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I'm doing fairly well at the moment, but I had a very bad mental health weekend last weekend, and haven't really been being the sanest lately, largely due to stress.  Largely as a consequence of this, I wrote my first poem in quite a while that isn't a hymn, though it is arguably still religious.  (A friend suggested to me that it's in fact very Aeonist, though I haven't managed to check with Ruthanna Emrys to see what she thinks.)  In any case, it's a poem about my thoughts about death.


"Three Refuges in Dying"
16th April 2019

I take refuge in my dying:
     The mind and body both must fall and fail,
     must come apart and become senseless things.
     The pains and wants and fears of mortal life
     will pass away, and suff'ring be no more.

I take refuge in the Ocean:
     All ash and dust, all clay and rock will soon
     erode and return to a common sea.
     The sins that even blood may not redeem
     will wash away in that eternal brine.

I take refuge in the Heat Death:
     The final chaos that consumes all things
     will bring an end to life and memory.
     And so I know, whatever pain I feel,
     I need not fear eternal calumny.

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A friend recently forwarded this Five Thirty-Eight article about the politics of two Cleveland suburbs, Parma and Shaker Heights, to me. I think he expected me to be interested in it from a political or urban history standpoint, but it actually hit me hard in a different, more personal way.  A lot of the article focuses on discussing Parma, a "white working class" suburb that bears a lot of resemblance to the Hamtramck, Michigan where my mom grew up, with the most pertinent difference being that Hamtramck is now largely African-American, Yemeni, and Bengali, while Parma has largely remained white. Like Hamtramck, Parma developed as a Polish Catholic ethnic enclave near a car factory and with a strong pro-union tradition.

The thing is that Parma, like "white working-class" and "white ethnic" communities in general, voted heavily for Donald Trump. And this wasn't a one-off fluke: it seems clear that it's the culmination of a few decades of responding to economic hardship and the collapse of unionized manufacturing jobs with xenophobia, racism, and a hatred of the welfare state because of a belief that it only benefits the "undeserving" poor.  The political shift of white ethnic communities like Parma to the right, and their support of Trump, are disturbing because of their implications for national and state politics. But they also make me personally uncomfortable because, on some level, I identify as a white ethnic, even though I'm (thankfully) not actually part of these communities.

That I'm a proud Polish-American is probably most evident to my friends from my cooking: I have a long history of inviting friends over for large, homecooked Polish dinners; I've made pierogi from scratch in thirteen states and one Canadian province; and my (Ashkenazi) ex-girlfriend used to rave about how she associated my apartment with safety and the smell of cabbage.  There are other components to my Polish-American identity, too, though. I make a point of reminding people of Marie Curie's maiden name and birthplace (Skłodowska and Warsaw, respectively). John Paul II, despite his conservative tendencies, will always sort of be "my" pope because he was, as my mom's family still thinks of him, "the Polish Pope." And, while I was never baptized and have certainly never been a Christian, Catholic ritual and iconography and theology still have a lot of emotional significance for me.

The Five Thirty-Eight article about Parma, Ohio was hardly the first evidence I'd seen of the Polish-American community having a problem with racism and fascism, but it was still a bit of a painful shock to see the African-American resident of Parma interviewed in the article say that she thinks twice about going into stores with Polish flags or ethnic emblems on them: "You're scared to because of the rejection of how people will act or treat you when you’re in there." After all, the sort of Polish groceries being discussed are places that make my feel happy—if also inadequate about the fact I don't speak Polishright down to the portrait of Joe Biden1 on the wall.

I suppose the "correct" response to these feelings of discomfort would be to find the time and energy to be an activist and try to push the Polish-American community to be more progressive and less racist. Except for one thing: I may think of myself as a Polish-American, or even as a white ethnic, but I'm really not part of these communities, and my pagan, trans, queer, graduate-educated self wouldn't be particularly welcome in them, even if I can pass as a cishet Catholic long enough to buy frozen pierogi, fresh keilbasa2, and baked goods as a Polish grocery3.  This isn't just a matter of my being queer or an academic, either: while my mother grew up in a very traditionally Polish-American immigrant enclave, I only saw Hamtramck as a place we traveled a few times a year to see relatives and eat tasty food.

My dziadza (grandpa, pronounced "jah-dge") fit well into the Polish-American mold. His parents were both born in Poland, as were both his wife's parents. He left high school at sixteen to work in a car factory, was an early member of the UAW, got shipped to Europe to fight Nazis in Normandy, and ended up owning a small liquor-and-candy store he got from his father-in-law. He lived in the Polish enclave of Hamtramck his whole life, was pro-union but complained that it was too easy to go on welfare these days, and was a proud member of his local Polish Catholic parish until he died and was buried in Detroit's Catholic cemetery. I'd like to believe he would have seen through Trump's fascism if he was still alivehe died in 2002but I can't help worrying that he'd be on the wrong side today.  After all, the statistics aren't in his favor.

None of Dziadza's six kids really followed in his footsteps, though. He made sure they all got bachelor's degrees, and all of them except my mother ended up with Master's degrees. For the most part, they ended up being teachers and librarians, though one black sheep became a bank loan officer. There's a wide variety of politics (from Republican to "both parties are fascists" radical), religion (from agnostics to quite observant Catholics), and connection to the Polish community (some stayed in Hamtramck and environs; others moved as far away as Los Angeles and, of course, DC). And my mom married my father, whose hometown, Worthington, Ohio, has a history of being as WASP and rich  as Shaker Heights, if not more so.  Although my dad isn't a WASP, and his family has some Central European Catholic roots as wellI really want to find out the details of the politics that got my great-grandfather Franz Weisner kicked out of Austria-Hungaryhe's always been as solidly opposed to any sort of ethnic identity beyond "American" as my mom's family has been proud of their Polish roots.

Anyway, it's hard to say where this all leaves me.  A part of me wants to be proud of a Polish-American identity that's only partially mine, while another part of me is just angry and sad about what that identity has come to be associated with in this country today.  And it's not just a problem in this country, honestly: a look at present-day Polish politics is fairly disturbing, with a rather fascist and quite antisemitic party running the country.  I suppose I now understand better the dilemma faced by an MIT undergrad I used to know, who kept talking about how wonderful the small-town South she grew up in was while not quite grasping how unwelcome most of her friendsand she herself, if she didn't hide that she was bi and poly whenever she went homewould be there.  I hope I'm managing to do a better job of handling this than she did.

1 - I'm well aware of Joe Biden's problematic history on race and his issues with sexual harassment. I certainly don't think he should be running for president. But there's a part of me who finds a liberal Catholic who's pro-choice and is actually quite good on trans rights really strongly appealing.

2 - If you've never shopped at a Polish grocery with its own deli counteror eaten at one of my Polish food nightsyou've probably only ever had smoked keilbasa. Fresh keilbasa is, in my opinion, better, but since it spoils quickly, being raw pork and all, it's harder to find and basically never available in supermarkets.

3 - If I can find one. I've developed a mental map of where to find Polish neighborhoods and food in a number of American cities, but DC's lack of a history of manufacturing means thatalong with not having the working-class white suburban racism of many Rust Belt citiesit doesn't have much in the way of Eastern European neighborhoods.
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For those of you who were waiting on an update on my testicular cancer saga, the cytology is back and it's confirmed it was cancer.  It's "an early-stage seminoma."  I'm doing pretty well, as this is about the best option short of it being benign, and I'd already largely made peace with the fact it was very unlikely to be benign.
I'll find out more at an appointment on Thursday, but the likely treatment options are observation or radiation.  I suspect observation is more likely, since it's early-stage, but I'll keep you updated when I learn more. 
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This is definitely not what I was supposed to be doing today, but I still haven't managed to make myself focus on doing the long-overdue homework for my independent study class on using R for geoanalysis. Instead, in between helping my chosen sister with a mental breakdown and having one of my own, I managed to write a poem. I've had Kipling's "A Song to Mithras" stuck in my head for a while, so I made my own Hellenic version of it.

"A Song to Four Goddesses"
by DW Rowlands, 23 March 2019
Catonsville, MD

Artemis, God of the Dawning, you who were there at our birth:
You led us to food and shelter, you led to the ends of the Earth!
Now as the day is breaking, now as we rise yet again,
Artemis, wild huntress, grant us the strength to sustain!

Athena, God of the Noon-tide, who guards us from morn until eve:
You taught us to live together, you taught us to build and to weave!
Now as the many gather, now as we work or fight,
Athena, wisest counselor, guide us to live aright!

Hestia, God of the Sunset, whose flame keeps us safe through the night:
You bring us warmth in the winter, you bring us warmth and light!
Now as the lamps are lighted, now as the cook-fires glow,
Hestia, eldest-and-youngest, bring us together to rest!

Hekate, God of the Midnight, who holds her bright torches high:
You stand guard at the cross-roads, you watch 'neath the starry sky!
Now as cold shadows gather, now as we wake in a fright,
Hekate, teacher and guardian, keep us safe 'til the light!
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As I mentioned before, I had a bilateral orchiectomy (radical for the right and simple for the left) with Dr. Karen Boyle at Chesapeake Urology's Woodholme Ambulatory Surgery Center from 2pm-4pm on Monday, 11 March. I've spent the last nine days staying with the group of friends I call the "Lesbian Coven" while recovering. Staying with them has been really helpful: it is a very supportive environment and they're people I'm very close to and trust a lot.

My recovery has gone very well, physically speaking. I was able to stop taking opiate painkillers about two days after the surgery, and only needed to take over-the-counter naproxin for one additional day. I never felt really serious post-surgical pain, which surprised me. And I didn't have nausea as an after-effect of the general anesthesia: I ate a full dinner on the evening of the surgery.

The whole process created a lot of awkwardness with my parents, which I discussed in my previous post. However, I'm hoping that that mess will manage to die down without further conversations with them about it. We will see how that actually goes, though.... I also haven't yet gotten the cytology report back on the tumor that was taking over my right testicle, which means that there's a lot of potential stress waiting to happen, depending on what the results from that are.

In any case, though, today is the day that the first stage of my recovery is complete. I took a shower for the first time since surgery this afternoon, I'm having therapy for the first time in about a month tonight, and I'm spending the night at home for the first night since surgery. It will still be about a month until I'm fully recovered and all the restrictions on physical activity are over—I'm going to consider Easter the day when I get to return to full normalcy—and I still have post-surgical bruising that hasn't faded and some self-dissolving stitches that haven't come out. But today is the day that I'm making a conscious decision that it is time for my life to return to a sort of normalcy.

If today—20 March 2019, the vernal equinox as it happens—is the first day of the rest of my life as a real eunuch, it certainly seems like it should be deeply important day for me. I'd initially wanted to mark it with some sort of public ritual-of-transition to mark the change, the irrevocable break from any risk of being a man. (From having an excuse for worrying that I'm secretly a man in disguise, a man who is just pretending to be a woman because he wants to be one even though he isn't really one. And yes, this is absurd, but it's an absurdity my brain can't stop worrying about.)

I didn't manage to have the time or energy to write such a ritual, and today wouldn't have been a practical day to do any sort of public ritual with friends present, anyway: it just doesn't work, schedule-wise. But I did at least manage to do a short private ritual of my own. I'm not going to go into all the details here—it was private, after all—but I do want to explain a bit of it in case it's useful for other people in my situation.

After I finally removed the post-surgical underpants I'd been wearing continuously for nine days, I took a shower for the first time after surgery, took a long time to get very clean and untangle my hair, and did my regular ritual for removing miasma after a shower. And then, when I was clean—physically and spiritually—I spent a few minutes to pray to five goddesses who I think of as important to my role and identity as a eunuch. I thanked Inanna, who is one of the household guardians of the Lesbian Coven, for protecting me as I recovered, and asked her, along with Artemis, Athena, Hestia, Hecate, and finally Athena again to accept me and guide me in this new role and part of my life.

I'm not going to go into detail about the prayers and vows I made, though I do hope to put some of them into poetry and, if I do, I will post the poetry here. I am still not entirely sure what my feelings about being a eunuch are, or what exactly I mean by it, or whether I'm a "real" binary woman or non-binary, or what. But there is one thing I'm sure of today, and it makes me quite happy: what ever else is true, today, and from now on, I am not a man.
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I don't know when I started filtering what I told my parents about my life. I suppose it was in middle or early high school, when I started masturbating and instinctively knew it was something I wasn't supposed to do and they weren't supposed to know about. But that was something I didn't really tell anyone about, until Sir Grace and I became really close friends in my senior year of high school and I finally had someone to confide in about such things.

Still, the real start was probably at Caltech, where I started to have multiple close friends, developed interests I didn't want to tell my parents about, and realized that I was transgender. By the time I was in grad school, I'd learned to maintain two versions of myself: the real one, and the curated version I showed my parents: straighter, saner, more normal, and more boring.

I didn't tell my parents that I was trans, I didn't tell them when I started taking hormone therapy, I didn't tell them when I started using anti-depressants, and I certainly didn't tell them about my suicidal ideation or other mental health problems. When I did finally tell them about things, I did my best to minimize them: I treated my mental health problems as entirely a thing of the past, I explained about hormones while trying to minimize my transness, and so on.

Up until about a week ago, this had worked fairly well. I had explained to my parents that I was trans, but had let them mostly think of this in terms of my being on hormones, even if that was something they didn't really understand. I'd let them continue calling me "he" and by my birth name, because it seemed like the easiest solution. I'd made sure they never saw me with a purse or in a skirt. And I'd generally made sure that their interactions with my friends were constrained to ones that wouldn't make them too uncomfortable. (And wouldn't make my friends too uncomfortable, either.)

It's hard to say why exactly I did this. Or, more accurately, it's hard to admit why I did it. I'd stopped really loving them, and had transitioned to just wanting to avoid conflict or stressed. That and, especially with me living three miles away and getting to use their car for free and so on, it made a lot of financial and practical sense to be on good terms with them. In any case, it's something that had worked well, and could probably have gone on for a while...until the cancer situation hit.

I hadn't really planned to tell my parents if and when I had the gender-affirming orchiectomy I was looking into getting. It didn't seem necessary or a good idea. But when I found out I had a tumor, it felt like something I couldn't rally keep secret from them. Especially not since there was a possibility of longer-term treatment being necessary. Of course, telling my parents what was going on meant them wanting to be there for my surgery and my recovery. And meant a lot of awkward contact between them and the friends who took me to surgery, and whose house I'm staying at while I recover.

The result of this happening, and happening while I was stressed out by cancer and surgery, and then under the influence of anesthesia and opiate painkillers, was that my two personas collided. My parents saw me wearing skirts (pants weren't really an option with my healing crotch), and they heard my friends calling me "she." What I didn't predict, and probably should have predicted, was just how angry this made them. They found it deeply disturbing, and the fact that they were already distraught by my having cancer only made it far, far worse.

The result was that I ended up getting yelled at for fifteen minutes by my dad about how the friend who came to the surgery with me was a horrible person because she kept calling me "she" in a "heavy-handed" way. There was also some weird anti-Semitism (he asked if she was Jewish and said she was acting "just like a real New York Jew") and homophobia (he said that lesbians are social outcasts, and her being gay was probably why she was reveling in the fact that my queerness was forcing him to join her "island of misfit toys"). And then my mom lectured me on how the friends I was staying with didn't really care about me like she and my dad did, because they were letting me stay with them even though some of them were sick.

I haven't talked to my parents since those conversations happened, and I'm stressed out by thinking about what to do about this. The best option strikes me as trying to pretend the whole thing never happened--which largely worked for the time in grad school where I blew up and wrote a very angry email to them about how upset I am that they had me circumcised as a baby--but I am not sure if it is viable this time.

Advice would be appreciated.
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I'm not sure if any of you reading of this have it as your main source of information on me, but if you do, I feel bad about not keeping you updated on this developing situation. (In other words, I have had a week

Thursday, 7 March, I had a consult for a gender-affirming orchiectomy (removal of testes) at a urology clinic north of Baltimore. This was the second orchiectomy consult I'd had: the first one didn't impress me much, as the surgeon spent two or three minutes talking to me after being an hour-and-a-half late to a morning appointment, and didn't examine the area. My doctor on Thursday was much better, and actually examined my testes. Which turned out to be a very good thing...because she found that my right testicle had a lump that was at least half the size of the whole testicle.

I spent that Thursday afternoon getting an ultrasound to confirm the lump, blood work that confirmed elevated levels of tumor markers, and a CT scan that confirmed no evidence of cancer in my lungs or lymph nodes, the two places that testicular cancer is most prone to spread. On Monday afternoon, I had a bilateral orchiectomy: the right testicle was removed inguinally to ensure they got all the cancer, and the left was removed transcrotally, since it was just being removed because of gender dysphoria.

I won't get the cytology report on the tumor until next week, which means I won't know for sure until then whether it was cancer, and what sort, and what the doctors will want to do about it (observation, radiation, chemotherapy), but hopefully they got everything when they removed the testicle and I won't have any recurrences.

My recovery has been going fairly well: as of two days ago I stopped taking opiates, and I'm now not on any painkillers at all, but don't feel much pain. I'll be taking it easy for a couple more days, though. And hopefully managing to write a couple more posts about this experience.
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This last weekend, my grad school friend and lab comrade visited me from Boston. The two of us have been calling each other chosen sisters for quite a while and, while she was in town, we decided we wanted to formalize it. We wrote a short ritual--with religious bits pared down enough to not upset my pagan or her Christian preferences--to recognize us as chosen sisters and performed it at a friend's house with some of my local close friends in attendance.

It was really a wonderful experience, and I'm glad it's something I got to do. As an only child who isn't that emotionally close to their parents, chosen family is really important to me, and it's always a worry for me that my feelings about it, and about specific people, are asymmetrical, so it was nice to formally recognize how we both feel.

The text of the ritual, and more photos, follow behind a cut in case you're interested. As always with rituals I post publicly, feel free to adapt bits of it that you find useful for your own use.

Read more... )
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It seems that reading a book about human evolution and the Agricultural Revolution has once again inspired me to write poetry. This time, though, it's a hymn to Hestia, which seems appropriate, since I wrote my first hymn to her almost exactly a year ago, in preparation for an Imbolc ritual (2 Febrary).

Some basic context for non-Hellenists reading this: Hestia is the goddess of the hearth, home, and family, and is also a personification of the hearth/altar fire itself: she received the first offering at any sacrificial ritual, because offerings to other gods had to pass through her fire to get to them. She is also known as first and last born, because she was the eldest of the children of Kronos and Rhea (Zeus and his siblings), and so the last to be vomited up when Kronos vomited them up.

"Eldest and Youngest"
29 Jan 2019

Great Lady, who was born both first and last,
Who welcomes all to sit around her fire,
And hosts and feeds the small and great alike:
We praise you as we light our altar flames.

You came among us when, in ancient days,
We caught high Heaven's fire in circled stones,
And tamed it just enough to cook our meals,
And guard us through the long savanna nights.

Although we wandered to the furthest shores,
Your fire burned wherever we made camp:
Our home was always there, close by your side,
Among the glaciers and the desert sands.

Today, within our walls of brick and steel,
We celebrate your birth each day anew,
As stoves and furnaces and bright-lit lamps
Still mark our homes around this settled world.
child_of_the_air: Photo of a walkway with a concrete railing, with a small river bordered by leafless trees in the background. (Default)
On Monday night, some friends and I got together to watch the Steven Universe Season 5 finale, "Battle of Heart and Mind" / "We Need to Talk" (link full of spoilers). The episode was...a lot, and I feel like I need to try to put together some of my thoughts about it on here. The following is cut for spoilers:

Spoilery Thoughts on the Episode )
child_of_the_air: Photo of a walkway with a concrete railing, with a small river bordered by leafless trees in the background. (Default)
A while back, my friend Sky Rose created a pride flag for the trains trans / trainsgender community: trans people who like trains. More recently, [personal profile] ashnistrike got me several buttons with the flag on it for Arbitrary Winter Holiday.

They seemed like an important enough thing to have, and the trains trans community seems large enough, that I had a bunch more made, in two sizes: 1" buttons that just have the flag, and 2.5" buttons that show the flag and the words "Trains Trans"

1" and 2.5" buttons with the Trains Trans flag

Anyway, if anyone would like one sent to them, please let me know. I'm giving them away for free, but if you want to chip in to help cover the cost of making them, about $2.50 each, and shipping, it'd be appreciated.
child_of_the_air: Photo of a walkway with a concrete railing, with a small river bordered by leafless trees in the background. (Default)
 After over three weeks on the road, I'm finally home in DC again.  It's been a long trip--possibly the longest I've ever done--and both an enjoyable and a sometimes painful trip.  I've collected a lot of counties I'd never been to before, and a lot of transit I'd never ridden before: I finally finished riding all the rail transit in New York that's not commuter rail, and I visited Cincinnati and Indianapolis for the first time and rode the Cincinnati "Bell Connector" streetcar and the soon-to-close Indianapolis hospitals monorail.
What's really sticking in my mind at the moment, though, is the second half of my trip: my drive through Appalachia to visit some of my dad's family in Columbus and Indianapolis.  It's important to keep in mind that seeing my father's family is not a common occurrence: this was the first time in a decade I'd seen the relatives in Columbus, and the ones in Indianapolis I'd only met twice before in my whole life.
I don't know if the fact that I grew up over four hundred miles away from any extended family makes me unusual among Americans, but it certainly feels that way a lot of the time.  I did see my extended family regularly--my parents and I drove to Detroit and Columbus to see relatives for Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July every year, and usually went to Detroit for Easter as well--but they only visited us in DC a couple of times during my childhood, and they were never that big a part of my life.
Furthermore, to the degree that I was close to extended family, it was always my mom's family.  We went to visit them in Detroit more often and for longer, and my mom's four siblings in the Detroit area were always quite close to each other, and to my grandparents, who lived until I was in tenth grade.
With my dad's family, things were different.  His parents both died before I was born, and he never got along with his step-mom, even though we stayed with her when we were in Columbus.  (Which is maybe part of why we never spent much time there.)  The only of his relatives I ever saw regularly besides her were his brother Steve and his husband Brad, and his great aunt Pearl, her daughter Jackie, and her two daughters, who were about my age.  And somehow, I just never connected with them even in the weak way I did with my maternal grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins.
So, given all that, getting to spend time with Steve and Brad and Jackie on this visit to Columbus, and hear a bit more about their childhoods on this trip was definitely interesting.  It's something I wish I got to do a bit more frequently.  At the same time, though, it probably says something about where my identity lies that when I cooked dinner from them, it was Polish food, part of my heritage on my mother's side.
Even though Columbus is where we always went to see my dad's family when I was growing up, it's not really where his family is from: both his parents--and his stepmother--grew up in Portsmouth, Ohio, an old river port on the Ohio River where it joins the Scioto, which runs through Columbus.
Portsmouth's population peaked in 1930 and the city, located right on the Ohio River, is as much in Appalachia as it is in the Midwest.  Today, the county it is in--Scioto County--is one of the poorest in Ohio, and is a hot spot in the opioid epidemic.
Portsmouth is somewhere that my dad's family has always been trying to leave, but has never quite been able to break its connection to.  While my paternal grandfather was an only child, my paternal grandmother was one of four daughters raised there.  Of the four of them, my grandmother Ethel and my great aunt Pearl both married Portsmouth men and moved to Columbus to start families, and my great aunt Olga moved to Cleveland when she got married.
The Columbus branch of the family is the only one I ever really saw much of while growing up.  When I was very young, we visited Olga and her husband in Cleveland a few times, but they both died before I was old enough to really get to know them.  We never visited their younger son, Robert, and only met their older son, Dean, and his family once, when they visited DC to be tourists and we got together for dinner.
As for my great aunt Ruth, she was the oldest and lived the longest of the four sisters, only dying when I was in college, but I never met her.  She--the girl who at age thirteen, in Appalachia in the 1930's, announced that she was an atheist and wouldn't be going to church anymore, and made it stick--left Portsmouth, and Ohio, and never looked back.  
Ruth and her husband wandered around the county for a while before eventually settling in Port Angeles, Washington.  And, once she was there, she invited us to visit (which we never did), but absolutely refused to visit Ohio again.
Anyway, while none of my dad's relatives remained in Portsmouth to visit, once I was in high school, he did take me there a couple of times to visit his parents' graves and to see the houses where he visited them every other weekend as a kid, one of which still exists and one of which has been demolished.  Once our family trips ended when I finished college, though, it was quite possible I'd never see Portsmouth again: after all, there's not really anyone or anything for me there.
Still, while I was on the road last week, I found myself unable to avoid making a detour to visit the city.  I didn't spend much time there, but did discover a local art museum with a very friendly person at the front desk who suggested I visit Serpent Mount, a Native American effigy mound, on my way from Portsmouth to Cincinatti.  Doing so was, honestly, probably more interesting than the visit to Portsmouth itself, but it still is important to me to have made it back there again.
While I was in Indianapolis visiting my cousin (technically, second cousin) Cassidy, we talked a lot about the genealogy of my dad's family, which she's been researching.  A lot of our discussions were about our great grandfather, Franz Wiesner.  However, we also ended up spending a lot of time talking about Portsmouth, and what it seemed to mean to our various ancestors.  To Franz, it seems to have been an isolated place to hide from his past, but for his children and grandchildren it was somewhere to flee from; somewhere not to be associated with.
Certainly, both my and her dad seemed to try fairly hard to avoid being "too Portsmouth," even if my dad's feelings are conflicted on the matter.  When he inherited his parents' old Steinway piano, he made a point of spending money on getting it refurbished and donating it to their old high school, Portsmouth High.
I've only occasionally met my mom's cousins and her aunts and uncles--other than my late great aunt Frances--and I can usually barely remember their names.  On the other hand--perhaps because my dad only had one sibling (who never had kids), and his parents died before I was born, his aunts and cousins have always seemed a bit more important.
My dad's father was an only child, but his mother was one of four sisters, the children of Franz (Frank to his American family) Wiesner and Ollie Sparks.  The Sparks family seem to have lived in the US for a long time, and were evidently from Kentucky and perhaps West Virginia.  Franz Wiesner, on the other hand, was from Silesia, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
As I was growing up, all I knew about Franz was that he was Austrian.  More recently, though, partly through genealogical research that Cassidy has been doing, and partly from stories I've heard from some of my dad's cousins, I've realized that his story was much more complicated than that.
Franz was born in Austro-Hungarian Silesia, but he seems to have gone to school on the German side of the border, before working back in Austria for a time.  Surprisingly, he apparently had a college degree of some sort: something I thought no one in my dad's family had had until two generations later: apparently my paternal grandfather wasn't the first in his family to go to college after all.
What makes Franz even more interesting, though, is that he was apparently some sort of radical revolutionary.  None of us have been able to track down the details, though my father and my cousin Cassidy's father both claim to have some of his writing hidden away somewhere, and if we can manage to find it, Cassidy (who's fluent in German) hopes she can translate it.
In any case, he apparently left the Austro-Hungarian Empire not to make a better life, so much as to save his life: he was a fugitive from the government there because of his writings (or maybe involvement in something?).  He crossed the border back in Germany, but seems to have then sailed from the German port of Bremen to the US (most likely Baltimore).
Even then, things weren't simple.  Based on the stories his older two daughters--Ruth and Olga--tell, he was paranoid (whether justifiably or not) that the Austro-Hungarian government was still after him, and he moved to Canada and got a job working on the railroad there.  We haven't managed to find much record of him there, but he did become a Canadian citizen and Olga apparently told her children that he'd had a family in Canada but that they'd died.
In any case, right after World War I ended, he immigrated to the US from Canada, moved to Portsmouth, Ohio, and married a local woman named Ollie Sparks.  He seems to have picked Portsmouth for its isolation: it was on the southern edge of the US's industrial heartland, and more Appalachian than Midwestern in character.  In any case, his later life was apparently quite private and he didn't talk much about his past.
While he didn't tell his children, especially his later two daughters, much about his earlier life or his politics, he seemed to be kind of disappointed about the outcome of his life: he'd gone from being a college-educated intellectual in Silesia to a blue-collar life in Canada and later Portsmouth.  He apparently was sad not to have any sons, but pressured all his daughters to "marry up" and have sons who would go to college and become professionals, pressure that apparently got passed on to my dad's generation as pressure to become doctors, which none of them did.
In any case, this is what I know now.  It's certainly enough to make me (and Cassidy) very anxious to learn more, and I hope we can find a way to track more down.
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Last night, I stayed with a friend in Boston who, it turns out, is housemates with another person I  know but haven't seen in a long time, Sally.  This is the second or third time in a row I've visited someone who turned out to be Sally's housemate while she's out of town, which means I've seen her cat, Mios, a number of times without having seen her.

Mios is a good cat.  He's also one I have a connection to, because I've known him his whole life.  He was born a stray kitten near Emerald City, an MIT cruft house in Cambridge where I used to spend a lot of time.  Although they had several residents with cat allergies and couldn't have a cat, they did have a resident who was obsessed with cats, and quite skilled at interacting with them.  He fed strays on their porch, including one we called "Small White Kitten," because he was so tiny and pure white.  Eventually, Small White Kitten got in a fight with another stray and got an injured eye, and the resident who'd been feeding him managed to take him to the vet and get him to take the eye drops he was prescribed several times a day for weeks.

By this time, winter was approaching, and it was clear that Small White Kitten was well-socialized with humans, but not really cut out for the feral life, and the Emerald residents managed to find an undergrad--Sally--who lived in Random Hall, a dorm that allows cats, and was willing to adopt him.  She named him Mios, and I was surprised when I was first introduced to him by that name to realize he was Small White Kitten and still remembered me.

Mios still seems to remember me, years later, or at least is very friendly with me.  The friend I was staying with invited me to a New Year's Eve party, but I decided I was too tired and opted to spend the evening alone on my computer, catching up on emails and such.  Mios decided to sit on my lap at about 11:30pm and stayed there until 12:15am, so I entered the New Year with a familiar cat on my lap, which is probably a good portent.  Especially since I woke up this morning to him nuzzling me, too.

On the other hand, I dreamed about my dad yelling at me and about nuclear war, which probably isn't such a good portent.
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This afternoon, Jan--my girlfriend of about two years, and the first person I ever dated--broke up with me.  The specific details that precipitated it are a bit incoherent, and not really important, though I feel like the fact it happened on a 66 bus is somehow notable.  It was a long time coming, and I think we'd both come to realize that our relationship wasn't really healthy for either of us.  Our personalities clash a bit, we had conflicting triggers, and we weren't really physically compatible.  So, in the long term, I think this is for the best.

That said, I still ended up breaking down crying soon after it happened, and still feel kind of...flat?  Emotionally damped?  It's a little awkward that the break-up happened while I was still planning on staying with her for the three remaining nights of my visit to Boston.  She said I can still stay with her if I need to, but tonight I'm staying with some friends out in Waltham, because I felt I needed to get away from her.  I'm not sure what I'm doing on the nights of the 31st and 1st, but I will figure something out.

Anyway, it's probably telling that one of the things that stressed me out really badly was the realization that I'm not sure there's anyone in Boston I can stay with on future visits here.  I have a number of close friends and chosen family people who live here, but most of them don't have living situations where they can have me crash at their places.  I hope I can manage to continue to visit Boston regularly in the future but, whether or not I can, this at least seems to suggest that I'd already emotionally acknowledged that my and Jan's relationship was not going anywhere.

Jan and I are going to try to stay friends, and I think we can probably manage it on some level, though figuring out the details is going to be a bit tricky.  We're both quite new to this sort of thing and don't really know what we're doing.  For now, my goal is just to get through the logistics of the next couple of days.
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A few weeks ago, as part of an attempt to start a regular Hellenic pagan prayer practice for Advent--something I started successfully but failed to maintain--I made a set of Hellenic pagan prayer beads:

Set of Hellenic pagan prayer beads on top of a set of prayers to be used with them.

I don't actually know if there was an ancient Greek tradition of using prayer beads, but as a culturally-Catholic-influenced pagan, I was partly inspired by the Rosary. I decided to arrange the beads in sets of "decades" of ten, where each set of ten would be used with a prayer to a specific god, with a prayer to Hestia (who traditionally is invoked first and last during prayer and when making offerings) between decades.

Along with the initial and final prayers to Hestia, I decided to use six decades, dedicated to Athena, Artemis, Hekate, Hermes, Apollo, and Hephaestus, all gods I have some feeling of connection to. So that Hestia receives the same number of prayers as the others, I double the prayer to Hestia before the first decade, after the last decade, and between the third and fourth decades. This produces the following cycle of prayers:

Hestia (2x)
Athena (10x)
Artemis (10x)
Hekate (10x)
Hestia (2x)
Hermes (10x)
Apollo (10x)
Hephaestus (10x)
Hestia (2x)

The set of prayers I came up with were fairly formulaic, so as to be easy to remember, and fairly short, so that the whole cycle of six decades takes roughly twenty minutes to get through. They were also modeled after the "Hail Mary," the main prayer used with the Catholic Rosary. For those of you not familiar with it, the text of that prayer is:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The set of prayers I came up with are as follows.  Readers should feel free to use them themselves if they like them, with or without prayer beads.


Great Hestia, who was born both first and last:
You warm and guard us ‘gainst the stormy blast,
And keep us safe and fed beside the fire.

So hail to you, who’s born both first and last:
We ask your aid, for us and for our world!


Athena, grey-eyed lady of the spear:
You bear the Aegis and you weave your web
And are renowned for your ten thousand roles.

So hail to you, wise lady of the spear:
We ask your aid, for us and for our world!


Fierce Artemis, great lady of the bow:
Swift maid who loves the chase and cheers the hounds,
You loose your silver shafts upon the world.

So hail to you, great lady of the bow:
We ask your aid, for us and for our world!


Hecate, you who hold your torches high:
You tread the boundary between light and dark,
Teach strength to weakness, and bring hope to fear.

So hail to you, who hold your torches high:
We ask your aid, for us and for our world!


Hephaestus, crafty master of the forge:
Upon your anvil wondrous things are made,
And by your hands it was we learned to build.

So hail to you, great master of the forge:
We ask your aid, for us and for our world!


Phoebus bright, great lord who shoots afar:
You fill the world with light and play your lyre
With art the waves themselves take pause to hear.

So hail to you, great lord who shoots afar:
We ask your aid, for us and for our world!


Swift Hermes, lord who brings us luck and help:
You freely pass through every bound and realm
And aid the traveler and the trickster, too.

So hail to you, who brings us luck and help:
We ask your aid, for us and for our world!

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I'm sorry I haven't been updating this frequently: I've been both busy and unproductive lately. However, on Friday afternoon, while I was waiting for an oil change, I wrote a poem inspired by the book I've been reading, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. The early portion of the book discusses in some detail a thing I'd known about for a while, but apparently isn't commonly known: that the Agricultural Revolution resulted in a significant decrease in the standard of living for the vast majority of humans.

It turns out that hunter-gatherers on relatively productive land--unlike those living in the borderline environments where they still exist today, because the land isn't worthwhile for agricultural societies to expropriate--tend to be healthier and live longer than peasants did in most agricultural societies. The median level of well-being in agricultural societies may not have reached what it was in hunter-gatherer bands until a century or two ago. On the other hand, the elites: the people who could read and write, who owned the land (and the slaves), and whose names history remembers were much better off: their social roles couldn't even exist without the agricultural surpluses and sedentary lives made possible by agriculture.

Anyway, in response to this all, I wrote a poem that can perhaps be described as a Marxist hymn to Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, justice, and political power who may be seen as the goddess of civilization itself, since she is the keeper of the foundational principles of civilization, and stole them away from the chief god for her city of Uruk.

(As a note, this poem is in two different voices. I'm curious if any of you can identify the two speakers and which stanzas they get: it's kind of subtle.)

"Justice from Inanna"

Lady of Uruk1, Queen of Heaven,
Founder of Cities, and Keeper of the Mes2:
Fifty centuries thou hast been with us.
Our ancestors ate thy wheat and rice and maize,
and built thy temples and thy cities,
and lived together, aided by thy laws.

Lady of Uruk, Queen of Heaven,
Planter of Fields, and Keeper of the Grain:
You chose your children from our wandering bands
and made them kings and priests, soldiers and scribes.
You set us to plow your fields for a crust of bread
and break our backs that walls of brick and lapis3 rise.

Lady of Uruk, Queen of Heaven,
Mistress of Empires, and Keeper of Peace:
To every plot of land, and across the salty sea,
we followed thy lead, and reaped thy gifts
of glory and power, of leisure and wealth,
and of a piece of earth that was our own.

Lady of Uruk, Queen of Heaven,
Lover of Kings, and Keeper of Slaves:
In Babylon and Rome, Xi'an4 and Teotihuacan5
you taught your children arts and gave them tools,
but all their glory and all their wealth
was wrung by force from our unremembered brows.

Lady of Uruk, Queen of Heaven,
Founder of Cities, and Giver of Futures:
If fifty centuries of blood and sweat,
unwillingly shed upon your altar,
have won any boon, let it be this:
That the bloody sacrifice may end
and that all people may enjoy thy gifts.


1 Uruk was a Sumerian city that flourished around 2900 BCE, when it was the largest city in the world. It was strongly associated with Inanna, and was home to her chief temple, Eanna.

2 The me were a Sumerian theological concept that doesn't translate well into any modern language: they were "one of the decrees of the gods that is foundational to those social institutions, religious practices, technologies, behaviors, mores, and human conditions that make civilization, as the Sumerians understood it, possible. They are fundamental to the Sumerian understanding of the relationship between humanity and the gods." Confusingly, the me are also described in mythology as being physical objects, even though some of them are immaterial concepts, such as "victory."

3 Some versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh suggest that the walls of Uruk (implausibly) or of the Eanna Temple (more plausibly) were covered in lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone that was important in Sumerian religion.  Inanna wore a necklace and carried a measuring rod of lapis lazuli.

4 Xi'an, a city in what is now central China, is the oldest of the traditional "Four Great Ancient Capitals of China," and was the capital of the Qin Dynasty and early Han Dynasty, who created a unified Chinese empire contemporary with the rise and height of the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean.

5 Teotihuacan was an ancient Mesoamerican city that was the largest in the Americas at its height in about 250 CE.  It is unclear whether the Teotihuacan culture established an imperial state, but they were a major economic power and exported high-quality obsidian tools throughout Mesoamerica.  By Aztec times, Teotihuacan's ruins had attained a legendary status and the Aztecs claimed descent from the city's builders.

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Trigger warning for discussion of male genital mutilation and discussion of AMAB genitalia.

Read more... )
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As I discussed in my previous post, I attended a lecture on new updates dinosaur paleontology by Tim Holtz, a professor at the University of Maryland, during Chessiecon last weekend. I took detailed notes, partly for the benefit of a friend and a friend's kid who are both obsessed with dinosaurs, and partly because I'm embarrassed by how much about dinosaurs I've forgotten: they were a childhood special interest that I haven't thought about much in a while.

Anyway, here's the summary, with links for as many things as I could find them for.

New Dinosaur Species

Forty-eight new dinosaur species from the Mesozoic were described in 2017, and forty-one have been described so far this year. New genera described in in the past year include:
  • Macrocollum, possibly the earliest prosauropod yet discovered.

  • Ledumahadi, possibly the earliest sauropod yet discovered. It wasn't fully quadrupedal and had flexed rather than pillar-like forearms. (Bipedalism is the ancestral condition for dinosaurs.)

  • Halszkaraptor, a dromaeosaur, but very goose- or penguin- like, and apparently aquatic.

  • A full-body fossil of a baby bird preserved in amber from about 99 million years ago was found.

  • Borealopelta, one of the best-preserved dinosaur finds ever. It's a nodosaur with the keratin sheathes and skin on its horns and armor preserved. This means we can get a clear idea of what they would have looked like in life. It appears to have been countershaded (dark on top, light on the bottom), which is usually camouflage against predators that can look down on prey. We only see this in mammals when they're a lot smaller than Borealopelta, but the Cretaceous had much larger predators.

The Early Triassic Keeps Shrinking

Contrary to popular belief, the geologic time scale of eras (like the Mesozoic), periods (like the Jurassic), and epochs (like the Pleistocene), isn't actually defined in terms of specific amounts of time in the past. Instead, it's defined in terms of particular rock strata and features that can be found around the world, allowing one to identify certain rocks as of the same age without necessarily knowing what age they are. This means, for example, that the end of the Cretaceous is defined as the appearance of the iridium layer that signals the impact event that wiped out the dinosaurs, and by the disappearance of dinosaur and other fossils, not as being exactly 65 million years ago.

Today, the exact points at which geologic time periods begin are defined via the Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point markers hammered into the rock at particularly clear rock faces in national parks around the world. For example, the start of the Cambrian is officially marked by a marker in a particular rock face in a nature preserve in Newfoundland. (I mentioned this to the author friend I was at the convention with, and I think I might have talked her into including a visit to one of these in the novel she's working on.)

Anyway, one consequence of this is that, as geological dating techniques are refined, it is possible that the starts, ends, and lengths of geologic periods may shift. In particular, the dates for the start and end of the Early Triassic were revised this year, and it appears to have been only four-and-a-half million years long, while the Middle Triassic was about ten million years long and the Late Triassic was about thirty-six million years long.

Did the Dinosaurs Get Their Start Because of Rain?

A new hypothesis published this year suggested that the dinosaurs took over on land in the Late Triassic due to a period of intense rainfall called the Carnian Pluvial Event near the start of the otherwise arid epoch. This period, about two million years long, led to a major diversification in tree species, which seems to have benefited dinosaurs at the expense of the pseudosuchians--the subgroup of archosaurs that includes modern crocodiles--that had previously been dominant on land.

Dinosaurs seem to have had a delayed take-over in North America, where they don't become dominant until the end of the Late Triassic. This may be due to the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province, the second largest episode of vulcanism since the end of the Precambrian. Rock from this period includes the Hudson River Palisades and some of the hills at Gettysburg.

Gaits and Dinosaur Tracks

This year, some very tiny tracks of either a baby raptor or a very small species of raptor (such as Microraptor) were discovered.

More importantly, though, a study of dinosaur tracks in Culpepper, VA that was published this year suggests that dinosaurs didn't have distinct fast and slow gaits (i.e. walking, trotting, and running) as mammals do. Instead, like birds, bipedal dinosaurs seem to have had a single gait that they could use at fast and slow speeds.

Brooding Eggs

A recent survey paper looked at which dinosaur species' nests were open on top, indicating that the parents brooded the eggs, keeping them warm by sitting/laying on them to provide body heat. It appears that this trait originated in the basal pennaraptora, meaning that it was unique to oviraptorosaurs, dromaeosauridae ("raptors"), trooodontidae, and avialae (flying dinosaurs, including Archaeopteryx).
In other words, only raptors, raptor-like dinosaurs, and birds seem to have sat on their nests: others, including Maiasaura, the famous "good mother lizard," didn't.

Why Did Neornithes Survive the KT Extinction?

It's well-known at this point that neornithes--the ancestors of modern birds--survived the extinction at the end of the Cretaceous Period, while other dinosaurs, including some flying ones, did not.  One possible explanation for this that was introduced this year is that it is due to the global forest collapse that resulted from the impact event at the end of the Cretaceous.  Trees seem to have been absent worldwide for over a thousand years after the impact event, with ferns the dominant land plants.  Why would this matter?  The early neornithes appear to have all been ground-nesters, while other late Cretaceous birds all nested in trees, which would have put them in serious difficulty when trees vanished, or marine.  (It's less clear why marine birds would have been at serious disadvantage, but they may have also laid eggs in trees?)
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Last weekend, I went to Chessiecon, a small science fiction convention held in Timonium, just north of Baltimore, at the suggestion of my author-friend, Ruthanna Emrys, and her wife, who were going for the first time this year because their friend, Jo Walton, was the guest of honor. In theory the convention gives "particular attention to materials of and by women creators," though that wasn't particularly evident to me from the choice of panelists on most of the panels.

I had a very relaxing weekend, which I certainly needed, and I did enjoy most of the things I attended at the convention, even though I slept through rather more of them than I'd planned to.

Also, I was impressed at how trans-friendly the convention was.  There were pronoun (she, he, they, and fill-in-the-blank) ribbons to put on member badges, and there was a non-gendered bathroom set up for people who weren't comfortable with the hotel's gendered bathrooms.  I wore a skirt basically the whole time, though, and used the women's restrooms regularly without getting any weird looks.


I hadn't quite realized how close Timonium is to College Park when there's no rush hour traffic: I was able to drive there in about an hour, which was a good deal faster than I expected. After checking in to the Red Roof Inn next door, where I'd decided to stay because it was cheaper, I headed over to the Red Lion Inn to check in to the convention. Conveniently, I ran into Ruthanna and her wife, the only people I knew at the convention, in the check-in line. We sat around talking in the lobby and they introduced me to some of their fannish friends while we waited for the programming to start.

Jo Walton Reading

Despite the fact I've heard a lot about her from Ruthanna and her family, I'd never actually read anything by Jo Walton before. The upcoming (in May) novel she read the beginning of, Lent, sounded wonderful, and I definitely need to read it when it comes out. It's historical fantasy, set in Medieval Italy in a world where Catholic theology--and demonology--are empirically correct.

Unforgivable Villains with Understandable Motives

This panel, which had Jo Walton, Ruthanna Emrys, Heather Rose Jones, Karen Osborne, and Martin Wiley on it and was moderated by Don Sakers, was pretty good. Unfortunately, writing this close to a week later, I don't actually recall that many of the details, but there was some discussion of the difference between "forgiveness" and "redemption," and whether understanding someone's motives actually implied any sort of sympathy for them.

After the Unforgivable Villains panel, I had dinner with Ruthanna and her wife. We'd wanted to go to a filk concert by Benjamin Newman after dinner, but it was rescheduled because of a lack of heat in the room it was to be held in, so we sat in the lobby and talked more. I ended up having a very long phone conversation with a friend in Australia. (Time zones make it really hard to get in touch with him, so in the middle of a convention was the best we could manage for catching up.) Finally, I went to the bardic circle filk room and listened to music for an hour or so before going to my room to get some sleep.

Among other songs, some of which I recognized, I was introduced to Sara Thomsen's "Somewhere to Begin" by a rather cute Irish guy playing a guitar. I really liked "Somewhere to Begin," and recommend listening to it...conveniently,
it's on YouTube.


On Saturday morning, I managed to make it back to the convention in time for University of Maryland paleontology professor Tom Holtz's talk on "The Latest in the World of Dinosaurs." The talk was really good, and I took extensive notes, which will hopefully be the basis for a separate Dreamwidth post soon.

Walking to Mordor: A Panel about Pacing and Time Compression

This panel, like all the panels I attended, was moderated by Don Sakers, and had Elektra Hammond, Julie Holderman, Steve Kozeniewski, and Jo Walton on it. It was probably more targeted for people who write fiction than for people like me who don't, but there was some interesting discussion about why "random encounters" work well in D&D but not in fiction, and ways to imply a long journey while eliding actual discussion of the day-to-day minutiae of travel.

Jo Walton also mentioned a essay she published on a number of years ago called "
Faster Than Light At Any Speed" about the fact that faster-than-light drives in science fiction very commonly follow the same basic set of assumptions (will require large ships that can't land on planetary surfaces; will take weeks or months to get between star systems). I think there are some explanations for this, including the fact that you can't have travel or communication between star systems be too fast if you want to maintain the impression of them being completely different worlds with different cultures. But it's certainly something to think about.

Group Discussion: Steven Universe

The group discussion of Steven Universe was quite small, and I was surprised that I was only one of two people (out of seven or so total) who didn't have grey hair. It was certainly quite different from my default expectations of Steven Universe fandom based on the fans in my social circle, who are mostly younger than me and almost all non-cis. The discussion was kind of interesting, although I felt like people didn't take the fact that the diamonds are in fact fascist dictators as seriously as they should have.

Jo Walton Interview

The Steven Universe discussion was followed by an interview with Jo Walton. I probably didn't get as much out of it as I would have if I'd read some of her books, but hearing about them led me to decide that a number of them needed to go on my Goodreads to-read list, so perhaps I'll eventually manage to get caught up.

I'd wanted to go to a number of additional panels on Saturday afternoon, but I found that I was just far too sleepy, so I went back to my room to sleep instead. Getting several hours of sleep seemed to help a lot, and I managed to have dinner with Ruthanna, her wife, another of her housemates, and Jo Walton. It was an enjoyable dinner, and I got the impression that Jo Walton didn't actually find me annoying, which was really exciting.

After dinner, I spent a while in the bardic circle filk room listening to more singing and, at midnight, participated in Chessiecon's annual singing of the Hallelujah Chorus: although I'm tone deaf and a horrible singer, I figured that with at least fifty people involved, no one would notice. I sang the alto part in my usual falsetto: it made me really happy to be in a vocal section that was essentially all women.


I clearly was in a lot of need of sleep on this trip: I ended up sleeping in on Sunday and only making it to the last five minutes or so of a panel on "Badass Women in History" that sounds like it was really good.

They're the Protagonist, But are They a Role Model?

This panel was...a disaster. It wasn't really the moderator--Don Sakers' fault, though he could have done a lot more to fix things--but the only thing that salvaged it at all was an attempt by Jo Walton to get things under control. Other than her, the panel consisted of three white men who seemed to be trying to be "edgy" in problematic ways, such as suggesting that it was important to be able to empathize with Nazis' motivations, as opposed to only understanding them to avoid writing two-dimensional cut-outs.

The biggest problem, though, was panelist Stephen Kozeniewski, who said that he thought it was a universal experience that when someone cuts you off in traffic you get the urge to follow them home and kill them in front of their family (or possibly kill their whole family; different people heard different versions), and that the only reason he (and he assumed everyone) doesn't do this is fear of getting caught and going to jail.

After that, everything kind of went to hell. Jo Walton pointed out that no, that's not a normal reaction, it's a really disturbing one, and Don Sakers tried to blame it on the patriarchy and American culture being so violent, and Stephen Kozeniewski spent some time trying to defend the normality of this.

Besides that, there was one additional bit of awkward that wasn't actually the panelists' fault: an older, white woman in the audience commented that she thought that the loss of "traditional religion" is why our culture is so immoral today.

After that last panel, I think everyone was pretty badly burnt out. I had lunch at a seafood restaurant with Ruthanna and her wife, and went back to DC for my afternoon tutoring appointments.
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I'm reading Charlie Stross's The Labyrinth Index and I just got some rather good advice: that you can't have imposter syndrome without a certain level of competence, and that I should take the fact I feel incompetent as evidence I have at least some understanding of topics.

The disturbing part...this advice came from Stross's version of Nyar'lathotep, the Crawling Chaos and Opener of Ways.

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