Sacred Band

Representation in media matters.

I’ve said that often here and I am a firm believer in it.

One of the places where representation is sorely lacking for the Queer community is superhero comics. You can look to the Big Two and there are only a handful of queer characters and even less that are the star of their own books. I am a fan of superhero comics and the absence of characters that I could identify with is always a sore spot.

Joseph D Carriker Jr is a superhero in his own right and has swooped in to my rescue with his novel Sacred Band.

Joseph sets about creating a world similar to our own. The pivotal factor being an event that struck around the world causing devastation and creating the world’s first empowered individuals. These people, referred to as the originals, are very similar to the Justice League or Avengers of the Big Two but down play the god level abilities that are normally associated with these groups. After these events, there continue to be Echoes that occur around the world. These create more powered individuals some of which do not survive their empowerment.

Sacred Band picks up the story of a small group of queer super powered individuals in 2013. Gauss is a young man attending college in Portland Oregon. He is open both about his sexuality and his empowered status. Deosil is a young woman with deep roots in the pagan community who struggles with the difficulties of being trans while learning more and more about her elemental powers. Optic is an Ex-Seraphim. He was drummed out of the Air Force for being gay right before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He has used his ability to transform into light and fly to create a career in Hollywood for himself. Llorona is an older woman who works for the Golden Cross using her sound based powers to rescue victims of natural disasters and echo events. Last but not least is Sentinel. He is one of the Originals and very much a Superman Analog. He was a member of the first superhero team but has since vanished from the public eyes when he was outed back in the time when being gay was completely unacceptable from an icon.

Joseph gives the reader everything they would expect from a superhero novel. there is action that is well choreographed and flows well across the page. He treats it with a lyrical tilt that was refreshing to read. There are secret identities, vague yet menacing governmental agencies, conspiracies, and globe-trotting adventure. Unlike Icarus, Joseph keeps his characters grounded. They all have incredible powers which are put on display for the reader. Instead of dominating the narrative, they complement the humanity that fills each of these individuals.

There are poignant moments scattered throughout this book that make my heart weep and sing. There is a scene where Deosil is at a Pagan conference and is giving an interview. The interviewer pushes the point of asking about her dead name. The conference comes to her rescue and escorts the offender out but it highlights the struggles that a trans person faces every day and gives voice to it within the pages of this book. The narrative touches upon the difficulty of coming out and being outed at different times in history as we hear how Sentinel faced such public outrage for being gay while the cost, though steep for Optic, was not a life of exile. Joseph takes the time to delve into the difficulties of dating as a member of the queer community.

These human moments could have easily been overshadowed by super powered antics and melodramatic tentpoles. Instead, Joseph made them the heart of his story and has created something that transcends the genre. I was drawn into the lives of the characters and felt both their love and their loss. I was both sad and elated at the end of the book. I was sad that the story had ended but elated that I had found a story that both represented me in the story and embraced the superhero genre that I love.

Four bear paws out of four!

I bearly recommend this book!

Blade Runner 2049

I have seen Blade Runner 2049.

I had seen the trailers and I was intrigued by the imagery that they presented.

I love Blade Runner. The blend of old and new to create a gritty futuristic look. The noir aesthetic blended with the burgeoning genre of cyberpunk.

I wanted to see what this world would look like with the benefit of new technology and a different hand guiding the project.

I was highly disappointed.

It felt very much to me like Denis Villeneuve understood as much about emotions as the Replicants. Where Blade Runner was a symphony playing with ideas and questions while embracing the laconic feel of a noir mystery. Blade Runner 2049 has the shimmer of a diamond only to have the reality of a costume jewelry revealed upon closer examination.

This can be seen in the character of K, played by Ryan Gosling. K is a Blade Runner tasked with retiring the Replicants that are still at large despite the 30 years of hunts. In the opening scenes, K finds an older model Replicant hiding out on a farm in the wilds near Los Angeles. The conversation and fight reveals that there is something happening in the background that could shake the world to it’s foundations. Through the violence and revelations, K appears to be little more than a cardboard cutout who is taking up space on the screen. Gosling’s performance portrays someone little interested in the world around himself save to move on to the next thing. There are no hints to restrained emotion or hiding things to get by. Justa deep ennui that leads one to wonder why K is following any of these threads at all.

further disappointment is provided by this film in the characters of Love and Joi. These two characters are outstanding in an otherwise drab and emotionless expanse. Luv, played by Sylvia Hoeks, is the quintessential Femme Fatale of noir fiction. She is all smoldering emotions reined in to a greater cause. She steals every scene she is in even when she is just standing in the background. She is the villain of the piece, but as the story unfolds it becomes much easier to see her motivations and actually care about them and her. Joi, played by Ana De Aramas, is a companion program that keeps K company. She is the iconic damsel in distress in noir fiction with the twist that she has much more agency than those characters did. She provides the opposite end of the spectrum to Luv in that she actually cares for K and is willing to risk it all to stay with him. 

Luv and Joi provide well rounded, believable characters in an otherwise sterile and derivative world. They provide sharp emotional counterpoints to an otherwise empty and listless narrative. These two characters are also ill used in the climax of the movie; thus leaving the audience without either love or joy.

Couple this with the cinematography of film. The screen is filled with gorgeous scenes presenting a vision of this overpopulated future. The shots are gorgeous but create the feeling a barren and empty when we are led to believe that the world is suffering from overpopulation and a lack of living space. It is a ham-handed way of trying to comment on how people get lost as individuals in the great wash of humanity. Instead of showing us this in a new and unique manner, we are given a sanitized future that leaves me really just be watching the original.

Overall, Blade Runner 2049, is very poor substitute for the original. If the director had committed more to the characters of Luv and Joi, this vision of a dystopian future would have been a much better movie. Instead, I am saddened by the loss of Luv and Joi and wish I could get my three hours back.

One bear paw out of four. If you must see this movie, borrow someone’s Netflix so that you are not spending your money on it.

 

GenCon 2017: Talking Starfinder with Jason Keeley

Gen Con had one major release that had me all excited.

Starfinder.

It was a science fantasy game which I had heard so much about at the last Gen Con that I was chomping at the bit to get my hands on it. As more information came out, I was getting more and more excited to get the game and get to playing it.

This year, my plans for Gen Con had been in flux for some time. It took until close to the end of May for things to solidify that I would be attending the show for more than one day. This state of flux meant that I would not be able to get up to the convention on Wednesday. It was not until Thursday afternoon at around 3:30 that I was able to make my way into the Gen Con vendor Hall and make a beeline for the Paizo Booth.

When I arrived, I was to discover that the giant pile of books that I had seen on Twitter for Starfinder had been decimated. There were no more core books to be had.

I was, needless to say, a bit disappointed. I was glad that the game was so popular but I still wished that I had been able to get my hands on a copy.

Luckily, I had an appointment scheduled too speak with the developer of the game on Friday at 4:30 pm with Jason Keeley.

My first questions for Jason were; “What happened and Why do you think that Starfinder was so popular?”

Jason stated that Paizo had brought to this Gen Con 50% more books than they had ever sold for a book at any prior show. The thought had been that they would still sell out by the end of the show on Sunday. They did not expect to sell out of all the books they brought within the first few hours of the convention. Jason stated that the book would most likely be going to a second printing soon. Jason went on to state that he believed that demand for Starfinder might be attributable to a few things. He believed that the good press and hype that the book had been receiving over the past year had really primed the pump for the book. He went further to state that the hobby itself had a dearth of science fantasy games that are not tied to a specific Intellectual property. He pointed out that Starfinder provides a toolbox that allows a group to emulate most of the science fiction tropes with ease. These things combined to create a perfect storm for this convention.

One of the questions that I always have in regards to science fiction games that rely heavily on exploration is the idea of a planet builder. I asked Jason if there was such a thing included in Starfinder. He stated that there were rules for generating planets. These include some charts for environments and such, but no designated planet building section. He did not rule out a future supplement that would do just such a thing, but did say it was not on the schedule currently.

One of the things that I had always noticed about Pathfinder is that the storyline was never fully integrated into the rules. The Adventure Paths are where the setting would shine while the rules were a toolbox left to the players imagination. I asked Jason about this and Starfinder. Mr. Keeley stated that Starfinder was a bit of departure for Paizo in this respect. The setting material was much more integrated into the main book. It provides it’s own hooks for the game to move forward without issue. This can be found in the races, snapshots of planets, and the legacy integration of the fantasy races into the game.

This flowed easily into my next question. “What stands out in Starfinder to make it feel like a science fantasy game as opposed to just a few extra bits of set-dressing for Pathfinder?” Jason mused on this for a moment and then said that there were two things that stood out for him.

First were the Starships. He went on to say that the game begins with the presupposition that the group starts with one. The starship design rules stand out as they not only allow the players to create a ship that fits their needs at the beginning of the game but allows them to keep the same ship while upgrading it easily throughout the levels of the game. Jason pointed out that one of the major tropes of science fiction is that the ship never changes. This would be difficult in Starfinder as the character will continue to get more powerful and need a better ship at certain points. This design systems allows the characters to have a ship similar to shows from Farscape and Firefly and still allow it to keep up power-wise.

Jason also believes that the character classes and themes carry a lot of weight for Starfinder. These two things seem somewhat simplistic but allow for the creation of characters that cover all of the tropes of Science Fantasy outside of the Doctor himself. You are able to create an analog to Spock to Obi Wan Kenobi with ease and still have the flexibility to create anything that your heart desires within the Starfinder system.

Further discussion with Mr. Keeley revealed that Starships were both his favorite part of Starfinder and one of the things he found most challenging. JAson loves the starship combat system. The hex grid system makes it easy to understand how the fight plays out for starships of different styles. The rules are clean and simple with an ease of use that he found lacking in previous science fiction games. Making this happen was the difficult part as he wanted the game to be easily picked up by new people and the starship combat rules to not be so daunting that they would never be used. Jason stated that it was a design problem that he and the team wrestled with and are very happy with what they have created for Starfinder.

I asked Jason what was something about Starfinder that people might miss that he thought were worth noting. He took a moment to think on this and then stated that it were small changes that he loved that would go unnoticed. In particular he spoke of magic in Starfinder. He mentioned that people wondered if Magic Missile was in the game. He stated that it was but that there was a mechanical change that made the spell still iconic without being as overpowering as it can be in prior iterations of the spell. He also mentioned a change to Cone of Cold. He spoke of how instead of being a blast of just pure arctic cold, it was more of a heat sink. It allowed for certain classes to then store the heat stolen by the spell to be used to power spells at some later point in the game. It was small tweaks like these that gave Starfinder that Science Fantasy flavor but that they are easily overlooked when you have starships and space stations to play with now.

It was great to get to speak with Jason at Gen Con. It helped me get a better understanding of what to expect when I would be able to get my hands on a copy of Starfinder. It is a game that embraces the big ideas of Science Fantasy with starships and light swords but does not neglect the details. Every piece was designed to create the look and feel of a space opera and allow one’s imagination to soar amongst the stars.

I can not wait to get my copy of Starfinder.

 

GenCon 50

This weeks begins the 50th Anniversary of GenCon, The Best Four Days in Gaming.

Today and tomorrow, the vendors, event staff, and volunteers will begin to descend upon the city of Indianapolis. The news bursts from the convention itself are predicting another year of record breaking attendance. The badges for each day have sold out which indicates that the mass of gamers present for this convention will be epic.

With the number of people present going to be larger than normal, it is very important to remember a few rules for attending the convention.

Remember the 3-2-1 Rule.

This is a simple rule that keeps you at minimal functional capacity. It stands for 3 hours of sleep a night, 2 meals a day, and one shower.

I will repeat that this is a minimum requirement.

The three hours of sleep will make it so that you will not be nodding off during a game. You will want to push yourself to try to fit in as much gaming as possible and the first thing that gets sacrificed is sleep. Without sleep you will not be a the top of your game and will not only have a less enjoyable experience but will also impact the other peoples experience at the game. So, Please remember to make time for at least three hours of sleep.

The two meals will ensure that you have the energy necessary for GenCon. The convention covers a lot of real estate. You will be walking a lot to get to where you want to be. Keeping the necessary fuel in the system will ensure that you not only have the power to get where you need to be but will also make you more able to fight off the inevitable Con Crud.

The caveat here is that this is two meals. Chips and sodas do not count. Take the time to get a full meal and sit down to enjoy it. Not only will you fuel the human machine, you will give yourself a breather in an otherwise hectic day which everyone can use at GenCon.

Finally, one shower every day. This is Indianapolis in August with well over 60,000 people filling up the downtown area. The heat, if it was like last year, will be oppressive. The crush of humanity will great. taking the time to do some personal care will ensure that you start the day fresh and make it so that your bumping into other people at the convention a less off-putting experience.

Another important thing to remember is to be patient. The convention is going to be filled to capacity. People will be waiting in line to get into events, restaurants, and to make purchases. The likelihood of someone’s patience getting frayed is going to be high. If you take the time to breathe and realize that the person that might be irritating you is pushed to their limits, you will minimize the chance of a not pleasant experience turning into something worse. This extends to convention, hotel, and restaurant staff. They are going to be well over their capacity to be at peak performance. Being patient with them and those around them will ensure that things do not escalate. Taking the time to be kind and generous to everyone you interact with not only makes for a good time for you, but also increases the likelihood of the next person having that much better of a time as well.

Finally, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. This is a big convention. There will be walls of people that will ebb and flow throughout these four days. Take the time to check on yourself. If things are starting to fray, take a break. I know you may have spent money on that next even, but it is not worth having a breakdown. If things go wrong, you could end up ruining your entire convention as you pushed yourself beyond your capabilities. Take the time to have someone that you can reach out too for support as well. This way you can check in on each other and ensure that you both are doing okay as well as have someone to call bullshit when you are on the edge and really need a break.

GenCon 50 is going to be a very exciting time. There will be gamers of all stripes gathering to enjoy the hobby and the presence of other gamers. Taking the time to make sure that you do everything you can to enjoy the experience is well worth a little investment of your time.

I look forward to GenCon and having an excellent time!

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie

Stop!

Don’t click the x button up at the right corner of the page!

Hear me out and all will be made clear.

So, you did read the title of this post correctly. I am going to talk about a comic that is based on the old time sleuthing team of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I know the name itself conjures up cute kitschy ideas of rich kids exploring safe mysteries in a manner more vanilla than Scooby Doo.

That is not the case here.

Del Col and Dell’Edera take a healthy dose of noir and blend it with the old stories to create something modern. They do this without falling into the trap of being ultraviolent.

The team does this by accepting the history of these characters and dealing with it quickly. They do this in their description of Bayport, the home of the trio. They call it a postcard, a place trapped in time designed to bring people to the area to enjoy an idyllic time gone past. The creators call out the feeling of these characters being frozen in place and then shatter the ice on the next page.

Gone are the perfect children that parents would hope for. In their place are modern young adults that are easy to identify with.

The Hardy Boys are young adults whom are suspected of their own father’s murder. They are now at the mercy of the same police whom their father had shielded them from prior. Gone is a relationship between two brothers that were inseparable. In it’s place is a more realistic relationship of two young men that have to figure out who they are and what they are going to do with the shattered life that they now live after the death of their father.

Del Col does an excellent job of blending in the bits and pieces of the history of all the characters that populated this long line of books. I was most amused by repeated references to the Bobbsey twins. He makes these characters accessible without being leaning heavily on nostalgia or over-top-antics. He brings in the tropes that I enjoy from noir and hardboiled detective fiction and gives them a softer edge that makes this book something that lovers of both crime fiction and these characters can enjoy.

All of this is supported by the wonderful art of Werther Dell’Edera and colorist Stefano Simeone. These two create a visual world that captures the essence of the covers of the Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys book covers. From the very first page you understand that these two have a grasp of the history of these characters. They use lines and a color palette that evokes these old books while also enhancing noir story that is running through the book. In particular, the very last page of issue one does a character introduction. It is a single page with the character framed by the Hardy Boys. To me, It has that feel of Bogart in the Maltese Falcon that screams classic noir/hardboiled detective and sealed my love for this title.

Trust me when I say that you should give this book a try. The creative team takes something that could be saccharine sweet and creates a mystery worth following.

Four bear paws out of four. I bear-illy recommend it!

 

Pride

This is last day of June and the last day of Pride month.

I have a lot of thoughts about Pride month.

I am hesitant to share them as I have not been out for very long and feel like I have the right to speak about Pride. These thoughts are also conflicting which makes it even more difficult. I am going to put some of them down here to help process and maybe help someone else who struggles with their identity and Pride.

It is hard to think of Pride without thinking about parades.

I am not a fan of parades but I see the value in our Pride Parades. We take to the streets and celebrate who we are. We do so knowing that even in this day and age that we will pay a price for being out and proud. We march to show those still trapped by fear what a life outside of the closet can be like. We march to show strength, community, and solidarity.

The Pride parade shows me both how far I have come and how much work I still have to do. The parade makes my heart sing with joy that I am able to be free of the need to hide or pretend. I join the others in the LGBTQ+ community in publicly embracing my identity and showing it to the world. We step out of the shadows to be visible and claim our right to exist. We also step out into the light and make ourselves a target because to hide from discrimination is to say that this type of treatment of another human being is okay. It is this that lays bare my own personal failings. There are people I know that aren’t truly out. They hide away from who they are due to the costs of what being out will have for them. I know the fears that they go through about taking that next step and yet it still bugs me that they aren’t out. It has taken some self-interrogation to realize that instead of being aggravated by those that still fear coming out I should be more compassionate. I should stand out more and be out, loud, and proud. By pushing forward, I and others will make it easier for those still afraid of the oh so real consequences of being LGBTQ+ in this day and age.

The Pride Parade highlights the idea of solidarity as well. We take to the streets and embrace our identity and the consequences be damned. We are joined in this march by companies, organizations, and politicians. They take up the banner of Pride to let us know that they recognize our right to exist as well as the need to stand up for a marginalized community. Once again, it warms my heart to see these people and organizations step up and support us. It just comes with the price that, in the past, these same people and organizations were just as complicit in our marginalization. These organizations and people still take part in practices that deny us the rights that are accorded to others people in the community. How do we applaud them for supporting us but still hold them accountable for treating us so poorly for so long? How do we say thank you for helping but explain that there are days that they are still hurting us?

Pride month and Pride parades bring us together as a community. We organize the parade. We gather together people to put on parties and charity events. We work with the communities that we live in to get them to give us time and resources to allow us to celebrate who we are and our right to exist. We show that we are community and are capable of organizing to support each other. We then gloss where we as a community ostracize the more marginalized members of our own community. There is Bi erasure as we talk about bisexual people as if they are confused or just lying. We don’t do enough for our Trans brothers and sisters who are murdered, commit suicide, and are legislated against. We turn a blind eye to those in our communities that continue to use bigoted language like “no fats/no fems, No blacks/no asians”. We create communities that state that they are inclusive and have members due petty distinctions that have no place in the queer community. I see it happen and am victimized by and don’t know what to do for my community.

Pride month comes to a close this month and I look back on with mixed feelings.

We have come so far.

We need to drop these things that hold us back and distract us from pushing forward. We need to embrace all of the letters in the LGBTQ+ and make sure that they feel welcome in the community. We need to continue to push forward and do better by each other. We need to take time to look at our community and embrace the positive but see the negative and take a step to changing it.

Take the time to do some self-examination this last day of Pride. Where do you stand strong? Where do you stumble? What can you do to be better in both areas?

I can do it and I believe that you can too.

Heathen

It’s pride month and I want to talk about comics.

To do this, I want to talk about a book that tells an excellent story while still embracing queer content.

Heathen is just such a book. It is written and drawn by Natasha Alterici. This is her creator owned title which she funded on Kickstarter back in 2015. She has done work on Gotham Academy and Grayson. She is also a member of the LGBT community.

Heathen is a reimagining of Brynhild legend from Norse Mythology.

Alterici does an excellent job of getting someone unfamiliar with Norse Mythology caught up on the story. Our heroine, Aydis, tells the story to her horse as she begins her journey. As she winds the tale up, she shares how long the story has passed down through her clan and laments that Brynhild has been waiting to be free for a very long time. The exposition feels very much like a story that a skald would tell over a fire to enthrall a mead hall. The art that supports the story is evocative. It has a rough hewn quality that feels like a gritty dream.

The core point of the myth is that Brynhild is rescued by a brave warrior whom she is then required to marry by the decree of Odin. Aydis has taken it upon herself to free Brynhild from her captivity and the consequences be damned. Aydis, you see, has nothing left to lose. Her village thinks her dead as she was condemned to death when she was caught kissing another woman and did not deny that she did this of her own free will.

I love this book!

It hits on all the things I love and want. We have mythology remade. I am familiar with the Brynhild story as well as the variations on the theme that can be found in Wagnerian operas. Alterici takes the story and blends in a modern sensibility with social justice themes. Her wild concoction is exhilarating. She gives us a book with a queer hero that is not afraid to be who they are and this makes my heart skip a beat. And in the process, gives us a modern Norse Myth where the hero is a woman to boot. It has been long overdo and the power of the story is amplified by this choice.

The art is gorgeous as well. It has a deep scratchy feel with rough hewn edges. It has a warmth and authenticity that adds to the story being told. In particular, I like how Alterici’s style makes the brief combat with a bull in issue one is handled. The action is quick and fluid without anything feeling blurry or hard to follow. The detail is never lost in the flow of the conflict.

Heathen by Natasha Alterici is a book that needs to be on your pull list. Great story, excellent art, queer content, A strong Heroine,socially aware themes, and mythology remixed. What’s not to love!

It is currently on issue four so it will not be difficult to get caught up.

Four bear paws out of four.

I bearly recommend it!

Monsters

There is a meme going around the internets.

It is simple yet funny. It is a few lines of text that made me laugh and then made me think. It sunk it’s fangs into my mind and would not let go.

It opens with a line of people calling LGBTQ+ people monsters. It follows this with a statement from us that this is fine. We then go about gathering up the cryptids.

It plays to the crowds with humor and intelligence but found little traction. It, like us, is transgressive and plays with a cultural icon and bends it in a fashion that people aren’t used to seeing.

The use of monster is correct. Take a trip back to Beowulf and you can see what it means to be a monster. Grendel lives outside of society, literally outside of Heorot. Grendel is excluded from society and all the the things that this provides. We are also outside of society. We behave in a fashion that defies the expected and we are treated just like Grendel. We are not given the same rights as the other members of society and are tolerated at the best or killed at the worst.

What’s a monster to do? When you are exiled to the dark and must survive on your own. The need for connection and the need to feel powerful get all mixed up. Thus, Grendel lashes out and wreaks havoc on society. Hrothgar and his soldiers are at a loss and unable to defend against a thing which they have excluded from the mead hall. They have reveled in their ignorance and lack the ability to understand what they face.

The Hero, the walker between worlds, must defend the people from that which has been deemed an outsider. It is with guile and force that the hero steps outside the hall and deals with the monster. The hero is the one that strides between worlds and is welcome in none.

This meme struck a chord. Instead of being the hero, we embrace being that which does not fit in. We take up the narrative and do not allow the idea of being a monster isolate us from those that are excluded. We find the other monsters and gather them up. We create a place where they are welcome and can be a part of something. It may not be perfect but it provides a family.

The hero, just like in Beowulf, is blind just like the crowd. He sees the monster as unfeeling and uncaring. Nothing more than a thing to be killed. He misses the point that Grendel has a mother and that they loved each other. His arrogance leaves more people dead in Heorot as he blinds himself to the idea that the monsters are just like the people in the hall. They want to fit in, be loved, and exist.

This fits well with the current trend of elevating monsters. There are those that hate the Twilight books and movies, as well as the Underworld movies. But they do a thing that people miss. They show you monsters that the humans want to be. They show you monsters that just try to get by while still being monsters. The allure of being both within the group and free to be who you are is highlighted in these simple pieces of fiction. There are those that want to step outside of the constraints that have been placed around them and take up the mantle of monster. They see the families that the monsters have created and feel the authenticity and that is to be had from embracing who you truly are.

On a personal level, the idea of the monster has always held an appeal for me. I’ve mentioned many time my love of mythology and the gods. I’ve always loved the monsters that followed in the shadows of the gods and found their tales to be fascinating. As I aged, my love of werewolves and all lycanthropes came to mirror both my fear of being found out and the deep seated need to shed the disguise and leave the closet and be myself.  Back before MMO’s there were text based games called MUDS. You created characters and ran around slaying dragons and fighting other players. I was an avid MUDer. There was a mud that allowed you play a lycanthrope character. You could define what type as well. Bear’s were just coming onto the scene and I had discovered them on BBSs, newsgroups, AOL chat rooms. So, I created a werebear and it felt so good. I enjoyed the game for some time with this character until one day I received a message in game basically stating that the person knew my friends and wondered if they knew I was gay. Panic and terror ended that character and ended exploration for some time on my part. It didn’t end the idea of the monster and transformation though.

We are embracing the idea of the monster a little late. We take back language in order to regain power but this is different. The cultural cache of the monster runs deep. It occurs throughout all societies and provides a mirror by which a society views what they are and what they can be. The monster is what allows a society to define its heroes and how it treats these self same heroes.

Accepting the monster as a part of society is where the stories differ across cultures. Here in the west, we see them as something to be driven out and destroyed. This, in turn, defines the hero as something that stands outside of society as well. The hero is also a destroyer. They are to be lauded for keeping the things outside the walls at bay but should be viewed with caution as they too, are destroyers. When the idea of the monster is accepted as a necessary part of the society, it redefines the hero as well. When we embrace the idea of the monster we show them that what they have isn’t special or new. It is something that we can create through force of will and not the prerogative of those deemed appropriate. This in turn allows the hero to be a full part of society as well. They are accepted and embraced instead of being kept at arms length.

Transformative.

So, takes some time this pride season to think about monsters. Watch the Babadook and be open to the allegory within. We have been called monsters for a long time and our process of accepting ourselves reflects this. This doesn’t strip us of our humanity but gives us the power to show others what it means to be truly human.

Thoughts From A Run: Masks

It’s been awhile.

I haven’t posted in a few weeks and I haven’t done a thoughts from a run post in awhile either.

Time to remedy this.

I have not been running much lately. I have not made time for it. I have kept myself busy with other things and vacation. I miss it though. It allows me to both to clear my head as well and push through some odd problems while the distance stretches before me. Having not kept up with it, my speed and stamina have waned and I set myself a goal this run of covering at least four miles and running for as many miles as possible before I started to walk.

I was pleased to get three miles before I had to slow down and catch my breath.

A thought rattled around in my head while I was running and fell into place part way through.

It was a thought about masks.

Now, I am a person that the idea of a mask has taken up some important headspace. I have worn a metaphorical mask for almost my entire life. It started when I was young, as I had to undergo many surgeries as a child to address several birth defects. My earliest memories are of trying to school my emotions to deal with the terror of operating and recovery room. As I grew older, I knew that I did not fit in as I stood out for how I looked and being out so often for surgeries. I also realized that I did not fit in as I grew older in that I was gay.

So, with imperfect knowledge, I began crafting a mask that would allow me to function. I would hone this mask over many years. It was as I entered into my thirties that the mask would start to become a burden. It would slip, fall, and break and I would have to quickly pick up the pieces. Never realizing that by holding onto it so tight that I was making it impossible to hold for amount of time that I would need it.

There were points where I would sit down and literally write about this mask that I had created and debate it’s value. I knew that the effort of keeping it up and maintaining it was pushing me to the edge. I just didn’t know how to step away from it.

When I came out, I let the old, busted mask drop by the wayside. It was not an easy thing to do but it felt liberating. I was able to at least share a bit of myself without the anxiety of being discovered. I did not relinquish a metaphorical mask all together as I am nothing if not a creature of habit. I instead began working on new ones and instead of thinking one would do, I shuffled through them like a kid in a candy store.

The idea of actual masks has arisen recently. It was both a shock to discover that it was an intriguing to me as well as something that stirred up old memories. So, I shied away from it. It took some time to become comfortable with the idea of literal masks as something that would be interesting to try out. There was that fear hanging around in the background though that this was just another way of hiding.

It was while running that things fell into place. One of the things that gets associated with masks is the idea of anonymity. It is seen in the superheroes masks in comic books and even better illustrated in the book V for Vendetta. It was while thinking about the idea of anonymity that it struck me that that for these characters, the mask was not them hiding. The mask was who they were, those other identities were where they retreated to be anonymous. The mask allowed them to be their most authentic self and allowed them to strive to be the best version of themselves.

With that, the world tilted and I am better for the change of perspective.

The thing is, that we all wear the metaphorical masks. We put them on every day when we go to work or out to meet someone new. We do it without ever thinking about masks and the energy it takes to make them and maintain them.

Take some time to think about the masks you wear every day. Does it allow you to be authentic and strive to be the best version of yourself. Is there a mask out there that will?

Maybe it’s time to look.

Emotional Spectrum: Black Lantern

The Blackest Night falls from the skies,
The darkness grows as all light dies,
We crave your hearts and your demise,
By my black hand, the dead shall rise!

~Black Lantern mantra~

Start with the scariest subject first.

Let us begin with a brief explanation of the Black Lantern. It originates with the story line done by Geoff Johns entitled Blackest Night. In this story arc, there is a prophecy of a war of the light. The emotional spectrum will break out from just the green and yellow lantern and spread across the universe. This will signal the arrival of the darkest night. What this is, the guardians do not know but strive to prevent.

The Blackest Night is the rise of the Black Lanterns which represent death. The rings search out the dead and resurrect them to spread death and despair throughout the universe. This is all orchestrated by the demon, Neron. He grew tired of the heroes of the universe constantly cheating death and created an army to correct this mistake. His army was spearheaded by Blackhand, the Nihilist of the DC Universe.

Johns was tapping into both comic tropes and Freudian psychology with this story. Freud and several of his adherents posited that there was both a life force and death force that drove human behavior. These two competing drives combined with the components of the psyche to fuel a person’s striving in one direction or another. Johns also tapped into the idea of the returning hero making it the motivation behind Nero’s unleashing of the black rings upon the universe.

The problem with the Black Lantern as a starting point is that the subject of self-harm, suicide, suicidal ideation, and self-destructive behavior are taboo subjects. To discuss them opens one up to ridicule and stigma. This is inappropriate and leaves people that may be on the edge in this arena with nowhere to turn. This exacerbates the problem. The issues that are contributing to these thoughts and feelings push people from the grey that is the world to where things are cast in stark blacks and whites. They no longer see a way of reaching out of the black and getting to some state of calm or lessening of pain.

I am one person, and I can not change the way of the world. What I can do is stand up say that it is okay to talk about these things and be role model for people who may be struggling with these issues as well as those that love them by sharing my story.

Way back in 2012, I talked about my own self-loathing, poor body image, and all encompassing loneliness. These things were very much rooted in my past. I had been born with many birth defects which required surgeries up until I was 21 to fully correct. This built up within me this self concept of being a mistake and something less than human. It would take years to realize that layered within that was the additional self hatred of being gay. In 2012, I took that step to admit to myself and then later to others I was gay. It then allowed me to begin working on those deep seated issues of feeling flawed and unlovable.

This process of reconstruction is never ending. The ideas about yourself that a person builds up over the year have inertia on their side. The effort to move them can seem herculean. When the work begins, you quickly realize that you are going to run out of energy long before you are at something you are going to call acceptable. For me recently, this was in February. I lost sight of a lot of things during this month.

I had been pushing pretty hard on getting outside of my comfort zone. I am a shy person and not very good at this meeting people thing either. I had begun going out to Bear Dinners here in my home town. In addition, I had been lucky to make friends at these events and was invited to parties and other gatherings.

It was super great and I was non-stop pushing forward on things for me that had been fallow for such a long time.

This is where the forgetting begins.

I mentioned I am shy but I am also an introvert. It takes immense energy for me to do these things. I was bound and determined that I wasn’t going to stop. It was as if a desperate drive had taken over. This was what I wanted and if I stopped now I would lose all progress.

Life is Nintendo hard you know.

This progress was not without failures and struggles. Actually, there were lots of both as I had few skills in the relationship building arena outside of clinical ones. So every three steps forward were accompanied with one or two back. I would attempt to retreat and to recover and feel that fear of loneliness and loss and hop right back in without having recovered.

February turned into the perfect storm.

I did several big things that I had not done and the failures were spectacular and public. These combined with other life events to push me near the black. To steal from Taken, I have a particular set of skills. Even when in crisis, I am assessing both myself and others. I was concerned with the point that I had reached and took action. I was quiet about it as that fear of stigma for asking for help. I didn’t tell anyone in meat space what was going on. I just made sure to keep people with me that cared.

People want to believe it is easy not to slip into these self-destructive patterns. It is a convenient fiction that we tell our self so that we feel better. The thing is that it is very easy to slip into the this space, more so for those of us in the LGBT community. Not only do we face discrimination and hatred from without, we have to some degree incorporated this loathing into ourselves and it just intensifies these feelings.

Knowing it is okay to talk about this stuff is a small step. This small step could keep someone from picking up that black ring when the white one seems so far away.

Take time to check on your friends and loved ones. You may not notice that they have slipped into the black, but that kindness may be the lifeline that pulls them back.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline  1-800-273-8255