Sunday, February 25, 2007

Wheelchair lingerie, pole dancing, spring nudity: a new direction for Beth

Spring is in the air and don’t you hate those people who gloat just because they happen to live somewhere where flowers are already in bloom (like these two blocks from my house). Gee, how nice it must be to be me looking at fresh blooming flowers instead of endless snow and the grey snow-sludge covering everything. That’s because I live in the Canadian version of California; sadly being Canadian means it’s only worth 80% of the American equivalent. So that translates as more rain, less smog and smaller surf waves.

All this sunshine has got me to thinking about how the new and not so improved Beth (I want to use the term “degenerated”, but so many people have already used it to describe me under different circumstances) needs to reinvent her life. That and Victoria city’s new Tourism Campaign whose slogan is (I kid you not) “Your search for the perfect orgasm is over.” This is supposed to be advertising the culinary diversity in Victoria and already has Seattle refusing to run the ads because they seem to think people are going to assume it refers to something other than food. Though, as a resident of the city, I think this slogan far surpasses the “more British than the British” previous slogan, “Lie back and think of the Queen.” Before moving on, I have to say that I believe the Tourism department stole this idea from me; as I like to think that, at least on the internet, no one promotes orgasms in Victoria more than I do (at least for women). Oh wait, I forgot to tell you my idea: What combines lust (another Victoria city slogan is “Lust for fine fare”), orgasms, spring sunshine and me? It’s Nudity, silly! And lingerie.

I can’t understand why this didn’t occur to me before; I have this finely developed (albeit overdeveloped on the right side) body and a future of inactivity. Plus, I have returned from two trips to the US having spent significant money at Victoria Secret. At Victoria Secret I bought a lot of “sleep top” tees, you know the thin body hugging cotton ones where you ask one of the women working at Victoria Secret if these are sleep or outer wear and they say, “Oh, they work great either way.” But if you ask any OTHER woman about the top she says, “Well you COULD wear it outside...I guess.” I have already begun to wear the body and curve hugging expanded handkerchiefs called t-shirts out on my daily walks. Normally, I would be a bit more shy, but the whole threat emotional rollercoaster of death/coma/disability have washed that inhibition right out of me (maybe something about repeatedly having strangers removing my clothing while on the floor gasping for air helped). Now, I’m more like, “Dang, why didn’t I get a matching thong to go with these ultra low hip jeans,” cause nothing says “what me, I’ve got no issues!” than a woman in her 30’s having a string thong as undies publicly emerging up out her bum crack. I call this Stage 1 and have already put it into effect (there WOULD be pictures if Linda would ever agree to take them instead of saying, “You went out like that? Again?”)

Like on Thursday when I went out to feed the squirrels (the reason I am telling you this now is that all that walking made me kinda tired which is why I didn’t really get up on Friday until 10 p.m. – and before you get all “boo hoo, you got to stay in bed” remember – I sleep on the FLOOR). Squirrels, however are not interested in your body curved or your boosted bust as much as the smell of peanuts on your hands. Since spring comes early, many of the squirrels were already playing in the trees, chasing another scent entirely (oh sweet, sweet squirrel sex). But there were a few young hungry and old fat ones left to keep me busy. I like squirrels because we have a very defined relationship: they come to me because they are hungry, I give them an unshelled peanut, they open and eat the peanut leaving a mess everywhere and then if they are still hungry they come back and I give them another peanut. What do I get out it? Well, in squirrel land, the woman who holds the peanuts is least until her bag of peanuts run out.

On Thursday I ran into many squirrels, but not so many humans which is I why I am going to start implementation of Stage 2. Haven’t you ever asked yourself, “gee, I have all this nice lingerie and no one ever gets to see it but me?” I think you might see where I am going with this. Yes, since I have to stay home most of the time, I am planning to make the McClung condo a skin and lingerie zone (our heating is included in the rent). Start out the day with some light toning exercises next to our open bay windows using the pole I will convince Linda to install for support. No, no, no, not nude pole dancing without curtains....toning exercising with support bar; please try to use the appropriate viewpoint. It is also looking like, miracle notwithstanding, I will be picking up a wheelchair for the near future. I am leaning toward Colours in Motion since they are cool, efficient, and apparently make women look hot (that’s what their website says!). Actually it’s because they are small company made up of shareholders of people with mobility issues who come up with solutions for people with mobility issues. Wait, back to the lingerie and me reclaiming my life by showing a lot of skin. So this is how I envision life. I get up, have my shower, pick my sexy underwear and bra of the day, and then do my work at the computer in the wheelchair (because it will more comfortable than any chairs in our house, which we got free from dumps, and so I can answer the door without having to get up, in case I can’t, and to avoid passing out, which also happens).

How will this improve my life and my self esteem? Dramatically! First, I expect our landlady/prison guard won’t be knocking on my door so often to ask “Have you made sure you compacted your cardboard correctly before recycling” or “Are you aware of the new policy forbidding guests sleeping overnight during major holidays?” when I roll to the door in my light green “Angels by Victoria” collection. Also, my mailman has been rather lax in delivering my packages from overseas. I expect after I answer his door knocks in Body by Victoria Babydoll a few times, that my packages will be delivered promptly and at earliest speed. I might even end up getting other peoples packages.

That’s pretty much as far as I’ve gotten with the plan; don’t give in to despair by flaunting my body and using my strangely impressive collection of revealing tops and lingerie. The wheelchair’s real use is so that I can go back outside again and do things like go to the mall or shopping unaccompanied (something I haven’t been able to do yet THIS YEAR). If I get exhausted, I don’t need to find a bench. If I get oxygen deprived, I have a portikit in a backpack. I can start going out clubbing, I go out with people to eat, I can go to parties. I think this short club dance video will give you an idea of what my life will hopefully soon look like (except that it will be in a lesbian bar and those will be three WOMEN dancing around me and running their hands over me – the video only misses the end bit where Linda comes out and wheels me off the floor demanding, “Are you going to flirt with EVERY woman here?” while I have this big old grin on my face)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Run, Beth Run! On second thought; how about a wheelchair?

Okay, in a film comparison no one but total nerds will get, if I was in Logan’s Run, yesterday my life crystal went off; I am no longer part of the “beautiful” population (and I hope this isn’t followed with them hunting me down and shooting me with lasers). In less metaphoric speak it means that my Holter Monitor test came back and told the doctors what I had been telling them for many, many weeks – that my heart rate goes over 200 beats per minute. So, I have been labeled a “semi-urgent” case and am on the emergency waiting list to see a Dr. Novak, my new cardiologist. So is Beth on her way to full diagnosis, treatment and normal life? Not so fast! Because I live in the retirement capital of Canada with tens of thousands of seniors and socialized medicine, the time I have been told it will likely take me to see the doctor now that I am on the emergency list: six to eight months.

By now you’ve realized, that yes, I am about to do the “old woman on the bus who tells you all about her medical problems” thing; only I promise I’ll just talk about my heart and that I WON’T talk about my canary, my bowel troubles and how you can't buy anything for two farthings anymore. So, it is six to eight months until they START to narrow down exactly what my heart problem is and then START different types of treatment. “But maybe,” I tell myself, “The fact that I am awake 12 hours a day (for two days) now means I am all better!”

Except that I walked three blocks yesterday to the Y to hand in my doctor’s note saying “Elizabeth is not going to fence anymore, please give her some money back.” I had to stand for about five minutes before I got to the front of the line, then another three while they looked for the gym manager, Randy. So I start to write him a note, only by this time I am holding onto the counter to keep me upright. “Do you happen to have oxygen?” I ask, "That's what I need once I hit the floor." Actually, they do and within a minute I am in a chair, with two then three guys and an oxygen mask on. Of course, I keep pulling it off to mumble things like, “You know a month ago I was a national athlete.” They pull the mask down again. I pull it off, “I’m 33rd in Canada, you can look it up.” They pull the mask down again. Eventually I take it off and say, “Don’t I look fine.” They conclude, no, I don’t actually and want to know how I am going to get home. “Walk, of course.” Can I stand up then? I try, and fall back into the chair. They pull the mask back down again. My body is covered in um....glow, from what would be a total body know, those THREE blocks.

In case you are just joining the program and because there isn’t much about cases like me on the internet: I am a perfectly healthy 29 year old female……oh, okay, let’s say a female in her 30’s. I have always exercised and this last year I have exercised a minimum of five hours and a maximum of 15+ hours a week. My body is finally in really good shape.....except, my heart rate stays just under 100 when I am asleep, and rapidly increases during any exertion (above 250 beats per minute). This rapid exertion has become more and more sensitized in the last several weeks until now even walking several blocks can risk loss of motor function or consciousness. There is no biological factor (like hyperthyroidism, or diabetes, or loss of calcium, etc) and every beat my heart gives off is perfectly normal; there isn’t a murmur, erratic heart beats or changing rhythms. Only, it appears that because my heart beat rises so rapidly (160 beats per minute for taking a shower, 170 for walking up a hill), that I go into an anaerobic state where my heart cannot beat enough to give me enough oxygen. This combined with the fact that my heart is doing the equivalent of several continuous marathons a day is exhausting my body and the heart itself. If I try to do something like....take a long walk or go for a light jog, my heart, as it doesn’t have enough oxygen continues to beat faster and faster; but in doing so, is moving less and less blood, putting me into more oxygen deficit. This continues until my heart is beating so fast that is no longer moving any blood at all (at which time, since no blood is reaching my brain, I die – that’s BAD), or I pass out (and we have to hope that my heart isn’t pushing so hard that I go into “congestive heart failure” – this is also BAD). What it means is that I sit, a lot, and on bad days, I can’t move without assistance. And that towards the end of the day my heart hurts (because it is a muscle that is getting fatigued and not enough oxygen too) – not that “Oh it’s burning and moving down my arm” heart attack hurts but like a muscle you have used way too much that day achy hurt. The problem is likely electrical but may be this “mystery” condition called IST, which usually strikes females in their late 20’s and 30’s and sometimes can’t be fixed – that’s just the way life is FOREVER. Obviously I am hoping it ISN’T that.

Two life changes are freaking me out: first is the speed at which, by necessity, I am now labeled “disabled” and the other is the question, “Who is Elizabeth McClung?” We are halfway through the process of getting registered for the disabled door to door pickup disabled bus service, we have the “handicapped” sticker for my parents car, in a few days a technician is coming by with my home oxygen kit to give me instructions on use and we are pricing out mobile wheelchairs. In some ways I feel like a fraud because, unlike many people who are struck with lifelong debilitating illnesses, I am only a tourist to the limitations and frustrations of trying to figure out how to live a life in an “able bodied” world (well considering my wait, how about I’ve got a long term work visa instead of a “tourist”). And many of the people I know still haven’t accepted that the person they knew three weeks ago, isn’t the person of today. That I can’t walk ANYWHERE unaccompanied unless I know is it a well traveled street so that if I collapse, someone will call 911. And I have to figure out a way so that I can get four blocks each way to the library; six blocks to downtown for shopping; five blocks to the post office. Because in the last week, I passed out or lost body control 50% of my trips – and that’s not good enough to get through the next 8-12 months. So I am trying to be realistic; getting walking sticks for my good days, and maybe rent a wheelchair for weekends so we can go shopping downtown (see, I can’t use a regular wheelchair unless someone is pushing because moving the wheels myself will raise my heart just as fast as walking). I’m open to suggestions. I could get a car, except that sometimes I pass out AFTER I have been walking (like around a shop) when my body tries to cool down or reoxygenize. So ask yourself, knowing that, do YOU want me in a car coming towards you in the oncoming lane?

Of course, our local paper has been running a series of the typical “You could have a healthy heart....if you only chose to” with the whole, “If you just exercise regularly and stop smoking” you will have a wonderful healthy heart. Sometimes that is true and sometimes like Linda’s cousin, a fungus gets into your heart and just eats an entire heart valve. Guess the “Just to let you know, one day your heart might just randomly get FUCKED UP” kind of articles don’t sell quite as well. You may be sensing a bit of anger. That’s probably left over from yesterday’s late night meltdown where I was hitting myself in the head screaming “Who AM I?” You see I have always been the girl who says, “I want to.....” and then figures out to do it. I want to run a 50 mile run; okay let’s train for that. I want to go on a 500 mile bike ride; let’s do that. I want to walk the cities of Europe; done that. The first day we moved back to Canada we went for a run along the seaside. We don’t have a car, because why would we, we are two healthy women who can tote a few groceries and use the money we would using on a car to buy…groceries. All my life I have been that person who gets knocked down, gets broken and comes back, right toward that goal moving faster than ever. I’m the person who was always willing to push her body farther and take more pain to achieve MY dream. Mr. Ho told me the first time I wanted to go to a competition that if I did, I would never use club equipment again. I sold some of my belongings and bought everything I needed and went to the next tournament (like what, BLACKMAIL is going to stop me?). I’m Elizabeth (fucking) McClung and some coach calling me stupid or hitting me or refusing to teach or train me is only going to make me train twice as hard. I’ve hiked 24 hours without sleep, I’ve trained for days without food or water, I’ve carried an 80 pound pack on a fractured spine and I always get back up (remember, I’m obsessively determined, not necessarily bright or prudent when it comes to personal health). I’ve walked the cities of Asia, Europe and North America. I walked to the edge of the Hudson’s Bay in the far north to watch the seals on the ice floes, I’ve body surfed Laguna, California; and run along the streets of Malacca, Malaysia. I can’t train my heart to get better; or double the exercise; or overcome it with will power and determination. Yes, I write and I think and I have many other abilities, but I have always known that my body was there for me. And now I have a body that can still do all those things, that still has all the muscles for those things except for one, my heart (you know I’d be playing Murderball if my heart would let me). I am a body in perfect form, who is having Linda help me walk so I can go around the block. So who am I?

For the future, I already decided last week that if I ever get even 75% of my heart capacity back I am going to do what I never finished training for in my 20’s: a Triathalon (there’s one call “Tri, girl, Tri” in Oregon that looks good). But that future seems a long way off today. I guess reality shifts take a bit of adjustment. I asked at the Y if they have workouts for people with heart conditions, it turns out they do but at TWICE the price (like $400 for 7-8 weeks). Thanks YMCA/YWCA! What was that about open and equal participation? So, that’s it, no more talking about my heart until something changes (like I get treatment, or go to the hospital). And I’m pretty sure I’ll figure something out somehow. I mean, after all, I’m Elizabeth (fucking) McClung, do you think I’m going to roll over just because God and human biology have decided to tag team me? Not likely!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The fight of women athletes: "not appropriate for ladies"

Women’s sport is “the most unaesthetic sight human eyes could contemplate.” That is what Baron Pierre de Coubert, the founder of the modern Olympics in 1896 felt and 112 years later some of his male friends at the IOC must agree, because women’s ski jumping is NOT going to be in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The president of the FIS, the international body governing all skiing stated that ski jumping isn’t “appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.” Immediately an email was sent asking if “punk ski grrls” instead of “ladies” would be okay? The FIS has not replied.

Iain Hunter in the Feb 19th Times Colonist recalls: “My mother, as a teenager in Winnipeg, used to jump off a ski hill onto the ice-covered Red River wearing moccasins and on heavy wooden skis held by a single strap”. Already many young women from Whistler, BC to Park City, Utah are dedicating their waking hours to this sport. The documentary Jump like a Girl (DVD available at link) follows Jessica Jerome and Lindsey Van and their peers as they train, compete at the first Continental Cup and fight with the FIS for the right to “ski fly” (jump off a hill larger than K180).

But then, organized sports and the Olympics in particular have and continue to actively oppose women’s participation into sports as equal competitors. Baron Pierre de Coubert was very clear as he deliberately excluded women from competition in the first 1896 Olympics and 16 years later in 1912 urged that "The Olympic Games must be reserved for men. We must continue to try to achieve the following definition: the solemn and periodic exaltation of male athleticism with internationalism as the base, loyalty as the means, art for its setting, and female applause as its reward" In the 1996 Olympics there were still 64 more athletic events available to male athletes than female ones and at the most recent 2004 Athens Olympics female participants still only made up 41% of the athletes. There was not a single female on the Olympic Committee from 1896 until 1981.

See, in 1000 BC women had their own Olympics dedicated to Hera (preceding what we now view as the “Greek Olympics” by about two centuries). Even in the traditional Greek Olympics the first female to be overall Olympic champion was a woman from Sparta name Kvnisca in 392 BC. Let us compare this with the “enlightened” modern rebirth of Olympics in 1896: Women were so excluded from the Olympic’s athletic events, in frustration they started their own Olympics in the 1920’s. Finally in 1928 they were admitted in five events including the 800 meter run. Despite a world record by Lina Radke, because several women collapsed the IOC President Count Henri Baillet-Latour tried to have all female competition eliminated from the games (back to the “female applause as their reward”). Instead, women were to be permitted no races longer than 200 meters from 1928 until 1960. Even gymnastics, seen today as one of the most staunch female sports and an embodiment of a “feminine” athlete was not permitted into the Olympics for women as a team until 1928. It wasn’t until 1952 that women could compete individually in gymnastics. A little over a year ago IOC body voted on eliminating the hugely popular women’s softball from the Olympics. It needed 53 votes to remain, but tied at 52-52 with one member abstaining. Women’s softball is out of the Olympics. Later, several IOC members stated that they had misunderstood and thought they were voting to exclude women’s baseball, not women’s softball (which is like being told they have nothing against you being gay...they are throwing you out for being Jewish).

Though foil and sabre were both present at the 1896 Olympics for men; Sabre for women was only introduced into the 2004 olympics ("Ladies" foil was present in 1928). I recently talked to an A ranked female Epeeist who spoke of her many years in foil. Why, I asked her, did she switch? She said she had long wanted to fence epee but that her British coach has refused to train her because it “wasn’t a sport suitable for women.” Women’s Epee was only added to the Olympics in 2000.

The treatment of women by official sports organizations, most notable being the IOC, is no reflection on the determination of women to participate in those sports (such as the 15 year old British school girl who applied in 1912 to enter the Modern Olympic Pentathlon; she was rejected, and would be dead before women would officially enter the Olympic Pentathlon in 2000). Often the reasons behind excluding women from sports have to do with “appropriateness”, “health” and the V word (any form of athletics that might break the hymen, and thus de-virginize our poor frail thing). Princess Di was the last woman in the western world to have a public examination of her hymen as a requirement before marriage (though North Dakota is probably working on a law about it as we speak). "Intuitively, gymnastics is likely to, horseriding might do it, and any sport where there are straddle injuries increases the chances of tears to the hymen," says Dr. Felicity Goodyear-Smith. (On a side note, for those interested in adding that “little extra” to Purity Balls, the Romans used to use yellow instead of white veils at the wedding to indicate an intact Hymen) Of course in the middle ages it was also believed a virgin’s urine was “clear and sparkling.” Just saying.

Two sports, the women’s marathon and female boxing both clearly demonstrate the gender bias the IOC and other sport’s bodies continue to perpetuate despite clear evidence to the contrary. In the 1896 Olympics women were not allowed to compete and certainly not in the marathon, a race thought physically impossible for a woman (remember in 1928 they decided running 800 meters was “impossible” too). A woman named Stamati Revithi entered. She was denied. She arrived and warmed up out of sight anyway. At the sound of the gun she started, running along the side of the course, falling behind the men. She stopped for water at Pikermi and started passing the male runners who had fallen out of the race in exhaustion. “She arrived at the stadium about an hour and a half after Spiridon Louis won the race. Barred from entry into the now empty stadium, she ran her final lap around the outside of the building, finishing in approximately four and a half hours.” Not knowing the name of this courageous runner whose entry they had denied, the organizers called her 'Melpomene', after the Greek muse of Tragedy. Women would not run the marathon officially in the Olympics for another 100 years.

The second most prestigious marathon outside the Olympics was the Boston Marathon. It also excluded women, though Roberta Gibb ran it unofficially in 1966 after hiding behind a bush at the start. In 1967, an admirer of J.D. Salinger entered the name K. V. Switzer to run the Boston Marathon and was given number 261. What the organizers didn’t realize was that number 261 was for 20 year old Katherine Switzer who had done training runs up to 31 miles for this event (read her whole story here). It wasn’t until two miles into the race that organizers realized K.V. Switzer was a WOMAN! Race director Will Cloney and official Jock Semple tried to physically attack and remove her from the race and failing that, to rip off her number. Her college teammates protected her by giving the officials body blows. Meanwhile Roberta Gibb had AGAIN unofficially jumped onto the course and run the race (only to be stopped steps from the finish line with a time of 3:27:17). Officials said they were just “doing their job” of stopping women from running races longer than 1.5 miles.

But Katherine Switzer wasn’t finished. In 1970’s, she convinced the company Avon to finance her and organized the Avon International Marathon series which first ran in 1978, then again and elsewhere, to gain enough competitors and be held in enough countries to qualify for inclusion as an Olympic event. In 1981 Switzer traveled to Los Angeles to talk individually to the members of the IOC executive board who were to vote on the matter. And on Feb 23, 1981 they announced that the first official Olympic women’s marathon would take place at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics. The current women’s marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe at 2:15:25 is barely 10 minutes more than the current men’s record (and considering women’s aptitude for endurance...maybe it will one day be lower?).

Women’s Boxing, however is still fighting the fight. Women’s Boxing was actually included in the 1904 St. Louis, USA Olympics as a demonstration sport. Once officials realized the women didn’t consider it a “novelty act” it was quickly eliminated. Women’s Boxing now stands at the “line in the sand” for what is “appropriate” for women’s athletics, being the only gender excluded individual athletic sport at the Olympics games (since the 2004 inclusion of female wrestling). Illegal in the UK until 1998, women’s boxing has always been a sport in which those who participate often do so at great odds with the gender expectations of society. Sports Illustrated did a poll of readers in 1974 to see if they should lobby for it’s inclusion in the 1976 Olympics. The readership was overwhelming opposed.

Currently 30,000 women compete in 120 countries but as boxing promoter Bob Arum sums up views: "Men see it as a sideshow and women hate it.” (Not me, I still own my DVD of “Girl Fight” and though a pacifist by choice after watching I was “Oh, I got to do that boxing!”). Originally it was announced that Women’s Boxing was to be an exhibition sport at the 2008 Olympics and a full Olympic sport at the 2012 Olympics. The first European Cup for Women was held in 1999 and the World Championships held in 2001. Then, AGAIN, the IOC changed its mind and announced that Women’s Boxing would NOT be in the 2008 Olympics, but that they hadn’t totally eliminated the possibility of it being included in the 2012 Olympics.

For amateur female boxers it was a devastating blow particularly because in order to qualify for the Olympics, they cannot enter into professional (and paid) boxing matches. Thus, after years of training and scrapping by they are told; “Uh...not in a couple years, maybe four years after that.” Amateur Boxing Champion Angel Bovee wrote the following, about this decision that not only affected her, but other female boxers, “Believe it or not, even after all our exhausting work, boxing is the ONLY sport in the Games that does NOT include women. After competing on the first-ever Women’s World Championship team back in 2001 and again in 2002, I cannot believe that we may not see women boxers in the Olympic Games until 2012!” To compensate, the IOC is allowing more women’s teams in the event of team soccer and handball. That kind of sends a message about “appropriate” doesn’t it. (If you want to read an in-depth academic paper about how Olympic TV coverage constantly minimizes the equality of women’s sports there is a good one here)

So remember, girls play nice, or at least that’s the way it is going to be for the near future; none of that nasty hitting each other or making big jumps in the air (the vote is still out on whether we should be allowed to play with swords). The Olympic and other sports committees still seem to be stuck up their....I mean stuck in another period; one in which riding horses, figure skating, wearing making-up in a pool and doing ribbon gymnastics are all that girls want to do. Yes, there are some girls that want to do that, and good for them. But for the rest of us who look in the mirror at 14-16 and realize that no ballet company on earth wants OUR body type; that there is no “Big Boned” category in gymnastics OR figure skating. That maybe having an older brother has made us a little bit more competitive and that wiping out or getting a bunch of skinned knees doesn’t actually sound all that bad. For all those girls, keep fighting. Because ironically, a greek woman named Kallipateria was an Olympic boxing coach all the way back in 440 B.C. And I’d like to believe Western Civilization’s view of equality in athletics will catch up soon.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Curtain Call Part 2: the big epee finale...tournaments and home.

So, what does ½ a dream look like? It doesn’t look that bad at all. I headed over to Seattle Thursday night with Linda; fairly tired because I didn’t get to sleep in the afternoon, and the hydroplane boat was delayed two hours after boarding due to eight foot waves. It was still a exciting ride as several feet high waves would lift the back of the boat as we ran before them, making us feel like we were accelerating into a hole in the ocean. So, I slept 11 hours that night and didn’t make it outside and downtown until close to 1:00. While I was sleeping, Linda had already gone up to REI and returned with a bag full of biking supplies for her daily commute. Downtown, we looked in at Tall Girl, and a goth store where Linda bought me a “Fairy and skulls” T-shirt; I used it to fence in later that night (notice it in the early pictures).

Linda left me at Borders so she could do some shoe shopping. I find that with my heart not pumping enough oxygen, looking goth is becoming easier and easier; that is if pale, pasty and about to fall over is a sexy look? While there I picked up the kind of magazines I can’t get in my home town bookstore like some lesbian magazines as well as a copy of Gothic Beauty. Now, did I pick this up just because it showed articles heavily illustrated by gothic girls with tattoos. No, I did not; there was also an article about gothic catwalks in Berlin showing lesbian goths getting intimate. But then, I read an article in there about Girl Armour. Yes, a guy who makes unique breastplates, wrist and headgear tailored to each individual client. And to think I was wasting my money on things like food and medicine when I could have been striking terror into the hearts of all striding around town in my Gothic Epee Goddess armour. Bwahahaha!

Final stop was at Victoria Secret, or as one of my female friends calls it, “The Candy Store”. Bought some more sale items and had more discussions like, “No, these are not thong panties......oh, I stand corrected.” We headed home and I lay down for another three hours before getting ready for Friday Night Women’s Epee #2. Have to say, not the most impressive name. How about; “Boobs and Blades #2” or “Clash of the Sword Maidens?” What we had not been told was what we should have already guessed: with 17 women showing up to fight each other in an evening epee battle....and a potluck. No one told us about the potluck; as everyone was bringing food (and booze). But we really should have guessed under the “If ten women are going to be there it really would be rude not to bring a little something to eat in case someone gets hungry” rule. See guys, all you get at your tournaments are bruises. We get champagne, humus and pita, oranges and chocolate (lots of chocolate). Theresa Rose was there from Fleur De Lys Club of Washington; we usually warm up against each other before the bouts. She also has a braid of red hair down to her waist. So there is a little hair envy going on there (except for the 6-8 hours having it dry, I guess).

Marla Clem came straight from work. Marla is what I refer to as “a hoot” in that, like me, she tends to say things you might not expect her to say. The first time we met she said, “My goal today is to do better than everyone expects me to” (referring to short, stocky and non-traditional fencing appearance). When Linda overheard her complimented on her small feet she replied; “Well, nothing grows in the shade” (talking about her big breasts) and then when on to anecdote the summer she went from “flat to ‘a woman’” (bringing up a sore point with me as Victoria Secret had just told me they don’t carry 38-B anymore because the people who need them are just so rare.....sigh; is this what people really meant when they said I have a model like figure: FLAT). I told Marla a bit about the heart thing and how I was there to have a “last go” and if she would bout with me to warm up so other people couldn’t tell. She agreed and spent some of the night “looking out” for me, including finding a medical doctor/specialist nurse and telling Linda she had but to call and trained medical people would be there. The only other person who knew was Birgit, as I told her when I emailed her to come that this would be my last tournament in a while.

I still have a little debate inside that I should have told everyone and then asked if they were okay with it. Except that I am sure someone would have said "no" (So don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to). Also, for example, I knew Anna Telles was fencing with a injured shoulder and that Annette Hillesland had a very bad cold/flu (which did stop her ending up #1 out of the pools). So I figure we all made our choices and would fence as long as we were safely able.

There were 17 women in a B1 event; pretty amazing for a Friday night tournament. Linda’s goal was to win a bout and mine was to finish the pools and if possible at least one DE. We met Jill Chwojko-Frank, who was coming back the first time after having kids. She wasn’t with any club yet, just coming to get back into it; which was cool. There were three pools and I was I in the “small” pool of five (also known as Hell Pool) while the others had six each. If you think I am joking about being in Hell Pools – let me point out that in the women’s tournaments in Seattle, including this one, the number 1 and number 2 finishers have ALL come from the pool I was in. This pool had Birgit (yeah!), Kundry, Theresa Rose (of the long red hair) and Carola.

Linda, in another pool, had as her first bout, the same woman who beat her in her Battle of Seattle DE and the nemesis of the McClung clan: Hannah Sutton. Linda had been working on her body movement, attacks and lunges and immediately scored a lunging attack against Sutton. The battle was on. In the end, Sutton, a D rank, won 5-3. But, particularly as a first bout, Linda had really sharpened up her game. Eugenio Salas, Birgit’s husband was coaching Rorberg; Linda’s next opponent and her second lefty in a row. He coached Rorberg to win against Linda (Boo!). However, Linda had already sized up Jenner as the person she might be able to win against. During the bout with Jenner, she took her time and tested Jenner out, finding out that Jenner didn’t want to attack and was what we call a “mimic” (Someone who reacts by doing what you are doing – you lunge...they lunge). Linda waited and set up her attacks. I arrived to see the final lunge; a double point. I couldn’t tell from her face if Linda won or lost. She unhooked and came over. Well? “I won!” She said. Her first tournament victory: 5-3.

In my pool, I faced off against Theresa Rose. Because I was in such a small pool and because I had Birgit (who, I was HOPING, but not expecting to win against) as well as the B ranked Kundry, I planned on winning by as large a margin as possible. With Theresa I had already picked out my spot on her upper arm and as soon as she twitched or moved her blade or extended her arm just a little, I flicked in for the touch (as you can see on the video). I was confident I could stay just out of hitting distance as I had practiced bouts in training by holding my blade down, where I would only raise it AFTER the person had lunged (I was following the style of the boxer Jack Johnson, who felt the best way to not get hit was to not be there when the punch arrived). I won 5-0.

Carola was my next opponent and I went at it exactly the same. Everytime anyone tried to bind or touch my blade, I moved the tip away, anytime an opening occurred, I went for the arm (which at my angle is the surest hit). During the bout, I used my feet constantly to keep distance. Here, on the video is the final point in our bout, where Carola is starting to guard her upper arm but is leaning slightly forward so I go straight to her head, hitting her nect before she has a chance to straighten out her arm. Bout 5-0. After the bout I fell to my knees for a while, breathing hard. It seemed too hard to get back up. A ref came over to see if I am okay and I managed to stand up again and make it back to my chair to rest.

Understand that I don’t like being a person who makes other people feel bad. It is just that I don’t train for doubles and I only look for single sure hits. So when I fence, my goal is to win 5-0. I was also noticing a problem in that, when a person attacked me, once their blade was blocked aside, I would leap into their space with my blade, so they couldn’t counter. Back at the club, with the guys, when they see me coming, they always move. These women didn’t and TWICE, I ended up stepping on someone’s foot (little overlunging there): both Theresa and Birgit (and boy did Birgit not let me forget it; she can wring out a limp as good as any professional Brazilian soccer player). My next bout was with Kundry who I thought had a rank but wasn’t sure. I got a quick lunge and then as she counter lunged I got some shoulder touches on her (as you can see in the video) and was soon up 3-1 (The video also shows a big fencing flaw – I am lunging BEFORE I straighten my arm, and sometimes I don’t straighten my arm completely, giving away my advantage – something Birgit picked up on and used to spank me).

Kundry does a quick bind and lunge and I barely get my blade back in time for a double, but I am up 4-2. This worries me. Kundry has closed my access to her shoulder and is starting her own attacks. So I look at her face. Many times I can tell how confidant a fencer is feeling by their face. When I was up 3-1 last tournament on Ellery Tucker-Williams she looked like she was in complete control of the bout. I started to believe she was; forced some attacks and in the end she WAS in complete control of the match. Kundry looked uncertain. And I was feeling pretty punk (not so great) so I decided to go for a big lunge rather than let her get another point and her confidence back. I lunge, she counters, we get double points. And I have won 5-3 against a B ranked fencer (woo hoo!) I am sucking air pretty hard (Linda said she heard me on the other side of the salle) and after shaking hands I go and face the back wall, blinking hard and trying not to burst into tears. I don’t know why this wave of near-tears comes over me. Linda says it is because I am in pain. Later I see this short video of me taking off my mask to shake Kundry’s hand.
I look as if I am about to fall over any second. “I did not look that bad did I?” I ask Linda. Yes, she assures me, most of the night, I did.

By this time I am thankful I am in the SMALL pool as I only have Birgit left. I have been mentally preparing for her usual: pushing opponents before her with her German inclined guard, deflecting their attacks before countering. They say “Ready – Fence!” I step forward and lunge, and she just manages to deflect me. ARG! We fight back and forth and at one point we become tangled, detangle and because no one called halt start at it again. Birgit gets two points on me because I keep moving my body before threatening with my tip. Bad Beth. Finally I get a point in a series of jab-retreat-counter-retreat (as seen on the video). I am on the board at 2-1. I then get a lunge hit to her neck. Birgit is sure she got my thigh first so there is an equipment check. Her cord is dodgy; sometimes it records a hit, sometimes not. The ref announces my last point will not count. SUCK! We go back to position and I calm down, sight her forearm and slide up her blade for the touch just as she does the exact same to me: double points. It is now 3-2 and I am thinking, “Well, that isn’t going to win me a bout.” I wait and then fleche her, which she must have been waiting for as she flicks my tip aside before flicking back to hit me on the chest. The last point is something strange and messy with infighting which I lose. Bout to Birgit 2-5.

The final bout is between Theresa and Carola and I am refereeing with help from Birgit. It is a close one as first Theresa gets a point then Carola does. Theresa, then Carola: 2-2, 2-3, 3-3, 3-4, 4-4. It is obvious they both want it pretty bad and are well matched. They test each other out and then attack, both miss and it resolves to a jabbing match. Theresa gets her blade around and aimed first and point. Theresa win 5-4.

I have only lost one bout and end up 6th out of the pools. This is a B1 tournament and while I sit drinking my third bottle of water I am thinking how if I can just get through and win one DE; getting into the top eight, then even if I have to withdrawl, I might finish in 6th place, and in a B1 tournament, 6th place would give me my D ranking. Now, as I am probably out of fencing for the rest of 2007, this shouldn’t matter right? But all I can see in my head is a nice shiny D with an epee through it rotating under spotlights inside my head. That is until I find out who my DE is with (“God, please don’t let it be Sutton” I pray): Monica Morrison. I find out she is a lefty. I ask someone how to fence her, they say she is “brainy” and you can’t ever make the same move twice. I am panicking; I feel doomed. I realize that I have never won a full 15 point DE as yet (though a ref this time tells me that my last DE in the Battle of Seattle should have been stopped for medical anyway). Plus, when I meet Monica, she is talking about when this happened at the NAC and when that happened at the NAC. I am thinking, “Oh, you go to the North American Cup.....don’t panic, don’t panic....too late!”

Linda had her last pool bout with Helen Thouless, the one A ranked fencer at the tourney. She and Linda have very similar styles and Linda is giving her a hard time, they come down the strip, with lunge and counter lunge, attack on the arm and counter attack blocks then go all the way back the strip doing it again. Several times Linda touches on Helen’s shoulder but not hard enough for the tip to depress and the point to count. Helen finally works her way in. At the third point I see Helen putting her tip right at the edge of Linda’s guard; making sure Linda won’t counter before she comes in for the attack to the shoulder. I want to shout out; “extend your guard!” but figure that would throw Linda as much as help her so when she looks to me, I make the motion on my own body. She fights back and it is a long bout but she loses 5-0. Afterward I tell Linda that Helen was taking her distance before attacking and Linda needed to move the guard out to give herself more time to counter when Helen would come in. Also, EXTEND the arm! Now, I bet you think I am a meanie? Except, in tournament humor, guess who Linda had for her DE? Yup, Helen again.

Linda and I had been practicing keeping distance, retreating, extending the arm, putting the guard out further and our new one; changing tactics. I told Linda, when you get to the three minutes; take the time and come up with a new tactic (since we had our DE’s at the same time and I wasn't there to help). Helen started out dominant, going up 7-0 against Linda. At this point, the ref (who is a friend of Helen’s) encourages Linda by telling her, “You can do it, get a point on her!”. She does, and she is on the board. She retreats; she extends her arm all the way and twice gets counter touches on Helen’s attack. Did she come up with a tactic over the break? Well, as her break started, she looked over to see me finish a fleche on Monica and then collapse heavily forward onto my knees crying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” So she was very distracted. Nor could she find anyone who knew if I was winning the bout or not. Still she went back to her bout and through Helen won, Linda got 6 points against Helen’s final 8 points to finish 6-15. Very respectable.

How was I doing? Well there are two stories there. I was mentally up and took a quick lead of 2-1. Monica, like many lefties, exposes her shoulder when she starts an attack (of course, you may need to be over six feet tall to see this). She came back with some bind counter-attacks, which I managed to adjust to in order to gain another two points 5-2. I didn’t want her to keep attacking me to try and catch up in points because of a particular terror I have of left handed fencers. With right handed fencers I have done so many hundreds of hours there is no move that I shouldn’t be able to figure out and counter in a few points. But if I let a left handed fencer keep doing different moves; what if they go past the six moves I usually see them do? What if they have a seventh and an eighth move that baffles me and I stand there in bewilderment as they come back? This is my terror, so I do my classic lefty attack: lunge to the outside of their hand, swing the tip under the hand and continue on to the shoulder to finish 7-3. My blade is bent and I ask the ref if I can rebend it. However, my hand and arm are shaking so badly I can’t hold the blade steady to rebend it with the weight of my foot. Plus, as I try to bend over, my entire body starts shaking. This is, in people with heart problems slang, “a bad sign.” I ask the ref if he can rebend my blade and he does. We fence on and she gets a point, I counter with a fleche, and watch as her arms falls to her side as she retreats. I am not letting this one get away. I give the last push for the touch then realize I don’t have enough strength left to stop and fall through the air before landing and sliding on my knees (this is what Linda sees on her break). Can I get up? I do, one limb at a time, using my forearms on my thigh to force my body upright. Time? I ask. Five seconds the ref says. Thank God!

I sit on my chair and drink the rest of my water during break and in what seems a few seconds I am being called back to the line. We start again. Marla is on a bench with the other SAS fencers cheering Monica on. Hey, who’s on my bench? I get points on Monica as she comes in, using speed and distance to keep away from her blade and then counter with lunges to her shoulder to make sure she keeps back and doesn't try to creep in closer (where she is more likely to hit me before I can react). By this time I am sucking air very hard. The ref asks me if I want a “medical” (a medical delay). I tell him that if I will take one if I can’t come to the line with my guard up when he calls. I am thinking at this point that if I take a medical and they ask why and I say, “Oh, I have a heart condition that puts my heart beats over 240 beats per minute and is still undiagnosed” that my chances of them letting me BACK on the strip are pretty slim. Monica is hanging tough but in the weird way that sometimes happens, I can’t miss. Yet for some reason, I am just on the verge of crying. I’m winning and almost sobbing. On point 13 she flips my blade clear away before lunging to attack, but I somehow turn my wrist and just graze her leg. As the ref calls halt we both stare at my single light and we both are probably thinking the same thing “How exactly did that happen?” It is 13-5 and I ask for the time. There is over 1:40 to go. No help there. I am breathing so fast and hard that it would be hyperventilation....except you can’t hyperventilate if you aren’t getting enough oxygen. She tries for another lunge and I pick off her shoulder. As soon as the ref calls "Fence" I immediately follow with a lunge to her neck. Bout Elizabeth 15-5. My first full DE victory (including multiple changes of tactics!).

Without taking off my cord I head to the bench on the wall. I haven’t had the strength and dexterity to pull off my body cord since my second match in the pools, but there is no one here to help me. I am heading to the bench and I think that if I can just sit down maybe I can recover and pour water on my head or something and then I might be able to do the next DE? I get close when one leg buckles and I go down on one knee. I can’t get enough air, and it feels like I am drowning. My body crumples and though I am breathing as fast as I can, I am trying to curl up into a fetal position. Some part of my brain tells me that I used to feel pretty good in that position a long time ago and since I feel REALLY shitty right now, maybe if I could just get back to that position, I would feel good again. Meanwhile, someone, I think a couple someone’s are moving me around. It turns out that Monica (my DE opponent) is the nurse specialist that teaches rounds at a hospital. It is hard to tell what is happening to my body as everything seems so far away. Somewhere near Finland my feet are propped up and down in Brazil my head is propped up on something. Monica is trying to find my pulse and saying heart conditions to me so I can nod. “beats” ....... “over” ......... “200” I tell her and try between my breaths to say, “Oxygen.”

As Linda’s bout finishes, Birgit unhooks her and tells her, “Your girl needs you.” Linda says when she arrived my face was panicked as I tried to breath (I like to believe my face was “focused”). “I can’t get a pulse” Monica says, meaning that my heart is racing too fast for her to discern individual beats. Monica looks down at me and wants to know if I can hold my breath. “V” ......... “maneuver” I ask referring to the Valsalva Maneuver where you hold your nose, keep your mouth closed while you try and blow as well as pushing as if you were taking a dump. So I do it, but tell her, sometimes doesn’t work. This maneuver allows contraction of the vessels and then the blood backed up behind the heart can refill the heart and stabilize. Linda meanwhile had gotten a wet cloth for my face to try and convince my body that I am drowning (because if you do the heart starts to slow down to conserve oxygen). Monica says, “I can get a pulse.” We aren’t sure if she later said, “120” or “180” after that but it was in the “you’re going to live” range (later she said in a conversation, “You can’t live with 32 all the time” meaning 32 beats per 10 seconds or 180+).

I am suppose to lie there for a while. Theresa Rose and Marla are sitting on the bench that has appeared to hold up my feet. Monica and Linda are there as is Birgit off and on. Marla wants to know that I am going to withdraw, right? I sort of agree but then say that I have to fence Helen as revenge for her beating Linda. I get into the ‘bargaining with death’ mode. “How about I just fence a few points and then withdrawl?”

“You can’t do that.” A ref appears above me, “You can’t fence a few points and then withdrawl.”

“What if I fence sitting in chair?”

Monica says, “I am the medical representative here and I am going to withdraw you.”

“In that case,” I tell Linda trying to be mature, “I think I will withdraw.” Though I then go on and point out that if I had JUST made it to the bench, no one would have noticed anything. Several people tell me this isn’t exactly true, including the ref who said that he was tempted to withdraw me during my DE. He said people going to ER isn’t good for the other fencers; a bit too much drama. seems that no one believes that I ALMOST had the whole situation under control.

So, it’s over and this time, I do cry, just a little because while I felt bad this time, it wasn't as bad as last tournament. And that doesn't seem fair. Especially as I was sitting down all the time off strip. And I was ready to pull out when I couldn’t come to the line. Only I didn’t get to show everyone how sensible I could be. Stupid body. And either way, it's over. My last DE....for a while.

Marla starts chewing me out, in a nice way, since her boyfriend had been told he was going to have to get open heart surgery on a valve and only the day before the doctor had told them the valve had stabilized; that it was an aftereffect of an infected appendix. “You have to think about how the person who cares about you feels too” she tells me, restraining herself from giving me a kick. Yeah. Guess all my arguments about my sensitivity aren’t too convincing while still propped into the “recovery” position.

So, I recover, Helen advances unopposed; Kundry has already ruined several people’s day starting with Marla (who got her best results; leaving the pools at #8) only to meet Kundry – Marla finishes 9th; just one place away from that E rating she deserves. Kundry knocks out Annette with the cold, the number 1 from the pools, then takes out the B ranked lefty Anna Telles to meet Birgit in the finals (Remember, both in my pool). Still I am consoling myself that I will FINALLY earn my D ranking (which I get for 6th place) while being flat on my back. That is until Annette explains that because Kundry was #9 out of pools, everyone is knocked down one place. That means I will be 7th, one away from the D ranking. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Say to self; “It doesn’t matter; that’s not why I came down to fence.” Keep repeating it until I start to believe it.

I get a few minutes with Monica after I am up and around again and she explains what is likely going on. That when my heart beats fast (like when I exercise, or walk uphill too much), it beats too fast to pass on all the blood it should so I am getting starved for oxygen. This is why I have been getting headaches (not enough oxygen to the brain) as well as pain in my heart at the end of the day (because the heart is a muscle too, so if it doesn’t get enough oxygen, it hurts too). Also, she said the fatigue, fainting, sleeping so much and being able to do less and less are all compatible with a heart that has an electrical problem and is consistently beating too fast (as for solutions, she said, “It’s not McDonalds; heart diagnosis and treatment takes time”). So we talked about when it is an indicator of needing to move to the hospital and whether I should have oxygen at home (“That’s a good question, you should ask your doctor on Monday”). Her “matter of fact” conversation was both comforting (as I understand what is happening is consistent with a body exhausted from an untreated heart condition) and alarming, particularly in the way she boldly stated things I had been trying not to think about (“So, get registered, get a disabled sticker for your car....”) and how I need to live a life with "a heart beat where you can live: nothing over 150" (She doesn't need to explain what happens to people who have heart beats over 150 for long periods of time, not the way she emphasised the word "live").

Birgit went on to carve up Kundry; Kundry was making a really solid go of it but Birgit always kept the lead and advantage (I know how that feels with Birgit...a lot!). And Birgit FINALLY gets her B ranking. So congrats to her and I was glad I could be there to see it happen. I ended up with my E renewed for 2007 (Hey, I’ll trade you two E’s for a D? Anyone....anyone?) in 7th and Linda fulfilled all her goals by winning a bout and finishing 14th, definitely NOT in last place. The fencer returning after several years, Jill, had to fence against Carola from my pool to decide who got into the 16. In a very close match, Jill won 15-14; only to face the number 1, Annette (and got a respectable 8 points on her). Helen and Anna ended up sharing third.

So, we ate, we drank, Marla gave me an orange and Kundra gave us a ride back to the hotel. Anna Telles came up and told me that I had really improved from when she had fenced me from six months ago; she had been watching my bout with Monica (both lefties). Then suggested we go to an all women’s Korean spa for messages and hot pools. Sadly, we weren’t driving back (as it was in Lynnwood) – but it was obvious that she and some of the other women around us knew ALL about the Olympus Spa’s.

This was why I came down. I got one more tournament with Linda: watching her get her last point on her first tournament win. I had a good pool results; set up my plans. My point was hot and except for the “Birgit Factor” I owned the strip. Yes, I literally stepped on two toes but in our bout Monica ended up jumping on mine (and then getting the point) – so fair is fair. It was fun and it was a community (though as Linda said, one which probably isn’t letting me back without a doctor’s note). And yes, I am still physically paying for it. But unlike yesterday I don’t need help standing up or walking today – woo hoo!

And as I promised, that part of my life is over for now (Linda can still practice if she wants) – I tried to tell Mr. Ho I had a heart condition and wouldn’t be coming for training, he told me I probably just had a cold (with the implied, “work through it”). For me: no fencing, no jogging, no aerobics, no hikes, no biking, no swimming and we have to wait and see about the walking. So right now I am a little frustrated and a little angry. I know that doctors will find the problem and fix it.......sometime. But right now I have to live in today, in this body. And unless someone can give a date like April 13th or May 5th when things will turn around, I need to start coming up with some new dreams and goals. My life is not going to revolve around doctor visits and medical tests. That’s because my life isn’t on hold. There is nothing I can DO, like exercise or drink bee pollen that will make things better; so I need to find something beyond the pain and the humiliation and the helplessness that stamps “This is MY life” all over my days. I am starting to think about that Girl Armour. I dunno, do you think Warrior Wheelchair Goth Babe could work for me?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Curtain Call Part 1: Dancing on an empty stage

Now that Valentines Day is over and I don’t have to worry about killing the mood; let’s talk about hearts, specifically mine. There is something wrong with it; and unlike so many teen drama's or anime’s, there is nothing particularly romantic or exciting about it. The doctor’s do tests to determine a) what the problem might be and b) what test to do next. Fortunately, several months ago, I had a series of heart tests that found a condition called P.A.T.; which causes occasional pain but otherwise isn’t life threatening. This turns out to be a good thing because now, every time they do a test, they can see what the change is over that time. For instance, my resting heart rate seven months ago used to be 54 beats per minute. Now it is 97 bpm.

But those are just numbers. In the last several weeks, what used to be a worrying inconvenience is now center stage as my body seem to be unable to compensate for whatever is going wrong (including a heart rate which says I am running two marathons every night). Right now, I sleep between twelve and sixteen hours a day. Or rather I am not conscious more than 12 hours a day, as when simply typing like I am now, I can be overcome within 2-3 minutes and fall “asleep” for many hours. If I am woken, and stood up, I will merely fall over and go back to “sleep.” So, I don’t get to dictate when I am awake that much. Often when awake, I have one or more signs of heart problems like nausea, dizziness, fatique, fuzzy headedness. So I get a couple good hours a day, as long as I sit quite still. Walking more than a few blocks or standing up for a length of time usually brings a faint and falling over. That happened two day ago when I went to my local post office to get a package and twice on the weekend when I fed the squirrels. I also sometimes have difficulty getting enough oxygen (at least that is how it feels), or cooling off.

Ironically, I can go fencing. I did on Monday night, doing some alternating matches for 55 minutes. Because as soon as my heart rate goes above a certain point, my body is full of endorphins which make me feel GREAT! I only did 55 minutes because my face had turned sort of a pale green and I was about to pass out anyway (Four week ago this didn’t happen until several hours had passed). The endorphins made me feel clear headed for the next several hours. It was like being “normal” again. But then I went to bed, with 20 mg of diazepam, and a double dose of prescription level painkillers. And I drifted in and out of consciousness for many hours hallucinating that I was being tortured by the Stasi (the East German Secret Police). Which actually sounds kind of funny, doesn’t it. Except that I was falling to sleep, going into REM, the pain was waking me up, but not to full consciousness and I would fall back again repeated for hours as I moaned and tried to shout because from my viewpoint I was in a white tiled room being beaten and tortured by the secret police. It also kept me in bed for just over 24 hours. all for 55 minutes of alternating judging and epee fencing.

So I think you know what comes next: As of this Saturday, I will not longer be a fencer, at least for the foreseeable future. I am not going to the Western Championships, or the BC Championships or the Summer Nationals. I am not going training or cross training. I am not holding an epee in my hand until this problem is identified and solved.

And yes, they might find out what it is right away and I will be able to come back to training within a few weeks and not lose the conditioning months of intensive effort and pain have cost. But that is not very likely. Doctor’s do tests to find eliminate the easiest factors first. So I can tell you I do not have cancer, nor a thyroid condition, I don’t have an elevated white blood cell count (so no infections anywhere in my body), nor is there a problem with the biological agents which transverse the membranes of my heart cueing when it is to beat. I don’t have mono. I don’t have any detectable secondary condition which could be causing heart problems. I also don’t have an irregular heartbeat or sections of my heart which are disintegrating, at least not yet. On Monday I meet with my GP again to go over the last test results, and I will push to get an echo: a sonic picture of my heart to compare with the one from months ago in order to find out if there has been any permanent damage as yet. But remember, this is Canada. Which means I still haven’t seen a cardiologist; I am on a waiting list. So when things get too bad, I can go to ER. Or I can try to get checked into the hospital (and sit in a room with three other people surrounded by two curtains and have to explain needle phobia every day). Or I can hang on until the next test, and the next one, and try to hold on to a bit of my life here and there. Like blogging, when I can.

And in the meantime Linda and I try to evaluate the short and long term situation and change our lives. Our vacation camping on the Oregon coast next month is out. But maybe getting a walker or a wheelchair so I can go outside more is in. Our food costs are going up because I can’t stand up to cook consistently. And we don’t plan more than a few hours ahead, unless someone is with me (no point planning a dinner out if I fall asleep at 4:00 pm and can’t be woken up until 8:30 pm as happened this week).

So, tonight we are heading to Seattle for a women’s epee tournament on Friday. I booked that two weeks ago when fencing was against doctor’s orders and inadvisable but still mostly possible. Now, it is against logic, against orders, inadvisable and "maybe" possible. Seems like a stupid, suicidal thing to do doesn’t it?

I am not going over to win. I am not even going over to fence the whole competition. I am going because I am not about to spend the next several weeks or months or years playing “What if?" Because, whether I like it or not, whether I want it or not, what is happening to me and my body is not something I can control. I cannot control what it does to me, nor can I control the outcome. Maybe I will see a cardiologist and there will be an operation or treatment and I will be back fencing this fall. Maybe I will have a pacemaker put in or my heart has already enlarged or changed enough that I will never be able to fence competitively again. Maybe with a cane and some oxygen, Linda and I will take a vacation. Maybe I won’t be leaving this city for a very long time. I can’t see the future. I can however, go to Seattle tonight and hopefully fence tomorrow.

Having watched these last few weeks my life being invisibly smashed up and having my only significant trips being to hospitals, ER rooms, doctor’s offices and testing centers I know this: ½ a dream is better than no dream. ¼ or 1/6 or 1/8 of a dream is STILL better than no dream. I want to see again the women I have met through fencing. I want to stand on the strip trying to outthink and out-react my opponent and knowing she is trying to do exactly the same to me. I want that feeling when your body reacts faster than you can think, and comes up with that perfect touch. I even want that feeling where you get past her guard only to see your tip just miss her arm and sail off into useless space. I LOVE epee. Sure, I may have disliked Mr. Ho and many of the bullies I have met or trained with in the sport. But I had gotten a new coach two/three weeks ago. And just because some jerks do epee doesn’t make it a bad sport. I still love epee. And maybe this time I will figure out the right counter to Birgit or the right lunge or bind for Tucker-Williams. Or maybe this time Marla Clem will beat me.

I don’t want to win or get a ranking. Things like that become irrelevant when goals like walking to the store and back become major victories. My goal for the Canadian Nationals was to a) Get out of the pools and the top goal was to b) get to the superpools. I made the first one; didn’t get to the second. That’s okay. This time, my goal is, with a chair to sit in between bouts, to a) fence all my pool bouts. My “supergoal” is to b) finish a Direct Elimination bout. That’s it. No fencing till I drop this time: because now I know how dangerous that is (like congestive heart failure dangerous). So when my face starts turning a bit pale, or I can’t get enough oxygen then it’s over. I default. Even if I am up 4-3 in a pool bout; I default, she wins. Because a pool bout isn’t work dying for.

Many will probably conclude that I am stupid or foolish or whatever it is people conclude when they aren’t you and don’t have to sit in your skin for 24 hours a day. With so little control left with my body and my life and with my future an uncertainty this is what I choose: to decide how I am going to say goodbye to fencing and in doing so say goodbye to 20 years of a body that could always be pushed farther, and did more than any non-athletic person I ever knew: Marathons, 1,000 mile hikes, long distance cycle trips, swimming, skiing, and competitive fencing.

Then Saturday, I will start to say hello to the body I have for the present time, and we will learn best how to live with each other. With fencing, I will leave behind many of the social friends and associates I see regularly. So this immediate future will be and is, a little socially difficult. Any support would be appreciated.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Ballot I-957, Purity Balls and tattooed lesbian sex scenes

Well, in the run up to Valentines Day, I am going to be focusing on what is important in life: being with someone you love, and hopefully that someone being the same sex as you (I know straights have similar relationships, but I think God is against them for some obscure reason written down 4,000 years ago). On that note, I have to give congrats to Olympia Washington, who have introduced a ballot for law I-957 which takes groups like The Defense of Marriage and American Family Values at their word. It requires proof that any couple CAN have children before granting a marriage license. And if couples don’t have a child in three years, they have their marriage annulled. The Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance was created to challenge the same sex ban on marriage by passing laws based on the reasons given that same sex couples can’t get married. So, sign often.

For those who like lesbian films (and really, who doesn’t?), there is a great amv combining the films Monster, Bound, Boy’s Don’t Cry (technically not lesbian), and Show me Love (also called F*cking Amal). Very touching with many sex involving girls with tattoos in places I normally don’t get to see. It has embedding disabled so you can see it HERE.

Of course, like Linda, you might afterward say, “I hope you have something happier I can watch after that.” But of course! But first, let me ask you an opinion on my recent erotic dream/nightmare. It involves me, a sexual therapist and my lover Angelina Joli…I mean, Linda all on a bed, and the therapist is telling me, “okay, rub here, keep it steady.” And things are going well when I notice that the door to the room is open and my father is sitting at a table near the bed drinking coffee. Meanwhile my mother peeks in the blinds and asks me, “Do you know how much longer you are going to be?” And I just stare open mouthed, and she says, “It’s okay, I just thought if you were finished soon, we could car pool.” Now honestly, would you be disturbed that? On the one hand, Erotic; on the other hand, parents watching and drinking coffee. Perhaps this was some sort of subconscious revenge for when I had asked my father to take me to one of the Christian Purity Balls, where girls vow their sexuality into the keeping of their father, and that he will be the ONLY man they can “date” until formally courted by a man approved by her father. At the ball daughters and fathers exchange rings and they make their vows. He was understandably creeped out; I was, with usual sensitivity, laughing hysterically.

Okay, something light; how about an anime video about a group of lesbian fighter pilots; focusing on the deep relationship between one lesbian and.....her stuffed animal?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Dani: First Female in AIAS Hall of Fame (and why AIAS kept it secret)

If you grew up in the 80’s and were a geek, and you know what the word Zork means in terms of computing then you probably know Danielle (Dani) Berry or at least you know her work. Her best known games were M.U.L.E. and Seven Cities of Gold. The two things that made Danielle’s games different were interaction with other people and non-violent games. Her first game, Wheeler Dealer, a business sim for the Apple II, had it’s own created controllers so four people could play against each other (People playing against each other was unheard of at this point - she had to design the controllers to make the game). Unfortunately, buying controllers to play a single game made it a VERY expensive game. Only 50 copies were sold. But she went on to design M.U.L.E., a non-violent exploration/economic sim that could be played against others (Will Wright, the creator of SIMS dedicated the game to her and M.U.L.E.). Danielle was obsessed with getting people interacting with each other instead of just with their computer, back in the days when that was really, really hard (modems had only just been invented). But as she said, “No one on their death bed ever said "I wish I had spent more time alone with my computer!" Danielle paved the way for the player to player interaction most gamers see as essential to gaming and that created online phenomena like World of Warcraft and Second Life; doing games with other people is MORE fun than doing them alone.

M.U.L.E. was also the first computer game that appealed to and sold to women; a market still overlooked today, but in 1983? She sums up the difference between M.U.L.E. and traditional (male oriented) games: “It involved taking turns and developing land, stuff that kind of made sense to people not groomed and grown in the joystick world. Look at the kinds of products that Sega and Nintendo are building. They're for pre-teen boys who are just rabid joystick jocks. They just do every damn thing you can do with multiple buttons and push and pull the joystick. Intensity is the word. I'm not going to argue with them; they seem to be enjoying themselves. But I do believe that there's room for some other kinds of fun, also.” I loved Dani’s games; M.U.L.E. and Seven Cities of Gold was what convinced me that there were computer games better than Flight Simulator (after all, there are only so many times you can crash into the Sears Tower). In 1994 Electronic Arts wanted to rerelease the game but would only do so if Dani added guns and bombs. Danielle said no. And that was pretty much the end of her career as a game creator. You might have wondered how a woman managed to survive and succeed so long in the overwhelming male dominated world of computer gaming? The truth is, she didn’t. And that was the other reason the game design world took a couple clear steps away from Danielle when she came out of the closet as a woman in 1991-1992; before that people had known her as Dan Bunten.

Suddenly, out of the closet, a game designer of 14 years consistent work; coming out with games once every year or two for the biggest companies (EA, Microprose) couldn’t get a design job. She moved back home to Arkansas saying, "I'm done with this business. I can't deal with this. I give up." She put out her resume and when to employment agencies as a conventional engineer but couldn’t get a job; in fact she only got one call back (welcome to being a female engineer in the south). She talked about the importance of family now, of being a mom, though her oldest daughter and granddaughter were estranged, her oldest son was hostile, but her seven year old son called her mom. All her previous male associates and friends in the business fell away. Her mother and her two favorite siblings immediately “disowned” her: “I thought I was part of a large and caring family (many of whom live in the area) till I did this. One of my favorite brothers suggested that I should have killed myself and if I didn't leave the family alone he'd help me do it!” And while still trying to build and patch relationships Danielle died of cancer in 1998, still estranged.

You may be thinking, 'Okay, a nice and courageous woman by why is her story so important?' It is important because yesterday, the sixteen men making the board of The Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences (AIAS) wiped that story away; and they did it with an award. AIAS is a collection of the most powerful people in gaming software; you can’t even become a voting member until you have demonstrated your excellence in gaming through credits and experience. And annually the members vote to give out gaming awards, while the sixteen members of the Board of Directors decide which single person should be added to the Hall of Fame. This year, that person, inducted yesterday Feb. 9th 2007 was Dan Bunten. You can listen to the Academy’s President in a January interview as he announces that yes, Dan Bunten, great designer that HE was, will be entered into the hall of fame. Sid Meier, creator of Civilization (who worked under Dani), accepted the award on his behalf, talking only about DAN Bunten, "He thought games could become social experiences, I told him he was out of his mind.” The official press release (now reprinted worldwide) from AIAS is that Dan Bunten was honored that night (“Bunten's legacy is more recognized for the gaming technologies he pioneered," said the release by the AIAS.”). The older (estranged) son thanked everyone for honoring his “dad.”

So now, after she had her surgery, had her name legally changed, had her gender legally recognized and after she lived, struggled and died as Danielle. Now, nine years later, her “friends in the industry” honor her by pretending she didn’t even exist. They honor her by giving an award to a person who Danielle admitted with great courage was a lie, and was offered an award that, if she had been alive, she couldn’t have legally accepted in that name. They are “honoring” her by obliterating what she sacrificed her family, her friends and her career to be truthful about: that she was a woman. That seems a pretty crap way to honor someone.

Some, like EA founder Trip Hawkins spoke supportively of how she should receive the award for the work she had done. But the majority of the “old echelon” like the board at AIAS and Sid Meiers, were too afraid to even use the pronoun “she." They show that the “boys club” of computer gaming has a long way to go, as they are currently unable to recognize that the socially interactive games which they honor (and profit from) are the influence of Danielle, who hid behind the face of “Dan”, during a period of Missile Command and Duke Nukem ("Bunten's approach, Hawkins said, "was the antithesis of the 'mindless shoot 'em up.'”). Now unable to defend herself, Danielle is having who she is and was, reworked and rewritten for the emotional convenience of a bunch of aging male gamers. Seems odd that so many designers of First Person Shooters would be such cowards, doesn't it?

So, let us celebrate what they seem unable to, a person whose “unconventional” approach and whose dedication to self truth is still, compared to the gaming industry, ahead of her time. Let’s hear it for the 10th inductee to the AIAS Hall of Fame: Danielle Bunten Berry

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Back soon; after I have finished spreading confusion

I will be busy with medical tests for the next day or two; which I think will a learning experience for everyone. Linda says my Doctor is finally starting to get it. He asked how much valium I was on when I got the needle and how long it took. Linda told him and said "It was not bad, even with the screaming."

"She screamed?" He asked looking surprised.

"Loud and long enough for the whole wing to hear."

The Doctor got that look on his face. The one where it clicks and inside he is saying, "Oh, she has a needle PHOBIA."

So one more medical personnel down, a couple hundred thousand to go.

I was talking to the people who are putting the Holter Heart Monitor on me in the morning to find out if it records higher than 240 beats per minute.

"That would never be needed," the receptionist tells me, "What age are you?" (I tell her), "There is no way your heart could beat that high."

"It did for over 10 minutes less than 36 hours ago." I tell her.

Long shocked silence. (This is doing my moral a ton of good - I mean, you are putting a heart monitor on me - maybe it is because my heart is doing something it isn't suppose to? Please stop looking at me like that.)

Later that day a guy tells me he had the same symptoms as me, including feeling great while his heart rate was over 200. "The doctor told me that the way my heart was enlarging, I would have been dead in another three weeks." He finishes his story and gives me a smile. I think this is like pregnancy; people find out and then start telling you the horror stories of 61 hours in labor.

Anyway, just because I'm off getting my chest sanded down (that's not kinky talk, just for the heart monitor), you should be larking, I know I would be on a dreary day in Feb. (If you aren't having a dreary day, think about how your taxes are coming up; that should set the mood). So here are two youtube music videos for you: They have little to no redeeming value except that a) they have LGBT content so that's good b) by watching them, you aren't thinking about taxes (or rain, or your car troubles...) and c) Music and pretty!

The first is called "We are Girls who like Girls" and sounds like it is some sort of school song from 1960 - except it is about falling for a girl who teaches gym class (and yes, there are shower scenes).

Next is the slightly enchanting/amusing video to the anime Princess Princess from a british group with the strange odd accent as the guy who sings "'enry the Eighth, I am." Princess Princess is about a boys school who with so much free ranging testosterone, a few "pretty" boys are selected to be a Princess for "school spirit." Of course, after getting the boys in the lolita clothing, why is it they start kissing each other? Ah well, the logic of anime world, eh? Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Brave New World: killer orgasms & womb counts

Greetings fellow Birth Giving Machines or Devices (I prefer BoGMoD for short). That is what Japanese Health Minister called females in a speech last week on Japanese birth rates. I think it has a nifty ring (he classifies women between 15 and 50 as BoGMoD’s), and we could give ourselves numbers: “Hello Birth Giving Machine 72!” I could call and wave.

His speech was on the falling birth rate in Japan and how the number of Birth Giving Machines (and) Devices (known in other parts of the world as “women”) between the ages of 15-50 were fixed and that he asked them in the name of the country to do their best per head. I have to think that Margaret Atwood is supposed to get some credit here, I mean, didn’t he crib some of that speech from The Handmaid’s Tale? When is the last time a country has done a womb count and then urged BoGMoD’s to fill their quotas? Exciting times!

I actually like that Japanese Health Department since Dr. Kunio Kitamura, head of Japanese Family Planning Association came out with an article in the same week which claims that female orgasms, if put through men’s brains, could KILL THEM! Attack of the female orgasm!

"If theta waves are taken as a criterion, the entire brain emits theta waves when women reach an orgasm that are close on 10 times stronger than when men climax. So, if theta waves are an indication of an orgasm's strength, then women experience an orgasm that is physically impossible for men to go through. Putting it a little crudely, if the intensity of a woman's orgasm was played through a man's brain, there's a danger that the shock to his system would kill him. That risk makes it impossible to experiment on a man at the moment."

This article has taken on a life of it’s own in our household. In the early days there were slight misunderstandings like:

Linda: "What were you doing in the bedroom? And why are you smiling?"

Me: "Ohhh.....I just killed three men.....and it felt GOOD. By the way, we need more batteries."

Linda: "You don't understand...the article didn't say every time a woman had an orgasm that a man dies.....oh never mind."

Me: "If you want me, I'll be taking a bath - Hopefully, I'll kill another man while I'm there."

Once Linda sorted me out, the statement continued to stay with me; I wouldmutter while in shops or walking, “...could kill a man!” Dunno, just seems, in the history of human violence that killing a man by sending a female intense orgasm through his brain hardly seems the same level as witch burnings and ritual stonings. I couldn’t stop wondering how many men would sign up if there was an ad:
“Male volunteers wanted to test intensity of female orgasm on male mind. Orgasm may be 10 times more powerful than current male orgasm. Warning; this level of orgasm could be lethal.”
I am thinking this would attract rather than discourage men to apply. I mean, we have, for example, Frat Guys, who do things like see how quickly they can drink enough alcohol to lose consciousness. I have this feeling they would see the sign and go: “Cool, orgasmed to death! High Five!”

Anyway, though the science seems pretty dubious, I am more than willing, if any agency in willing to fund me, to proceed with these tests (Hey Homeland Security – instead of torture, how about breaking down confessions through the power of orgasms?).

Yes, I know this post isn’t very deep or meaningful, but hey, I take my small pleasures (or according to the article, large and powerful pleasures) where I can these days.