Journal Archives - June, 2003
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Like it or not, as dragons we are at the front lines in the battle to bring the ideas of magic back to Earth.
Yes, yes, I know -- this isn't news. The more impassioned among us have been saying that for years, right? Earth has Lost The Meme, and now that we've been enlightened it's our duty to go about Enlightening The Mundanes, and yadda yadda yadda. But let's set aside the Great Astral War (tm) for a moment and look at this in a down-to-earth way.
Consider the debates that are starting to swirl as the idea of Otherkin -- which is to say, the idea that humans can have non-human souls, generally through a process of reincarnation -- gains traction around the Net. It's encountering resistance, of course; probably almost exactly the resistance that everyone was expecting. Which is to say, a huge group of people who just can't be bothered with it except as an intellectual curiosity, a tiny group of people who seem to have a personal grudge against the idea, and a slightly larger knee-jerk chorus of "You guys are crazy!" with no particular thought invested beyond the brain telling the fingers which keys to type.
Having read entirely too many sterling examples of the latter in the last few days, it strikes me that -- no matter what the initial exposure to Otherkin was -- the initial argument always seems to boil down to something like this:
"This is crazy. Otherkin are a danger to themselves."Aside from making the most unimaginably stupid assumption possible (akin to "Atoms are over 99 percent empty space. Anyone who discovers this must then assume they can theoretically walk through walls. How long until scientists, etc.?") ... the claim is illustrative of something illuminating and completely tangential to the point of the claim:
In the minds of critics, at least, dragons ARE the Otherkin movement.
I occasionally hear tirades against the elves -- probably because it's largely an elf user-base that has adopted the "Otherkin" label (animals often favor "weres" and many dragons identify as "therianthropes") -- but whenever the peanut gallery wants to disprove us, it's always draconity that comes up, out of all the broad variety of animals, sapients and oddities I've encountered inside the movement.
Why are Otherkin in general all gamer geeks with no grip on reality? "Because J.R.R. Tolkien invented dragons and you're just marching in his footsteps." Why are Otherkin in general deluded in this soul-is-something-else thing? "Because dragons are an evolutionary impossibility." Why are Otherkin in general on an ego trip? "Because you're always declaring yourselves to be something beautiful and powerful with the ability to smash and fly and burninate."
The irony in this particular mental rut is that critics are attacking dragons for the same reason that we're all drawn to them in the first place: Dragons are powerful symbols. Dragons are, in many ways, in our culture synonymous with myth. Unleashing one's inner dragon is setting the bar high.
The critics make one point with which I agree: Taking up the mantle of dragon is not something to be done lightly. Like it or not, we're at the front line of the battle to legitimize Otherkin -- and we need to be mindful of this as we declare ourselves to the world.
I think we can win that battle. But it's a battlefield tougher than any Great Astral War I've ever seen.
We need to show we're people just like anyone else; we need to show we're unique and genuinely different. We need to show we can blend seamlessly into society; we need to show we'll never be entirely at home in it. We need to show that we picked some wisdom up out of those five-thousand-year lifespans; we need to show that we're humble and aware of our fallibility. We need to show why we choose to chase possibly unreachable dreams. We need to show that the myths we represent are alive and that magic is there to be found if you look.
A tall order? Of course. But we're creatures of legend; we eat challenges like this for breakfast. I have faith we can tackle this one, too.
Many of us already are. We don't need to start our defense so much as we need to start stepping it up a notch: becoming more proactive in telling the world that we're OK and that our beliefs are not only unusual but also vibrant and affirmative.
So let's hold our snouts high. We are dragons -- hear us roar.
POSTSCRIPT: I actually had the vast majority of this post written last night, including the central point that "to critics, Otherkin is reducible to draconity." So what do I discover this afternoon while I'm tidying this up? Someone points me to a blistering, uncharitable Otherkin debate on Livejournal. The post title? "I'm a dragon!" (despite the fact that this person shows no signs of having read the Draconity FAQ until after someone linked to it well on in the thread, and despite the fact that all of their cited resources are generic Otherkin sites). The sort of reductionism I postulate is amply in evidence there.
... I suddenly don't have the urge to write anything at all.
Random quote of the day: "We don't see many people wearing pants around here." -- From the video game "Secret of Evermore"
Recent developments in the more mundane side of my life:
(I can't believe I've been letting this one sit in the filler file for months. Been trying to play catch-up a lot lately -- haven't had much writing time. Camping write-up coming over the weekend. -- B)
Magic is, at its heart, about willpower having an effect on the world around you. It's about bending reality -- whether that bend is with a fireball launched down Main Street, or with a subtle shift in timing that lines up "coincidences" in your favor, or with writing a book that changes people's minds. Of course, to bend reality, reality has to be willing to flex. And some parts of it are more malleable than others.
Earth is, by all accounts, among the more rigid parts of the universe. In terms of affecting the physical world, fireballs down Main Street are right out. Subtle, "coincidental" effects can work, but not with the precision that has made science such an incredible asset to the world.
Many young, earnest mages -- and many mages in general -- treat this fact with revulsion. Learning that one can change reality behind the scenes literally opens up another world to explore. Getting a glimpse of this new world, and then getting smacked across the face with the extreme limitations magic faces on Earth, seems an overly harsh blow. Many see Earth's rigidity as some sort of punishment or aberration; that is, no sane person would choose to live under such restrictions if they understood what was possible when raw willpower made more of a difference.
Personally, I, too, would like to live on a "higher-magic" world (one where reality is more flexible, and "magic" -- the tossing fireballs down Main Street variety -- is more commonplace). But adding power to willpower isn't always a good thing. I don't think the world as a whole would necessarily be a better place if magic returned, and I don't think that high-magic worlds are inherently any better to live in than low-magic ones.
Magic, quite frankly, is best for those who want it. It's often a liability to those who don't.
Have you ever gotten so mad at someone, over an issue that was later resolved peacefully, that you calmed yourself with idle thoughts of them suffering grevious bodily injury? In my experience, most people have. What would be the consequences of this in a world where willpower alone had the power to generate physical effects? How many farmers would go to sleep upset over a fence dispute with their neighbor and wake up in the middle of the night when their neighbor's prize bull went berserk and gored him in his bed? How many religious disputes would be settled by quite literal lightning bolts attributed to the wrath of an offended god? How many people's lives would be wrecked when they were hauled off to a police station in handcuffs, to be told that a friend of theirs had died of a severe illness and they were being charged with murder because the rumor mill had caught wind of a recent argument between them?
A low-magic world means that we mages are limited in what we can do; and yes, for us, it chafes. But it also means we live in a world where we don't have to deal with the complications of other people's magic. There's something to be said for that, too.
Backcountry, east of McMurray Lake, Calif., elevation approx. 6,040 feet.
The wilderness rarely speaks above a whisper, but she is never silent.
The hiss of distant wind or nearby water are always there, even when our nonhuman neighbors aren't. And anywhere short of a sea of sand dunes or a barren snow-capped peak will have its chattering inhabitants. On this small plateau, crumbling rocks dotted with young pines and scrub, the birdsong is almost continuous. There's a drone from a large bumblebee that's been hovering around me all morning.
Miles to the south and above me, on the horizon, there's still snow on the ridge around Bowman Mountain. Here, a cool breeze is blowing, and I am relaxing in a T-shirt. Shortly, I'll pack up and go climb the hill behind me.
Last night, McMurray Lake was still -- dead calm. Shortly after sunset, I took a picture of the trees on its bank being reflected in the mirror-like water. Today, with the wind having picked up slightly, I can occasionally see waves gust across its surface. There are one or two spots where it looks like a pier is jutting out into the lake -- but on closer examination, it's fallen tree trunks floating by the shore.
On the far shore of Weaver Lake, miles to the west, I can barely make out a building -- red with a white roof -- half-obscured behind trees. But otherwise there is no sign of humanity -- and aside from glimpses of two dirt roads, no hints to their presence.
And yet it's never far away. Over the ridge to the east is a line of telephone poles heading up the hill, lines stretching to and from gods know where. Late last night, when the moon set, the lights of what was probably Blue Canyon, to the south, blanked out the horizon. Local radio station KVMR (on the FM dial, no less) had crystal clear reception during the entire drive out here, and if I had a portable radio, I'm certain I'd still be getting a good signal.
Diffrent snippets of music have been running through my head all trip; the one that's currently stuck there is from the bridge of Sting's "St. Augustine in Hell": "You're not alone. You're never alone. Not here, you're not." I keep expecting to run into some other hiker -- despite being 15 minutes from the nearest trail, on a Tuesday afternoon.
Last night -- my first night ever spent on a solo trip, if memory serves -- it wasn't humans that worried me, it was bears or wolves. My pack, full of food, was just feet away. (I did pick a spot near a 20-foot cliff, approachable only from two sides and with a broad view of those approaches, so I wasn't too worried about getting snuck up on. Still, between the adrenaline rushes every time I thought I saw a shadow move and the inherent uncomfortability of a sleeping bag on a thin foam pad on solid rock, I slept the night in something like 18 half-hour shifts.)
As I was going to sleep -- besieged by mosquitoes and having decided to turn in just after sunset -- there was a loud, low hum that echoed through the valley below. It might have been some sort of engine noise, but I never saw any headlights; it seemed far too loud for a car or truck anyway; and there were no planes in the sky above. The noise stayed loud, gradually dropped in pitch, and then vanished after about a minute. I think it's destined to remain a mystery.
Much later in the evening -- after I had weighed the idea of setting up the camera on my tripod and taking time-lapse photos of the stars, and decided that I was too tired for the effort -- I noticed a light on the hillside, across the lake to the west. It seemed like a car headlight, but never actually moved. I didn't get a good enough fix on it to take a look at that location in the daylight -- so another mystery. And another reminder that, really, this is escaping civilization, not leaving it.
The snow, once it melted, turned out to be full of plenty of ... shall we say ... protein. Mmm, dead bugs. I didn't let that stop me -- having cold water instead of lukewarm was a nice benefit -- but ultimately, I would chuck out the last two ounces rather than drink the sludge at the bottom of the bottle. After all, I had brought nearly two gallons with me, and had the luxury of being picky.
I've already picked up a soda can, and heaven knows how it got this far in the middle of nowhere -- but to find a rusted, sturdy, six-foot piece of machined iron, a smooth hexagonal cylinder with worn rounded ends, weighing at least a good 15 pounds, is even more mystifying. Perhaps it was once a tool used in the construction or maintenance of the telephone/power lines that arc up the ridge to Quartz Hill, the ones I slept near last night and hiked underneath to reach the previous peak ... but I'm far enough away from the lines that the pole still makes no logical sense.
A sense of irrational backpacker duty overcomes me, and I know that I am duty-bound to carry the pole back out of the wilderness with me, to leave it a cleaner place than when I hiked in. But fifteen pounds of solid iron? That's signing up for a lot. After some deliberation, I prop the pole upright between some rocks, note its location, and promise to come back the same way I went up, so I at least don't have to lug it to the top of Quartz Hill with me.
Quartz Hill had one more surprise in store when I approached the peak -- after a small walk through forest, I broke into the clearing around the peak, only to be confronted with a huge stone wall, a fortress seemingly erupting from the gentle slope of the surrounding hillside and towering forty feet above. The topo map had given no indication; its gradations weren't small enough. So I dropped my pack and got to do a little bit of climbing -- just me, a camera and tripod, and a fanny pack with miscellaneous gear, mostly worn so I could hang the tripod from my belt -- to conquer the final challenge of the trip before turning around.
As a climb, it wasn't even worth describing; more a rock-scramble than even a lowly 5.1. But a nice change of pace. I reached the top half-expecting to find a peak marker (a metal tube containing a logbook to sign, so that climbers can record their accomplishments and read through their brethren's musings), especially since the highest point itself was an obviously man-built five-foot-tall stack of rocks, but no dice.
I relax up at the peak for a while, spend some enjoyable time with Thea, and take some pictures. Ultimately, I take out the bundle of sage I'd carefully carried up with me, and smudge myself -- for the first time in a year or more -- after finding inventive ways to get the sage lit in a steady wind (involving a windbreak crouched behind the peak; a candle; and many matches). It's very affirmational. But then, most of the trip thus far has been.
I reach Westley (i.e., the car -- my parents' strangely golden car is named Buttercup, and I couldn't resist the joke) at 6:45, not quite 24 hours after having left it.
It's been a full 24 hours. I leave with a sense of accomplishment -- but not the metal pole. That, I'm afraid, I wimped out and left in the parking lot, for the next visitor to puzzle over and be mystified by.
Actually, it hasn't been "one of those days" so much as "one of those weeks." Actually actually, it hasn't been a particularly bad week -- just ... aw, heck, I'm going to give up on explaining it and skip straight to the comic.
From the quote file:
"Life is like laughter. When you catch your breath, it's gone."
-- Glineth, 6-21-1998
Have you heard about the state's new prisoner-release program where inmates can get a year off their term if they agree to join the SCA once they're out? ... Yeah. The government is trying to encourage them to dress period at the end of their sentence.
Okay, that was bad. But I promise you this one's worse:
There's a knock at the door of the workshop. Santa answers it, to find a man from the North Pole Child Protection Agency standing out in the snow.
"Ho ho ho," Santa says. "Come on in. What can I do for you?"
"I've got some concerns about Nick Jr.," the agent says. "Can I ask you some questions?"
The agent hands St. Nick some tax forms. "These are yours? Listing you as head of household, Mrs. Claus as your spouse, and Nick Jr. as your young son?"
"Ho ho ho, yes. You'll find they're all in order --"
"But Nick Jr. isn't on your payroll, or otherwise employed by you?"
"No. The elves' union would have my hide."
"Indeed. Now, did you buy Nick Jr. any presents last year?"
"Excuse me?" Santa says. "This is the North Pole toy workshop. Why would I need to buy my son any presents?"
"Did you buy him any presents last year?" the agent repeats.
Santa sighs. "No, I didn't."
The agent pulls out a pad and starts scribbling, then tears off the top sheet and hands it to Santa. It's a legal summons for a misdemeanor violation.
"What?!" Santa cries in shock. "What's this about?"
"Misdemeanor grammar abuse."
"What in heaven's name are you talking about?" Santa sputters.
We may be slowly descending to hell in a handbasket, but every once in a while I am reminded that, in fact, there is hope for the U.S.
The Supreme Court struck a blow today in Lawrence v. Texas that quite probably will revolutionize our society as much as Roe v. Wade. In a 6-3 decision, they slapped down a Texas law that made sodomy a crime for gays but not for straight people -- and did so in broad language affirming the right of people to make decisions about their own private, consensual intimate acts without stigma of criminalization. Coming from a court with a conservative edge, this was an incredible and (dare I say it?) courageous step. Its implications for the future are every bit as broad as the reactionaries say they are -- and, of course, not nearly as scary as they fear.
And it was decided not by a single swing vote but 6-3 -- with one of the dissenters, Clarence Thomas, authoring his own opinion to say that the Texas law was silly and deplorable and he would work to revoke it if possible but that he didn't feel it was the Supreme Court's job; and saying that prosecuting people for consensual "crimes" was a waste of police resources. So, really, the (right of center) court spoke 7-2 in favor of increased freedom inside our bedrooms. This may be nothing less than a sea change.
A PDF file of the opinions in the case can be found here, at the Supreme Court website. It's fascinating reading -- especially when Antonin Scalia starts frothing at the mouth in his dissenting opinion, and at one point accuses the court of signing on to the "homosexual agenda" (later betraying an agenda of his own by warning that today's decision calls into question such necessary restraints as "state laws against ... masturbation").
Pundits are already starting to predict that this is going to become a massive battleground on the political level. Over the short term, this is like predicting that the sun is going to rise. Over the long term, they may still be right -- only time will tell whether this will be more like the lifting of Prohibition (which nobody has seriously proposed again, although the fight has largely shifted to drugs) or more like the legalization of abortion (which there has been a strong and continued push to roll back, especially as conservatives have leapt to prominence on the national stage).
For now, though, I'm going to savor the breath of fresh air this provides, and remember that social progress is more unstoppable than most people give it credit for.
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