bit by bit into the abyss as the metal circular staircase under him disintegrates. He stands there, with his dead eyes staring out; is it remorse? Is it resignation? Is it the look of a cold blooded killer? A definite recommendation to any French thriller or Jean Reno fans.

I also picked up Crimson River II – which, like Die Hard II, may not make the greatest logical sense but is interesting to watch anyway. Plus lots of people die in odd ways and Reno goes around looking pissed and shoots off people’s fingers. There is just something about Jean Reno in films that you know there will be a moment of unexpected, remorseless violence which usually makes me stare wide eyed at the screen after I’ve yelped “Holy f**k!” – I don’t know why he makes such a convincing sociopath, but since he’s usually a “good” sociopath, even when, for instance, he’s a hit man, it is somehow okay.

For some reason I got the first disc of Kingdom Hospital which Stephen King says he wrote which was “inspired” by Trier’s Danish series The Kingdom. I guess “inspired” means a 80% plagerizing of lines, characters and plot except for the major subplot where Stephen King puts his own story of getting hit while jogging – which means Stephen King actually managed to outdo Tarantino in inserting himself as the centre of attention in his own films. Am I saying Kingdom Hospital is bad? I am saying that many people will find it fantastic; probably the same people who think that Fox News isn’t a drama program and actually “news”, and again, the same people who would find reading the subtitles on a Danish miniseries “way too complicated” – yes, that’s what’s been getting in my way all these years – the full functioning of my BRAIN. See, Lars von Trier’s is actually more neurotic than I am; so much that it is hard to believe he is in any way functional; he also tends not to use an actual script and to torture his actors – which is how The Kingdom manages to both be horrific and comedic without trying. Trier takes tremendous chances in his works and they either succeed or fail. Stephen King on the other hand, takes no risks, but tries to clean up, Americanize and cute up Kingdom Hospital – in other words; no guts, no glory. Since I have a particular hatred for US films which take unique works of art from other cultures and then repackage them as American and sell them to a population who hasn’t a clue that there are other DVD region codes in the world (or indeed that there may be other countries and cultures “out there” – wherever that might be) – I recommend that you perform your own exorcism with Kingdom Hospital if you own it – nothing more festival than throwing another dubbed or repackaged piece of hack plagiarism on the Xmas fire!

Anyway, since my laptop has just indicated to me that it wants to head off to electronic heaven (you know, where all your old cell phones have gone) – by having everything die on it from the screen to the DVD drive, I guess it’s time to strap myself back into life’s rollercoaster – looks like a heavy fog coming in.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Feminized men, women's roles and all that baggage

“You know my feelings that our young men are becoming increasingly feminized.” This statement from an older male friend has been bothering me. It certainly isn’t the first time I heard it, or the church equivalent for women; “women are losing touch with their femininity.”

Coming out of a conservative Christian environment, I was taught exactly what “gender roles” God (and North American society) deemed appropriate. I found, in the decision to come out to my church as a lesbian, I first had to break through the mental and social barriers which asked, “What constitutes a woman? What is a “woman’s place?” And through interacting with the lesbian community, challenged by seeing these women who, cliché aside, did sometimes look like men (one friend was the lust object of a gay friend...until she turned around and he saw her breasts), that question kept coming up, particularly by those to whom the word lesbian meant “wants to be a man.” It was the diversity of these strong women that taught me that a woman is whatever a woman wants to be. Or rather, we are finding out every day the different aspects that can encompass gender and finally breaking free of the idea that society and fear decide “gender roles”. If a woman drives a big rig, she is just as much a woman as one who is a beautician; that a woman who wears men's jeans and shoes isn't trying to "be a man" and is still just as much a woman as one who wears dresses and make-up. That femininity is something inherent, not acquired, and how that is displayed or not can be self determined. As a lesbian, I am a femme (a lesbian who prefers to use some aspects of “traditional” femininity) not because I am trying to “pass as straight” or been brainwashed by hetero values but because that expresses best who I am to the world and to other lesbians (and being a femme makes me stronger than I would be as a crew cut butch). I LIKE having long hair and I LIKE engaging in aggressive sword play; I open my own doors and I like getting gifts of flowers – and those aren’t two sides of a coin, but the same side. A woman who shaves her head is just as much a woman and can choose to be just as feminine as a woman who wears long hair with tiaras. Femininity isn't decided by what body hair a woman decides to shave. And thus, I suppose, I became a defacto feminist.

And now back to the guys; the principle is the same. How exactly does “young men” feminize and stop being “young men?” As long as they identify as males, they will always be men regardless of what they do, how they act or what they wear. Liking other guys doesn’t make a male less of a male, it just shows some of the variety of what it means to be a male and maybe some of the different ways to be masculine. Yes, some people get upset when a straight, long haired, moisturized and emotionally sensitive male is considered equally masculine to a never-cries, old-spice, rarely talks, spits and grunts muscle bound traditional male icon. But isn’t it wonderful instead? Wonderful that even now, what it means to be a male can still be expanding, that new choices can be opening up?(Yesterday going to the gym I spotted a person on the treadmill, and my mind went; "What great hair she has, and look at those muscles on her, she's a pretty hot butch....has she got her breasts wrapped?.......oh, its a guy." at which point my interest ended and the many straight women I know who REALLY like androgynous guys jumped in)

My current feeling is tha thumans need diversity instead of molds. Humans simply do not conform, have not conformed and are unable, with their diverse background, experience, personality, biological makeup and who knows what else, to stick to one outcome. Certainly gender is often heaviest enforced by that gender itself and males in particular seem uncomfortable to angry with men who act outside what is seen as traditional male models or roles. Even Discover, a magazine dedicated to science states: “Indeed, gender ambiguity provokes nervous squirming in almost all of us--DISCOVER authors and readers, Olympic testing committees, the general public, and even physicians.” (so much for dispassionate reason?) But let’s face it, in a lot of situations “traditional masculinity” sucks. A conversation recently with a South African doctor revolved around the difficulty in getting South African men to stop linking masculinity to virility because it was killing them and the women around them. He told me of the men who not only feel they must sleep around because the more sex they have the more a “man” they are, but how they will beat their wives if they try to even use birth control pills much less protection during sex because the woman is threatening the physical demonstration of the man’s virility (another child) – even though HIV is now rampant through South Africa, and even though a female's chance of making it to 14 without being raped is 50/50. No, these are not “feminized” males – they are just males so stuck in a pattern that they are killing themselves, those around them and destroying lives in order to hold to a idea that simply DOES NOT WORK (I have no problem with muscular men or men who hold "traditional" values, but when a man thinks that by being a man he gets to tell women what to do, or starts limiting other peoples lives or even thier's time to move on!).

It is sad that often in life, people become afraid and attack something which is different, particularly in others. To straight mothers, as a open lesbian, I am a threat; while to many lesbians, who see femmes as women who have haven’t freed themselves from straight culture; I’m a “lesser” lesbian. One straight friend said, “You are proud to be a marginal revolutionary.” I am? It turns out that by being proud to be a lesbian, in their eyes, I was defacto challenging society and marginalizing myself. Odd, I always thought I was simply saying, “I am here, same as you.” Because that’s the truth of it; we are here: women who like driving tanks, men who want to take care of children, women who are strong and muscular, men who are carers, men who don’t care what others think about them, men whose masculinity is demonstrated in their lip gloss, boys who want to princesses and girls who want to princes – we’re already here, the only question is, can we finally equally accept them or are we going to try for another century to enforce a link between gender to behavior and punish any who act otherwise.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Six weird things about me: the home game!

I have been tagged in the "6 weird things" game in which I am to post six weird things about myself before tagging six others.

There seem to be only two rules:

1) You can be retagged

2) The only way not to be retagged is to add an additional rule.

On to weirdsville!

Number one: I’ve never kept Xmas. Originally this was because, while I was growing up, my parents never kept Christmas due to religious beliefs (which basically amounted to: if it ain’t in the old testament, we aren’t doing it – so no Hanukah either). So as an adult, I have no warm and fuzzy memories of late December, no family gatherings, no presents and no emotional connection to a day even the Christians must know has nothing to do with Christ’s actual birthday (throwing the odd coincidence of Saturnalia aside, the pageants combining events at least a year apart like the birth with the arrival of the “wise men” should be some indication?). My general experience of Xmas has been: customers in retail who get angrier and angrier as Christmas approaches; a level of tension manifesting itself in parking-lot road rage; the hypocracy of cards arriving from people who won’t talk to me the rest of the year and people “caring” about the strata of society they walk over (exemplified when I volunteered to help serve a homeless dinner put on by a corporation my partner worked for. The corporate head started the dinner by saying to the homeless, “It’s so good to see so many familiar faces here again.”)

My favorite carol is the Coventry Carol, a 15th century carol about Christmas genocide. It’s not that popular because I guess people don’t like to be reminded that the same “wise men” who show up with gifts also helped sparked a fear in a paranoid king (Herod) which resulted in the death of tens of thousands of infants. Jesus was greeted in this world, not by singing and goodwill, but by dead bodies of children, stacked like cordwood. One artist’s video captures some of the theme in what is the all around creepiest Christmas Carol video I have ever seen (a goth Christmas), linking the Coventry Carol to the Holocaust (singing kinda of odd, video....very creepy).

Weird number two: I sometimes suffer from Sleep Hypnopompia Paralysis – which is, I think, the official third circle of hell. While you sleep, when you enter REM sleep and dream, your body does something (they still aren’t quite sure what) which paralyzes your body from moving so you don’t act out your dreams. With Sleep Hypnopompia Paralysis, you wake up and become conscious, but are still completely paralyzed from REM sleep. You can hear but you can’t see (because you can’t lift your eyelids) and you can’t move; not even the twitch of a pinkie. It’s a lot like waking up inside a corpse. I would spend my time trying to scream. No dice; no grunts, no whispers. Thankfully, Linda became quickly attuned to my breathing patterns and when they changed from sleep to awake but under paralysis she would wake up and start touching and moving my body until whatever switch that kept the paralysis going switched off. Go Linda! Sleep paralysis used to be called, “Old Hag Syndrome” on the basis that there was some evil spirit or thing sitting on your chest; the Chinese term indicates it is an evil ghost keeping you from being able to move.

Weird thing number three: I’ve read over 10,000 books. This is because a form of dyslexia separates my phonological section of my brain from the visual and linguistic. What this means is that my speech and reading vocabulary are different, and not phonetically shared. It also means that when I read; I am not limited or linked to “sounding words in my head” like most people, in fact, a study of similar “compensated dyslexics” showed the visual part of the brain being used in silent reading. When I read (about a page every 15-20 seconds), my brain usually uses the shape of the words to construct a visual image, and so I tend to see a type of movie in my head. And since I read the book faster than watching the film (about 60-90 minutes a book), that is what I used to prefer (until I figured out that if I turn on the subtitles, and put the speed at 4X on my laptop, I can read AND watch the about 25 minutes). However, because of the separation, I often cannot often read a page aloud; particularly when I run into words where I might know what they mean and what they “look” like, and how they “feel” inside my head but I have no idea what they actually sound like. This isn’t to say I’m not articulate, it is just my vocabulary comes from words others have spoken, not what I have read. This is sometimes awkward when I try and talk about something I have researched or blogged about and cannot even come close to pronouncing the word or subject I have just written 2000 words concerning.

Current treatment for people with my condition to make them read aloud a lot to try and link the two sides of the brain together. I am thankful I escaped that. While it was difficult as an English teacher to be constantly misspelling words on the board, and my reading aloud skills in junior high were at a third grade level, but by the age of 7 I was reading and comprehending at a high school level and by 9th grade I could read 1000 pages on a school night. So when other students were reading one book to write a paper, I was reading EVERY book on that subject (Entering high school I had loaning privilages at a university library), which would normally get me an A, except my spelling and grammar would reduce that back to a B. All I can say is "Thank God for spell check!"

Okay, number four, I have a fear of phones and when I moved away from home, didn’t get a phone until Linda moved in with me. To this day, I still have a difficult time actually calling someone. I can’t really explain it, sorry. Letters are okay, emails are okay, face to face is okay – phones bad! Needless to say, I don’t have a cell phone.

Weird thing number five is that I collect anthropological accounts of cannibalism. I have found OTHER people think this weird, I think it is normal. I became shocked in university that certain, shall we call them, taboo subjects meant that original accounts of human behavior which showed up in societies around the world were not being recorded or preserved. In an attempt to preserve what I see as a sort of universal human social trait and its meaning, I started to collect any original accounts of cannibalism, particularly culturally connected cannibalism. For instance, there are Amazon Basin cultures which require cannibalism to enter heaven – which was a real problem for the Christian missionaries trying to convince relatives to not eat their loved ones to help them pass into heaven but instead to stick them in the cold earth and let bugs eat them instead. Indeed missionaries are a great source, even if sometimes their cultural innocence gets them into trouble; like when one Micronesian tribe required human sacrifice to the Gods for the dedication of a long-house, usually supplied by slaves captured in raids from other tribes. In one case, the chief was looking at a difficult task, as the long house was complete, yet there were no slaves and he was going to have to choose among his own tribe for sacrifices when suddenly three men with white skin walked into the village and through hand gestures indicated that God had sent them specifically to that village. And who says prayer doesn’t work?

Okay, last one; Linda says this is weird. I become increasing anxious the longer someone points their feet at me. That’s it, nothing rational or medical about it that I know of, I just really disturbed when people point their feet at me, including when they cross their leg and then their foot is bobbing, bobbing, their toe pointing right at me. Ahhhhhhh! (if you are trying you “chat me up” and you talk about licking my feet – I WILL hurt you)

Whew, done!

I now nominate:

Quaker Fencer
Daniel, the guy in the desert with lot of pics of hot guys

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The BMI, female athletes, the triad, eating disorders and me

I hate the Body Mass Index. Why? Because according to the Body Mass Index (BMI), I am overweight. According to the Body Mass Index, I will likely always be overweight except when I starve myself, at which point I might end up in “healthy”.

The BMI was invented between 1830 and 1850 as a way to determine statistical averages of weight. It does not calculate body types, or fat percentages, or even gender, simply height and weight – and the new “adjusted” BMI’s say that the taller a woman is, the less she should weigh (per inch). But the problem is that the BMI is being used more and more as a diagnostic standard. But even there doctor’s disagree, with some saying 18.5 BMI is a healthy weight, while others say women shouldn’t fall below 20. Meanwhile, the NHS in the UK has set a standard of 13.5 on the BMI scale in order to be treated for anorexia. To put that in perspective, I weight 210 lbs after nine months of exercising a minimum of 8 hours a week and restricting my food intake. To qualify for treatment for anorexia in the UK, I would need to be, according to my height, about 108 lbs. I find that funny because I used to keep this picture of me from high school; all you can see are sticks connecting giant elbow and knee joints, and every rib protruding – I was 170 lbs. Later in college, after eating less than 500 calories a day for 9 months, I was somewhere between 159-162 pounds; I couldn’t generate enough body heat to keep warm, I bruised if I sat or lay down, I would pass out or fall over when I was running (exercise, exercise!) and people said that it “nauseated” them to look at me. I had a hard time with jeans because you could see my entire pelvic bones, the whole bowl shape with skin stretched across them. To see my bones, where you could see my ribs bones breathing in and out even through my clothes, used to give me such satisfaction. But I was never anorexic, right, right, because the BMI tells me, and the doctors, so.

It seems odd because, anorexia seems out of fashion these days. All I seem to read about it bulimia, unless you are a fashion model, that is, like Ana Reston who died of anorexia earlier this year (at death her BMI was 13.5, which would allow her corpse to get treatment in the UK – just too late for her). Since then, Brazil and other countries have started imposing restrictions on models, based again on the BMI indicators. The problem is that the BMI, like any indicator, has serious flaws – particularly when talking about individual people instead of statistics. If you look at Ana Reston’s picture, taken during a long period of anorexia, she doesn’t look anorexic, does she? The other problem is that if you are an athlete, even a fairly serious amateur athlete, you will never score low enough on the BMI to reveal serious eating difficulties (and if you are a serious female athlete, you probably HAVE an eating difficulty).

For example, Shaquille O’Neal has a BMI of 32, which rates him as “obese” to “morbidly obese” and so seriously overweight he is in life threatening danger due to his inactive lifestyle...according to the BMI. But the BMI can't tell how much of your weight is fat or how much is muscle. For instance, amenorrhea, which is when the body fat in women reduces low enough to stop menstrual cycles, is undetectable through BMI and studies have shown that female athletes with amenorrhea and without amenorrhea based on unhealthy versus healthy amounts of body fat score exactly the same on the BMI. And with the weight of muscle over fat, eating disorders are harder to spot among female athletes. That is not to say they don’t exist; eating disorders among serious female athletes are 10 times more prevalent than the average population – though again, because diagnostic indicators are almost irrelevant when used against elite althetes, a Canadian study shows how varied the studies when it states:“The prevalence of eating disorders amongst female athletes is reported to be between 15% and 62%” While two US studies says that at least a third of female athletes have disordered eating. What is constant is that at least ½ of female athletes feel constant pressure regarding weight, and over half are on some form of food regulation. A majority of female athletes want a body fat percentage that is dangerously low (13% compared to the healthy norm of 17-27%), 81% feel “out of control” if they overeat and on every single item on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scales female athletes had lower scores than male athletes. Some of this pressure comes from the person: “perfectionism, compulsiveness and high achievement expectations are personality traits thought to be advantageous for the competitive athlete; however these very traits are commonly associated with the development of an eating disorder.” While other times it comes from coaches, the team and the environment, particularly in sports where lean is linked to winning performances.

But what about fencing? Fencing is the “odd” sport, as it doesn’t require a body type; According to Mark Masters, a coach in Philadelphia, "A lot of women who come to fencing haven't participated in conventional sports. In school, they were poor athletes--they couldn't throw a ball, weren't fast runners, couldn't jump high. With fencing, they now have a niche." What they don't tell you about fencing is that, unlike other sports, you will get fit, but not lean. In a study of male teens, fencing created the second highest BMI rating next to weight lifting (a higher BMI than basketball and even swimming). The development of powerful muscles in fencers gives them a BMI rating comparable to the “control” group – the group that sat on the couch playing games and eating cheetos. A look at the 16 top elite fencers at the last Olympics as well as some of the elite Canadian female fencers gives an average BMI of around 24; according to the BMI, just this side of “overweight”.

And how does that affect me? In the six weeks going up to the Nationals, I really poured on the training....and gained 8 pounds. That drove me crazy, particularly as I had restricted my eating significantly. Another female fencer in her thirties said that is just that way it is, welcome to “fencer thighs” and that she, at least 8 or 9 inches shorter than me, was 175 lbs. I should clarify, when I said, “drove me crazy” I mean it started a trigger. The more stress I am under, the less I eat, the more I crave control, the more I exercise. Right now, at most, I eat once a day. My calorie intake for the last month is 1/3 of what it was a couple months ago. It would be even less except years on diet drinks has made me severely allergic to aspartame – so no more meals of diet coke and celery. This is a problem.

I have always said, in private, that anorexia is an addiction, at least for someone like me. It is how I cope in times of trouble and though I have been almost 3 years with “healthy eating” all it takes is enough stress, or enough negative feedback or enough whatever is needed to start the trigger. And I will tip into that need to hold some part of myself in control so that no matter what is done or said to me; I have a part that no one can touch: they can’t make me eat. Of course, I win this “victory” at the cost of my own body. I said it in private because talking about eating disorders is very taboo if you are supposed to be an intelligent professional – you are supposed to have it “together.” So saying that starving is responding to emotional demands which are far greater than the puny emotional influence an idea like “you are threatening your survival” can bring to bear is a bad thing. But actually thanks to Faith over at the blog That is So Queer, I saw that you can post about being both an intelligent human being and a flawed human being.

That being said, it is possible to be both an intelligent human being and have ideas or actions which are not.....let’s call it optimal (I've lost 9 pounds this week, woo hoo!). Starving yourself doesn’t make you perform better, nor does it make you feel happy. It might make you an unhappy person who feels in control. But it also threatens your very future, particularly if you enter what is called the female athlete triad: This triad is characterized by disordered eating, menstrual dysfunction and osteoporosis – and ironically turns an activity which should benefit women into one which shortens their lifespan ("I have seen girls who had been in their 20s who had been amenorrheic for several years who had the bones of a 70- or 80-year-old woman," says Seattle-based research physiologist Barbara Drinkwater). How high the percentage of women in the triad changes from sport to sport but studies indicate that a majority of female athletes are under increasing pressure regarding body image, weight and ideals and a majority develop patterns to deal with it (according to a study by RL Rosen, 75 percent of female college gymnasts who were told by their coaches that they were overweight used pathogenic behaviors to control their weight.)

As Mr. Ho says, I’m a big female, very big. And I don’t think the BMI will ever tell me that I am in the middle of the “healthy” range – no matter how many hours I exercise. I used to have this deal with my body; eat what you want as long as you exercise – it was the pact I made so I would not weigh myself. Yet now, in the best physical condition for a decade, I currently feel guilty for every day I don’t exercise at least an hour and every meal or snack I eat? I’m so healthy that I’m sick. Isn’t it ironic? (Of course, remember, the BMI still labels me as “overweight” so it’s all justified, right? Right?)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Carl von Clausewitz's "On War", epee and why you're obstinate

Sorry I’ve been away a bit: in between training , working deadlines, mood swings, insomnia and weight loss, I’ve been a

I have been reading Carl Von Clausewitz’s book On War to see what is applicable to epee. While discussing Generals he points that a “tenacity of conviction” is an important element in a good General, however “obstinacy” can be a liability. Clausewitz ponders exactly when the one attribute turns into the other. I posed this to Gerald at fencing on Monday along with what seemed to me the obvious answer: When I believe something and refuse to change my mind it is “tenacity of conviction". But when YOU refuse to change your mind to agree with’s obstinacy.

Clausewitz’s says war (and it seems also epee) is comprised of four elements: danger, physical effort, uncertainty and chance (some say this also applies to my driving). And he says that it is how we deal and manage these that produce the best results. In one section, talking about intelligence (information about the opponent), he says that a good or great general, with limited intelligence makes decisions as if more information were available while a lesser one becomes frozen. This seem to sum up my insight between the small Victoria tournament where I became unable to act because I did not want to risk danger but didn’t know which counters my opponent knew to the Nationals where I used what information I could gather to make decisions on attack/defense and then use more information as it comes in to refine it. One coach said that top epeeists can completely change tactics in three points. For myself, I have found that while I usually change tactics in 4 points, I do not yet have enough experience to know whether the change will actually counter style the opponent. But at least I can recognize that my actions aren’t working and alter them. So that’s a start.

Enough theory, on Monday, I decided to work on my "mental game" and used some more from the book, On War, to try various mental approaches and see how effective they were in combat (against Gerald). For instance there was the “cool and aloof” trying to be calm and wait for the opening – that one went poorly. Katherine Durrell at the Nationals said that tall fencers need to try and see the opening before it occurs. So I tried that – Buzzz! Zero (so call me and I WON'T tell you your future: only 3.95 a minute). Then I tried to combine what Clausewitz calls “the genius of will” and his idea that all actions, even defensive, have a single goal, the defeat of the enemy. In this frame of mind, all focus and concentration is bent toward the single thought: that Gerald would provide an opening, and to be completely committed to its immediate execution. This I found highly effective. As Gerald said, “You’ve gotten some new aggression”, which is ironic because usually he was attacking me. I do think that this particular mindset would only work on someone like Gerald who constantly works to create openings in order to start his attack. Generally, the female epeeists I have fenced tend to be more still, patient and then have singular flurries of small attacks, stop hits, counter-attacks rather than an ongoing series of motions.

Toward the end of the night, Gerald said, “Okay, last point” – a clash of blade and we doubled. No clear winner. “Oh, we’ll have to do another!” he said.

“Actually Gerald,” I told him taking off my helmet, “I prefer ending this way.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Being female and over six feet tall? Assumption without dignity.

If you are female and 6’ or taller you may recognize some of these: Amazon, Giant/Giantess, long-legs, tree, THING, lurch, She-Hulk, different, big girl, stretch, monster, tower, wall, dinosaur, toothpick, string-bean, freak, Godzilla, Sarah (plain and tall), butch. For me, I think, “That” is probably the most common, as in hearing people say, “Look at that!”, along with the second most common “My God!” While I'm tempted in writing this to make some joke about people’s need to deify me, having people fall back in fear or be unable to contain their shock at this “unnatural” appearance when I stand up to get off a bus, or when a person turns around after bumping into me isn’t a joke or very funny to me at all.

I am 6’3.5” tall. Actually I might be 6’4” but I’m not in any hurry to check that; because 6’3.5” just sounds a whole lot shorter to me. Stupid isn’t it? Except that people tend to make assumptions, judgments and actions based on appearance and as one Professor put it: “Many people are turned off by extremes...I believe this is human nature.” But people are also fascinated by extremes, and for some reason, many people assume, that like celebrities, tall women have given up their right to personal privacy. Maybe when people walk up to shorter people, differently abled people, people in wheelchairs or other visible separators they start with a joke or nickname to emphasis the difference like “Hey, crip, what’s the gravel like down there?” Maybe other people go around making statements about what sex with other people would be like (“like a jockey riding a horse”), I can’t say. “How’s the weather up there stretch?”, “You sure are tall”, “How tall are you”, “You play basketball/volleyball”, “You sure your feet come all the way to the ground?” like any tall woman, I could retire if I got a $1 ever time I heard them (and YES, I DO know I am tall - just the fact that I have to bend down to check my hair in a public bathroom mirror might give me that clue). And if you don’t smile and make some inane comment of approval, people can get quite mad. It doesn’t matter that you might be in the elevator after finding out about a death in the family, or having just lost your job. Hey, you’re a public figure, you OWE it to them, don’t you? I wish I was kidding about this, but I have had people get quite hostile if I just stare at them or am otherwise occupied; "I was just trying to be nice!" they huff.

From 1950’s to the 1990’s doctors treated tall young girls to try and stop them become tall women: “Since tall girls usually become tall women, the biggest concern seemed to be that tall women would have a hard time fitting in, being comfortable in social situations, and, most importantly, finding a man to marry.” Many parents believed that having a very tall daughter would mean they would but unable to participate in society, get a job and find a partner. For those successful females under the treatment, both grades and social interaction immediately improved.

A study done on 10,000 people born the same week in the UK in 1958 found that the probably of a woman having children decreased the taller she was (along with the probability of her getting married). As Dr. Adam Eyre-Walker summed it up, "We are taught to look upon tall men and small women as desirable" Indeed studies in the US on mate selection have proved this out – based on the studies two scientist Gillis and Avis estimated that 2%, 2 out of 100 couples would have the male shorter than the female. In their study they found that instead it only occurs in 1 out of every 720 couples.

Because height is a key part of how our society determines masculinity, tall women are societally often viewed as unfeminine; one interpretation of female height and childbirth ratios goes so far as to conclude that tall women (because they have fewer children and later in life) must be “mannish” in thought (though the researcher covers by adding this doesn't mean taller women are unattractive). For those tall girls who excel at sports, they are accepted in society, but for others, until recently having to resort to the men’s department in order to find shoes and jeans long enough, there is a subtle to not so subtle attitude that they are somehow not entirely female, or female but not feminine, and certainly not normal. One “agony aunt” column told a 6’3” women who wrote in desperation saying men were threatened by her and she couldn’t find anyone to date her that she should perhaps try fetish and kink parties. As Seattle’s Dategirl says, if you are a guy attracted to a woman who towers over you, odds are, it’s a fetish, and that for a guy to have fantasies about tall women (you know, the way romance novels sell tens of millions of books a year to women based on the same fantasies of a tall handsome man) is “just creepy.” On that note, I was invited to a kink party a couple of weeks ago, assured that I would be “very popular” – errr....yeah. So it is surprising to find that major depression is twice as likely or more in tall women? (There is a theory that serotonin doesn’t work right in bodies this tall – insert hollow laughter).

This isn’t to say that being tall is all bad; I mean sure I can’t sit down on a bus or airplane, I sleep on the floor because I can’t find a bed long enough, and I pay two times what you do for clothes and up to 10 times what you do for shoes. That part kinda sucks. But, I’m me, unique (whether I want to be on that particular day or not). Like I tell my the salon that puts in my hair colours (currently red and purple), “It’s not like they’re not going to look at me anyway, so let them stand in wonder.” But, while everyone thinks that tall people are giants; full of unfeeling strength, and broad emotional shoulders that is often not the case. In the UK, a 60+ year old woman came up to me at church to thank me...for simply being alive; she was 6’1” – try to imagine what life was like for her in rural Britain of the 40’s and 50’s. In the special features of the film The Princess Bride, Andre the Giant had been asked how he liked making in the film. He liked it very was first time in his life he could go around day after day without people staring at him all the time.

All this was brought home to me when someone recently jumped to an assumption and started chastising me as “brutal” and “brutish” in the same sort of chiding tone you would caution a 5’2” girl that she was being “clumsy” or that she should try to “be gentle”. The person calling me this thought nothing of using the term. The definition of Brutish: resembling a beast; showing lack of human sensibility, ruthless, sadistic, lacking of human compassion – an adjective from the word Brute: Having the physical powers predominating over the mental, An animal destitute of human reason. It’s the kind of term people apply to rapists. I am not brutish; I am not a bully; I do not intimidate; I am not trying to dominate anyone; I am just tall. I don't want you to fear me. What kind of woman would want people to be afraid of her just because she stands up?

It makes me thankful for having someone like Linda, who spent the time to learn that often big people have big hearts. Linda at her 5’10”, called “Amazon” and received joking about her height growing up, joins me as we march though society; we can’t stop people pointing, or nudging or yelling things out of cars, drunk guys mouthing off or people rushing up to compare their how far they come up but we have each other and we know that to at least one person in the world we are just the “right” size.

For other views, it turns out both Feministing and Nerve recently discussed life as a 6 foot plus tall woman.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

TV Show The Book of Daniel: Conservative Christians pick another winner!

I just finished watching the Book of Daniel with Linda for the second time. You probably have not heard of the series since it was cancelled by NBC in January this year due to a coalition of conservative Christians headed by the American Family Association who not only promoted a online petition to close the show (getting over 670,000 emails to NBC) but also organized a ban against any business who would do advertising during the program. Cancelled after only 2 shows, the Christian Examiner proudly boasted the bully tactics eliminated all but 1 sponsor.

The show itself is a reflection of genuine Christian struggles in an entitled (RICH) but “typical” Christian family – at least one I grew up in: one child is gay, the father, Daniel, is an Episcopal priest, who struggles with his own issues, including a dependency on “Canadian pain pills” (read: codine), the mother is feeling the need to find a job outside the home to fulfill herself, the daughter has been caught selling pot in a desperate attempt to fund her self drawn manga, and Daniel’s father the Bishop is taking care of his mother who is degenerating from Alzheimer’s. Put bluntly, if you want to see how to apply the complexities of actually following Christ in a complicated world, any of the seven episodes and the double pilot are far more inspirational (if not practical) than any of the sermons I heard for the entire last year I attended a Christian congregation. But these ideas; that life can be complex, that there might not be black and white solutions to every situation or that teenagers could actual make mistakes and learn from them seem to be the very issues which drive the Christian right into a frenzy. In one episode, with resistance from the church on having another gay couple come (“we have 7 gays already, isn’t that enough?”), as well as Daniel having to reconcile a son whose father has now married a younger woman…who happens to be the son’s secret ex-wife, and some guys with mob histories coming to church wanting people to look past their names and family connections – the question is asked, “Jesus asks us to accept and love one another...but how often do we decide simply on what we think we already know?” And these are the kind of questions that Christians DON’T want other people watching or thinking about? Do they really think that if the only application of Christianity is either to find out who to hate or to find our motivation solely in a fear of hell?

These Christian groups say that those who support the Book of Daniel, regardless of if they identify as Christian or not are “Non-Christians.” The reasons why no “True Christian” could like or support this show (or much less, find themselves in any way reflected in it): First, it is written by a HOMOSEXUAL! Sorry, there isn’t any more to that argument; I guess the assumption for some Christians is that homosexuals are incapable of providing any insight or understanding into the human condition. Next, the show depicts Christians having problems, this is "negative" while Christian News agencies like the Agape Press feel that Hollywood should instead focus on good, problem free, hardworking Christians. I am not sure what show that would make; maybe “The Weekly Good Hardworking Perfect and Happy in Christ Family Show” – sounds like a real gripper!

Okay, here are some of the other reasons the ban was called: gay character (of course!), Jesus talks to Daniel to offer comfort, and a little girl says she “talks to Jesus” (Why exactly don’t Christians want Jesus to be portrayed as a good listener who is there for you....?), also daughter is caught selling drugs and ends up doing community service (so the theme of make mistakes, learn from them but be responsible for them isn’t something Christians want teens to learn either I guess), a secretary to the church accountant is a lesbian (of course part II!) and sex outside of marriage (though Daniel and his wife are entirely faithful to each other) – well, I can see why they don’t want that shown – I can’t remember the last Christian church where members or their children EVER had sex outside or before marriage.

So, if you are a Christian who, when seeing two guys kiss on TV, doesn’t immediately start shouting “Lalalalalalalalalala! Honey! Satan is trying to turn me gay!” then you will probably like this show. If you aren’t Christian; can anything the Christian right hate this much NOT BE GREAT? Let’s face it – if the AFA or the Traditional Values Association or the Christian Women of America called for a ban on a brand of ice cream for being “a spawn of the devil” – I’d be buying a case the next day – as these groups have almost an unblemished record of going nuts over things any sane person will love (if you don’t believe me, remember when they pressured the FCC to stop the showing of Saving Private Ryan on TV? They also hated Season 1 of Desperate Housewives and tried to get that cancelled too!). Remember how you loved the Waltons, but then you grew up and found it just a little too sugar sweet? The Book of Daniel is the Waltons for jaded people, and you can buy it here (I'm not getting a commission - I just push people toward the things I like).

Monday, December 04, 2006

How to face top fencers without crying: Canadian Women's Epee Nationals 2006-07

The day was here. I was up at 5:55 am because the check-in for women’s epee was at 8:00 a.m. and, after having booked at the hotel recommended closest by the Canadian Fencing Federation; the CFF then changed the venue. But, not to worry, we were told, because the hotel was running two shuttles to the sports venue, one at 7:00 am and one at 7:30 am. Linda and I thought, since this was my first nationals, we would go at 7:00 am and have a lot of time to change and get ready. 7:00 am, the van pulls up, and the driver asks me, “are you going to the sports arena?” I nod and he grabs my bag. At this point a guy in his 50’s with a beard says, “put her bag down.” What? We both turn to look at him. “This van is for CFF referees only.” The driver looks puzzled and says he has heard nothing about that and after a brief argument heads inside coming back with out the CFF fax which says that in the first van CFF refs should be given first spots but all others can be given to athletes. “No,” the guy with the beard states, “Athletes have to find their own way there, taxi, whatever, but not in this van.” He then puts his daughters fencing gear in the van, gets in with her calls the other CFF refs to come in and forces the driver to leave in a half full van. The driver, before leaving, comes over and tells me that he WILL return for us (and then starts saying some pretty explicit things about the CFF). I on the other hand, having to either sit by passively or alienate ALL the refs have been memorizing the face of that man’s daughter. Let’s just say if she’s in my pool, she will never forget that bout.

The driver returns and we get in and try to explain to him that not EVERYONE involved in fencing is an asshole, just those officially connected to the CFF, I guess. I did say to Linda getting off the van “Next week, I want to get my USFA membership” (since I have US citizenship). The check-in procedure surprised me by being more lax than the Seattle competition (though this time they did actually check the mask). I found an obsessed father/armourer to help me check all my blades and then changed and did a bit of a workout. It was freezing (literally) and no one was bouting with each other to warm up, only coaches working their althletes. I mentioned to a few people with a smile that everyone seemed “very serious” – they just sort of glared at me. O...kay (I guess they didn't get the message about "fun").

I had been advised by coaches to “play strategically” if I wanted to get out the pools, so, for example, if I was up against someone very good, simply let the time run out with it close and lose 2-3 so the indicators, which determine who gets cut and who doesn’t, would be good for me (every point you lose you get -1, every point you win you get +1, add them up and you have the "indicator"). However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, I had come “to win”, that indeed, to fence someone and not give my 100% would be, to me, a form of cheating. That is simply my nature, even if I am down 4-1, I fence to win. I had come, not to fence the system, but the people, and to do that I need to out think and out perform them. (TOPS was my reminder: Timing, Openings, Precision, Speed ) When I was on the strip I wanted my whole attention to be there and thinking of how to win. So screw the indicators!

I drew pool 2 with seven fencers. I said to one fencer, "at least there are no lefties, last tournament I had two - talk about hell." God likes it when I talk like that: our pool of seven had two lefties. I was up first with a right hander named Alvarez. I followed my plan of taking it slow and spending 30-45 seconds feeling out my opponent. However, I was having a hard time breathing because adrenaline was pumping through me like crazy. I made the first point but then, in a way I still don’t understand Alvarez would bind my blade, then step in and hit me on the foot or ankle. Retreating only sped up the process so I as soon as I felt the bind I ran toward her. Still, before I could figure how, when and what she was doing, she got five straight points: 1-5. This, I said in understatement, was not a good start. (I will say that I have noticed it takes me about 5 minutes to get up to “fencing thinking” and will try to figure out a way to fence with SOMEONE before the first bout NEXT tournament).

My next bout was with a shorter Asian girl from Montreal called Fournier. This time things went entirely according to plan; I tested, I knew what she could and couldn’t do to my blade, as well as how far she could lunge and how she reacted to hand and arm attacks. And with 46 seconds to go, I was up 3-1 and knew there was no way she could get to me without my getting her too. At this point her mother started calling out the timing in French (an FIE no-no) and she twice backed me on the back of the strip so I couldn’t retreat from her lunge (which is how I got my touches before) and we finished the bout with two doubles; 5-3. I was feeling better as I had gone to plan, used the time and stayed calm, but kicking myself for not leaving enough room behind to retreat so I could finish 5-1 (yeah, I'm never happy am I?). It was, I thought, too bad that she was such a low ranked fencer, as I knew everyone from now on would be harder (later I found out her national ranking was 30th out of 89 and a Canadian D rated fencer – the Canadian rankings are MUCH harder, for instance there are only 4 A’s given in women’s epee – to the Olympic team).

Amazingly, Megan Noseworthy, who I had faced two weeks earlier, was in the same pool. She was the left hander who beat me 5-1 because I froze up on the strip, paralyzed with fear that no matter what I did, she would know how to counter, so I did nothing at all (this was the "hell" I alluded to earlier). While she has done years of epee, she has been out of it recently and watching her with others, I realized that while she has fast reflexes and point control, when pushed with complex moves, she leaves openings. I felt that on my best form, I could have beaten her. Well, now she was my next opponent. We tested each other out all over again and I got a point only to have her respond. She had gotten more aggressive in the last two weeks and I guess I wasn’t the only one putting in extra training. She (along with everyone) loved to push me back and often I was within inches of going over the back line with the back line running under my toes of my front foot, however, I always stayed calm and let the distance run out. She was up 3-2 with 39 seconds to go. I waited and timed myself for a 6-4 attack because I noticed that she kept twitching her hand open if I flicked to her outside, leaving her forearm exposed. With 20 seconds left I made the attack and touched, tying it at 3-3 and decided to leave it to her, convinced I could read her arm well enough now to defend or hit her coming in. The time ran out. In the coin flip I was awarded the initiative in overtime which meant Megan now had 1 minute to get a point or I would win. She started backing me up, I waited, knowing she HAD to lunge and I saw her intention a fraction of a second before she attacked. I hit her arm coming in and that was it, bout Elizabeth 4-3. I had this uncontrollable smile when my mask came off, but refrained myself from cheering (don’t worry, Megan beat 3 other fencers, more than I did). I do wonder if she'd only had a few more weeks to practice and remember her old experience, would there have been enough openings left? I guess I’ll find out next time we’ll bout.

Okay up 2-1, this was looking better. “Who's left to fence?” I asked Linda, she went to look at the board. “You have #2, #13 and #16” she said coming back (this was the rankings assigned fencers based on skill coming into the nationals. Since the #1, Sherriane Schalm-Mackay did not show up that meant that the left hander Ainsley Switzer assigned #2 actually became the number #1 seed at the nationals. She is also number one in the Canadian national rankings and has moved up to be #37 in the world. So, I wasn't planning on winning a bout against her...yet. Of the other two fencers, one was woman with black short hair named Keating (who looks a lot like me in her fencing stance) and a blonde woman named Grant who seemed to love to go up and down hitting feet and wrist with equal deadliness (and who frankly scared the crap out of me): she’s tenth in the Canadian national rankings. I faced Keating first and went in with a, “I’m going to win or die” attitude. Keating was fast and deadly quick and was soon up 3-1. I turned up the aggression a bit and got an arm hit. At 4-2, I lunged, she retreated and I kept up a series of fast explosive lunges which each came faster and faster. These had her retreating so quickly that she lost her stance, opening up her body and allowing me to tag her right before she fell off the piste completely scrambling to get away from me (I don't know why I have that effect on so many people?). Now it was 3-4, this, the voice of strategy would say, would be when you want the time to run out and take a close loss to a high ranked fencer. Screw that! I set up my play to get inside her defense; I drew her out, parried, lunged and watched as my blade tip skidded across her stomach without going off, she countered and there we stood, my blade still sticking at the edge of her side, without a hit: 5-3.

I knew what the problem was; my shoulder was too tense, and it was costing me point control. But, hey, for some reason, I was really, really tense and on edge and couldn’t seem to find that inner calm. But hey, you work with what you have. My feeling was that I took my shot and made it past her guard, maybe next time, I’ll have more control and we’ll be at 4-4.

To speed things up they put Grant and myself on another strip. I was very wary of Grant because for me, being so tall, the foot and knee are a big target, especially for someone who like to attack the foot like Grant. I stayed still but ready as she moved around, testing me, and suddenly exploded into a lunge which slammed into her neck. “Yes!” I thought as she staggered backward, “I’m in the game.” Being up 1-0, I decided to wait for her attack and try to get another on an arm touch while retreating. There was a flurry of attacks and counter attacks between us and suddenly it was tied. Grant didn’t get to be tenth in Canada without being very sly. So every time she would try to attack my foot, she would pull my tip down with her, and by the time I flipped it free, the opening on her shoulder was gone. By the time I figured out that Grant was NEVER going to attack me without making sure my blade tip was bound, pushed, beaten or otherwise engaged I was down 3-1. It was, I decided, time to return to the attack. What I didn’t know was that I had returned to the second of my old, bad habits (bad habit number one is pulling my arm back to my hip after an attack instead of keeping it out at distance to threaten): that with my tense shoulder, I was rolling my shoulder forward just before each lunge; which to a fencer as attuned as Grant was as good as shouting “INCOMING!” (I guess this is why you practice “follow the point” lunges 1000 times, because once you get tired, and tense and desperate, things fall apart). The rest of the match was like one of those dreams when no matter how hard you chase someone down a long corridor, they just keep getting farther and farther away. Score at end: 5-1.

Okay, my best two chances to winning a third bout and avoiding the cut after the pools were gone. That meant only one thing: I needed to beat the number one Canadian fencer. Switzer is a lefty who uses a long French grip which she holds at the very end, giving her 4 inches longer reach, at least. It is angulated and she holds it out from her body so that the other fencer creates a triangle between her blade and her body. I watched her bouts carefully and saw again and again that the slightest lunge would, without her even bringing in her arm, immediately get her tip point to close the triangle and should would get a shoulder hit point coming in from 6th position. It was deadly and effective. When she wasn’t threatening body parts, she was “whipping”, using her long French grip to throw her tip over my guard to touch my hand. Over time, that gained her a point and I was down 2-1. I was not, however, discouraged, as I had found Switzer’s weakness, and was now waiting to try and exploit it, all I needed was her to extend her arm. She made a short lunge, and BAM: parry and a low lunge to her left side abdomen, right under her arm: 2-2. She had the same weakness as Amanda; she was so dominant with her parry, that she wasn’t used to being attacked on the outside or directly under her arm. The problem was, with her triangulation system, I needed her to move her arm before it would work. While waiting for that chance, she hit my foot with precision and speed to put herself ahead with another point (as you can see in this 4 second video): 4-2.

I took a chance with a lunge to the outside of her lefty guard, and as she pulled her arm back, I whipped the point circular attack lunge to try and hit her shoulder, it skittered past her helmet at high speed and I leapt back – good plan, bad point control. With another feign I got to extend her arm and lunged again to her side, this time however she extended to get the double points. Game over Elizabeth, Switzer wins: 5-3.

After we took off our helmets I told her, “Give me 5 more points and I’ll have you.” She thought this funny for some reason. We went off and talked a bit; actually I think I was having a bit of “fencer high” and did a lot of talking. I also met her friend, Katherine Durrell who lives in Ohio, fencing both US and Canadian events and will be at next weeks NAC (so say hi from me if you see her!). I think the three of us got on well because all three of us were in our 30’s, there without coaches; being there because WE wanted to be there and to fence. This may also be why we were the only ones cracking jokes (there were quite a few stone faced 20 year olds+ with coaches and entourages behind them). I had told Linda not to bother looking at the list because when you lose a couple bouts 5-1 and only win 2 bouts there is no way I was making it out of the pools. Then Katherine said, “but you did, I think, I thought I saw your name.” Linda ran over and she was right, I did make it out of the pools. I just couldn't believe it. Alright, goal number 1 accomplished! (I want to point out here that I was NOT the last person to avoid the cut, I was the SECOND to last person to avoid the cut). Now all I needed was to win two DE and get to superpools.

Due to a change from last year, the top 4 from pools were given “byes” directly the superpools instead of the top 16 or so getting a “bye” on their first DE. What this meant to me was that instead of getting someone sort of close to me in skill (I was rank 29 in DE), like facing number 25, I was instead facing #4, a red haired 20 year old named Brita Goldie.

I had met Brita in line checking when when I tried to make some conversation and compared the set-up to Seattle before asking her how she found it; “I usually do the world cup circuit” was her stone faced comment before deliberately turning around. O...kay.

At the strip, she had a coach, and a whole entourage on her end and I had..well me (and Linda). I thought, “Okay, she’s kinda cold and robotic, and #4, so let’s see what will mess with her mind.” So I decided after playing around to go for a hit on her thigh; kind of a message of “hey look, I can hit you where I want.” It worked and we doubled 1-1. Then she got me with a lunge. And later in a tussle, I countered and we were 2-2. “This isn’t so bad.” I thought. “You can do this, just stick to your game, make her come to you.” Well, that was the last coherent thought I had for a while as Goldie started pounding me with this lunge that I literally COULDN’T SEE. I could feel her binding my blade, and I could feel her as she arrived at my neck, but I could figure out what she was doing. I tried retreating more, I tried picks at her hand, but she just kept pounding me.

Linda filmed one of the attacks and after the event, watching it about 12 times, I STILL couldn’t see what she was doing, so we did it frame by frame (16 frames a second). And this is how she did it: As she lifted her foot to start the lunge she would drop her hand slightly pulling it in toward the body, then explode forward into her lunge without extending her arm. Halfway though the lunge she would whip up her arm using the blade and arm to cut across the outside of my blade/arm (in 6) pushing them down in a bind and her tip would arrive, at her full extension, at my neck. The ENTIRE lunge including arm movements takes 3/8th of a second from her start to when the tip touches my neck. It is simply amazing. She may project all the personality of a dead trout but what an awesome attack! There is a video here – I recommend if you want to see what she is doing, watch it several times; first watch her sword arm to notice when it drops, next time watch beside her head and you will see the blade reappear at high speed arcing toward me, it arrives at my neck next and only then am I able to free my arm and raise it in defense.

The first 3 minutes ended and I was down 11-2 and feeling like I was fighting the invisible woman. Her coach was in close conference with her. What I did not know right then was that Goldie last year was the #1 High Performance Junior fencer currently the #2 ranked National senior fencer (after Switzer). I turned to find some support and it happened that Switzer was in the lane next to me, doing her DE and taking her 1 minute break. “I’m getting killed” I told her, “I’m trying to do defense hits and she is hitting me with lunges I can’t even see.”

“Extend your guard” Switzer advised, “and start attacking.”

That made sense to me, so I thanked Switzer and made a new plan (have you noticed that somehow the top fencers help me with advice at competitions? I think it is the teary eyes). We were called to position and I came out with a guard 4-5 inches further out, played around for just 3 second before BAM, straight to her shoulder. Point Beth. I just turned around and walked back to the line; let’s get it on, I’ve got less than 3 minutes to make 10 points. It was a completely different game. I went out, I picked either elbow, bicep or shoulder, I hit it, I turned around and I walked back to the line. Lunge – double, lunge – point, lunge – double. I never even looked at Goldie's face, I was so “in the moment” though Linda, watching said that after I impacted her with one lunge, Goldie snarled. All I know is that it became clearer and clearer that Goldie wanted me off that strip in the worst possible way. It was 13-6 and instead of letting me get a chance to lunge she came out and we met with a flurry of in-fighting, I could see the target but couldn’t free my blade; I brought it round and just before it touched I felt her blade touch me: 14-6. I actually fell to my knees from the force of disappointment. With one point to go, she would go for the double, my comeback was just about over. I however underestimated the intensity in which Goldie wanted me off that strip. As immediately after the call to fence she fleched wide, throwing herself almost vertical in the air to make a hit sideways on my guard arm.

We shook hands and it was over. Goldie would go on to take out Keating (from my pool) next before continuing to take silver and second place. I always feel that my opponents, particularly if they win, should either come off with a feeling of “thank God that’s over” (like I think Keating did), pissed off at me (Goldie) or wanting more. What I realized afterward is that because I do so much defense the one thing most fencers don’t see from me are my attacks, they are my “secret game” – and if I had a “do over” it would be to start my bout with Goldie with the ruthless attacking mindset I came out of the break with. But doesn’t have do overs.

The previous night I had met Maica from Quebec, we had circled each other warily under she found out that I had only been doing fencing 8-9 months at which point all her fear of me disappeared (She was ranked 17th and got eliminated by Amanda). A couple people including a coach told me that people had said they had seen good hits from me (I found this hard to believe then another person told me they watched my bout). I was asked by several women why they hadn’t seen me at national events before, so I told them “I’ve just come back from the UK”, not, “Well, gee, I’ve had 10 one on one lessons from my coach from 25-40 minutes long so I thought I might as well come to the nationals – but don’t worry about experience, I spent some months trying to figure out the sport on my own.” There was no question I had the least experience there (by several years). Katherine Durrell and I talked about the difficulties the CFF gives adults who try and learn the sport, since she can’t get into the HPP program because she learned epee in college (she had about 10 years training). If you don’t start at 15, Canadian Fencing doesn’t want to know about it. This is where the US with the different levels of nationals is better because it means that an adult can pick up the sport and actually go and feel they have a chance of making the top 16 in their division. This is not to say that I won’t make the top 16 in Canada, just not this year. Unfortunately starting next year, the Canadian nationals are closed except to: all people in the HPP program (adult learners need not apply), the winners of each provincial championship, the quarterfinalists of the westerns and eastern championships and the top 48 ranked Canadian fencers. Does this mean that I won’t be able to go to next years Nationals? Well, let’s say that the CFF has made it a LITTLE more challenging for me – good thing I’m not the type of person to avoid challenges, eh?

There were a lot of teary eyes around the arena. In the locker room, while I was showering to change and come back, one woman just sat and sobbed, not responding to anyone, another slumped over, after losing her DE because her body cord faulted. I thought, where else do so many women pay so much money to be so unhappy? However by the time I got out of the shower things had picked up and everyone was talking tattoos, temporary tattoos, henna and colouring. There was some interest in my hair coloring (I had new bright purple streaks put in) until they found out you have to have cold showers to stop the color from running. Also, have to say that standing around talking to a bunch of half naked 20 year olds with perfect size six bodies does not always make a person feel there are in as good a shape as they should be. I mean, I know that I am tall and size 14, but honestly, when I am fencing or talking, I don’t FEEL that tall/big, only when I look back at the pictures and ask Linda, “Am I standing on a box or something?”

My goal was to 1) get out of the pool – accomplished! And 2) fence the best – I fenced the number 1 and number 2 in Canada (the number 1 happened to be the number 37 in the world). And while I haven’t yet made them fear the name Elizabeth, I think they at least KNOW the name now, and let’s face it, I’m pretty much on a steep growth curve here – so I look forward to fencing them again (particularly Ainsley Switzer; I’m pretty sure I haven’t unearthed all her tricks yet). As for rating the fencing level of women at the Canadian nationals: it was intense. Unlike other competitions there were no people who were going to be “easy” (for instance Fournier, the woman whose bout I felt in complete control with was the only one to beat Switzer). From the women in Seattle tournament I felt that only maybe 6-8 would be at equal level with ANY of the women at this competition, and likely only 1 or 2 get beyond the first DE.

Right now, I am at the top of the bottom 1/3 of the women at the nationals (#33 out of 45). I might have moved up a few places by playing “strategically” but hey, that’s me. Right now, I want to find the way in the next few months to a) leap into the middle of the pack (say #25), b) get a 3 or 4 bout wins, and c) get past the first DE. So back to practice, the grindstone, and more tournament experience (as long as the money holds out). On that note, last night I signed up for THE BATTLE OF SEATTLE taking place Jan. 21st. And whatever the outcome, you already know I am going there to win (or at least lose really, really spectacularly!)