sad puppies aren't much fun

I haven't said much (just a snarky comment here and there) about the whole Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies/Hugo debacle, mostly because quite a lot has been said about it already and I don't have much to add. The most comprehensive rundown is probably this one; though it's quite long, it explains quite a lot, including why so much of the SP/RP slate is, frankly, terrible.

I'd already planned to go to WorldCon this year; Spokane isn't that far away (less than an hour by plane) and I hadn't been since 2002. But I'd been following what had been going on with the Hugos, sort of, since I have passing acquaintance with quite a few authors and editors, as well as fans who pay attention to this stuff, and got wind that this year was going to be ugly.

It is. Questions about whether the rules for nomination were followed (they were), the spirit of the law versus the letter, the motives of the SP/RPs, and the ongoing fallout have been discussed to death elsewhere, including in mainstream media that normally pay little attention to science fiction, so I'm not going to bother going into any of that.

I am, however, finding the call from some quarters to vote "No Award" in every category dominated by Puppies nominees ironic, since the majority of the nominees I've personally read so far have been mediocre, and a few have been so terrible that it's hard to see how anyone could even rank them on the ballot. (A few others have been okay, but I think something needs to be more than okay to get a Hugo. Though it's well established at this point that a Hugo does not consistently denote quality.) At least one work that got added to the ballot after an SP/RP nominee was withdrawn is also pretty terrible, lest anyone think that the Puppies crowd has a lock on award-nominated bad fiction.

In other words, it's entirely possible that some categories could score No Award due to the quality of the nominees, and not their provenance.

This makes me look askance at certain parties' insistence that the slate was all about giving overlooked but deserving fiction a fair shake. Either they're lying, or they have no taste whatsoever.

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So three of my last four posts have been about stuff I used to do and haven't for three years now. I think I've gazed at that navel about long enough.

Some months ago I had a Facebook chat with an old friend from those days. He left the ATC well before I did, for reasons that might best be described as political. (Anyone reading this from that period probably knows who I'm talking about from that alone.) He's been in graduate school, and hit me up for some help with citations, which is, after all, the sort of thing I do professionally. And then we got to chatting, as you do.

At one point he said, "Isn't it amazing how much more time and energy we have for things like this?" We were both in master's programs, in addition to which I was working full time and had several projects in the fire.

And yeah, it kind of is. I never realized how much energy those festivals were taking from me until I stopped doing them.

So, yeah, I got a(nother) master's degree, wrote the first 130 or so pages of novel along with over a dozen short stories, read a ton, and have largely kept up that level of productivity even with the end of my sabbatical and returning to my day job. I'm participating in two different writers' groups, working with Mr. P to turn Wild Gods into a going concern, checking out a number of other events, and contributing in a limited, set-my-own-boundaries fashion to a couple of new festival events that are so much more in line with where my own spiritual practice is these days. Even my marriage has improved (though Mr. Darcy quitting a soul-sucking job that he'd come to hate had a lot to do with that as well. Folks, if your personal relationships are miserable, also take a look at what else is going on in your life. Marriage is not a bubble. Ours hasn't been miserable, but there were some stressors, only some of which had directly to do with our relationship).

Which isn't to say that I've given up what brought me to my spiritual path in the first place. While I remain agnostic at best concerning the reality of the entities that I treat as real in my interactions with them, I've concluded that some sort of practice is necessary to keep myself on an even keel. At this point some of those affiliations have wound themselves into my creative and professional life; last weekend, for example, I presented at this conference on the Dionysian in science fiction, and I'm contemplating turning my presentation into an article.

What is planted will surely grow, we used to say. In the past three years my writing, martial arts, and music have all improved at a rate far greater than they were before; I'm starting to write stuff that doesn't entirely suck, beginning to hold my own against my gung fu training partners, and if I'm not where I'd like to be yet with my chosen instruments, I can at least see how to get there.

So, I guess it's true.

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religious freedom, Indiana, and stupidity

It's April Fool's Day, and when I made my first skim of the Internets (dicey proposition on one's first cup of coffee) I came across something that I would've liked to believe was a joke. It wasn't; not because it couldn't have been, but because the people behind it just aren't that clever.

But, let me back up a bit. Indiana. Indiana, like a number of other states, recently passed a religious freedom act. For some context, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed back in 1993, clarifying when and if the government actually has a right to interfere in religious expression. (The proximate issue was two Native Americans who'd been fired from their jobs after using peyote in a religious context.) In 1997, the Supreme Court declared that the RFRA only applied at the federal level, and since then a number of states have passed their own versions. None have generated nearly as much controversy as has Indiana's, for reasons you can Google but this article from The Atlantic is a pretty good start. Key points include Indiana's lack of a statewide nondiscrimination ordinance protecting gays, lesbians, and transgender people, and its proposed RFRA's ability to be invoked in a private dispute.

Indiana's governor claims that his state's RFRA would not allow discrimination on the basis of sexuality (so far as I know, he's been silent on the subject of gender identity), but at least some commentary I've seen from actual lawyers says that it could. In any case allowing someone to answer a discrimination suit by leaning on RFRA strikes me as having some potentially unforeseen consequences.

Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so, but surely religious minorities can come up with a better response than this. Good fucking lord. Look, if you want to point out that religious freedom acts grant protection to practices that someone else might find objectionable, fine. It's true, after all—that's what spawned the RFRA in the first place. But, someone I know put it in a discussion elsewhere, shock tactics have limited value, and therefore need to be deployed judiciously. If I were a public pagan somewhere—especially somewhere other than the Pacific Northwest, where people are largely aggressively disinterested in one another's weirdness—and saw this, I'd be wondering whose misapprehensions I was going to have to correct as a result. (Personally, I don't give a damn what people think, but that's a privilege that I have: I live in a place where more people adhere to no religion than otherwise, with a large and visible pagan community, no children to be threatened by their parent's perceived kookiness, and a level of job security almost unheard of in this day and age.)

For the life of me I can't figure out what the point of this is. I hesitate to deploy the "no true Scotsman" defense, but no one I've ever met of the Wicca has ever insisted that drugs, polyamory, or marrying animals was part of it. To be clear, the first two of those I have no objection to, and the latter is a stupid, stupid inclusion that demonstrates that the interviewee has no idea how laws actually work. (That would've been obvious without it, but anyway.) It's obviously not meant to represent true Wiccan practice, but your average Indiana lawmaker who's never so much as seen an episode of Buffy isn't going to know that. If it's just to crow over unintended consequences, I think Gov. Pence is already aware of that possibility. It does demonstrate a lack of understanding of law in general and RFRAs in particular, but people who know the subject better than I do have already weighed in on what the Indiana law does and doesn't do.

The most positive light I can see this thing in is that it's meant to drum up membership, but unless the church in question has drastically altered its practices since I left (possible), someone who joined up based on how Wicca is represented here is destined for disappointment.

I suppose it could be a mistimed April Fool's joke. God knows there's no requirement these days that April 1st pranks actually be funny.

If I were still at all affiliated with the ATC, I'd be furious. As it is, I'm left with the same feeling I've experienced multiple times these last three years:

Dodged that bullet.

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and I miss you like the lover I left behind

Wow. Lot of thoughts about leaving lately—looking at my last post, and then this one. At this time of year, I can't help it. That thing I used to do is coming up, and my psyche reacts to it the way it used to react to the start of school in September long after my formal schooling had ended. (That doesn't happen so much anymore. Then again, I work for a university.)

Thorn Coyle, a pagan teacher and leader I respect, wrote this post about having to quit so you can begin. A few years ago I quit a festival I'd been involved with for a long time, one at which I'd had some of the most important spiritual experiences of my life. I left for a number of reasons, among them that I was starting to feel like I was going back to the well too many times, I'm not a minister, and there was drama.

But another reason, a big one, was that there were other things I had to do, and only so many hours in the day, days in the year, years in the life. Since leaving festival work, my writing and martial arts have developed exponentially, not only because I pursued a degree in the former but because I've spent hours every week practicing both. Turns out if you practice, you improve. Who knew?

I miss the spiritual community, though. I can't go back to this particular segment of the pagan community; that ship has sailed. And while I'm still welcome to circle with my former coven, a privilege I appreciate, that's not the right home for me either. I'm working on building a new one, which makes me very happy. It's a lot of work.

Sometimes you have to quit something you love. Sometimes you wonder whether you did the right thing.

Lately, I've been making an effort to connect with other people and groups in the area. The PNW community is incredibly fragmented, without any one real central channel for people to meet and communicate. But I did find a Meetup that gets together regularly not far from my house. I'm going to go to the next one and see what they're about. At this point I'm very picky about getting involved with any groups again...but it'll be nice to meet some new people.

The old associations fade, leaving only the brightest memories that I would never trade. I miss it, I suspect I always will.

There's no going back.

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the things we leave behind us

Jesse loved books. He was a bookworm, and a bookhound; one of his pastimes was to go to the local Goodwill store and pick up anything that looked interesting. The upshot of this was that he had a lot of books. When I first started training with him in Pioneer Square around 1998 or so, a heap of these books had accumulated in the basement where we trained. (For my entire time with him, Jesse's gung fu was literally an underground school.) If you could manage to throw someone into the pile of books while sparring, it was like bonus points or something.

After I'd been with him for a few years, training moved to the International District, where the group still works out today. Underneath an apartment lobby, a restaurant, and a Chinese tea shop there's a series of linked basements. We work out in the one under the tea shop, which sounds like the setup for a martial arts movie. The one under the restaurant held the overflow of Jesse's books.

There were hundreds, maybe thousands down there: in boxes, piled on tables made out of plywood and two-by-fours. At some point someone spread tarps over them, because the building's plumbing leaks. (It's an old building, like most of those in the ID. I really hope there isn't an earthquake while we're down there, because I don't like our chances.) And there they stayed, for years.

Then Jesse died. Through the occasionally contentious discussions afterward over what would happen with his students and the future of the space we were training in, the question of what to do with his books and the other stuff he'd stored down there more or less remained on the table. The person who probably knew him best and would have been the best person to go through it all had a certain reluctance to do so, which I really can't fault him for. Meanwhile the books, boxes, and papers sat there, degrading, helped along by what became a fairly epic infestation of rats.

Finally one of the guys took it upon himself to organize a cleanup, with the approval of the person to whom the task had originally fallen. So far we've spent two Saturday mornings going through books, throwing away anything obviously damaged or badly soiled (water, rat shit, rats chewing on the paper), boxing up everything else, and setting aside anything of archival interest or value.

Turns out there's been a fair amount of that. Old photographs of people I don't recognize; advertising flyers from the 1970s and 80s; a poster Jesse's brother Mike Lee used to advertise his martial arts classes (there's a scan of it on that page; it's the black one); dime-store-sized paperbacks about various martial arts, including one in Chinese printed on that pulpy paper from the early to mid 20th century. Finding this stuff makes me glad we're doing this, rather than leaving all that stuff down there until it rots.

We've also found an epic quantity of rat shit, as well as two dessicated corpses. (Yes, we are wearing masks and gloves.) When everything's cleaned out of that room we're bleaching the hell out of that sucker. Hopefully with all the paper and furniture gone, the rats will find that space less attractive. I haven't seen a live one in awhile, but I've seen where they've been, if you catch my drift.

I can't help but think of all the stuff, the physical stuff, we leave behind us when we go. I wouldn't envy whoever got stuck with going through my shit, particularly since some of it only Mr. P would understand, and Mr. Darcy would find the experience overwhelming. Since Jesse's passing, two of his students, people I trained with and knew fairly well, have died as well. We're getting to that time of our lives, it seems—you know, the part where we remember being young and immortal, and realizing what people the age we are now meant by that.

After today's cleanout, I worked out with the guys for almost three hours. One of them is moving next week, taking a job down in San Diego. One of the other students who died was a good friend of his. He's feeling the need to be somewhere else for awhile. I can understand that. I'll miss training with him.

Then I rode my bicycle home under an early spring sun, laboring up a series of steep hills. After dinner I got my fiddle out and played for awhile. Music of late has become devotional, which might just mean that I'm reading too much Nietzsche. But more and more, I find the everyday invested with the sort of significance I used to reserve for ritual and festival. Discarding what the time has come to discard is a sacred act.

I still do ritual. Yesterday I went down to Centralia to see Mr. P and we set up an altar in the field behind his parents' house and I played my fiddle for the gods because in that moment it was called for, and that's just one of those numinous things you're going to have to take my word for. Jesse never had much use for that sort of thing, as far as I can tell, but even though it's something of a cliche, if I'm being honest with myself that a lot of how I think and what I do concerning spirituality came from him.

It was how I knew to put certain things down when the time came, and how I could clean out a basement full of the things he left behind.

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Because I'm just gonna leave "thundering bullshit" here for future reference.

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"Look, I know you were used to high level of service at your previous institution, but the branch library supporting your discipline had a staff of thirty-six. Our library staff for the entire university is two-thirds that size, and I personally serve eight academic departments in addition to your own. Welcome to $MY_UNIVERSITY—same number of students, one-tenth the endowment."

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Resolution 2015

Keep going.

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brief work-related rant

Dear $PATRON,

1. Yes, if the assignment is to create an annotated bibliography, it IS plagiarism to copy an annotation found elsewhere. Yes, this includes annotations in ProQuest.

2. Yes, if the assignment is to create an annotated bibliography, it is customary to actually READ the content one intends to annotate.

3. Why are you doing your kid's homework?

4. Your COLLEGE kid's homework?

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it's complicated

On Friday, at 6pm Pacific, Pete Davis died.

If you know who that is, chances are you're probably already aware of this. Pete founded and for many years served as the archpriest of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, an organization that I once had a fair bit to do with, even going so far at one point as to take a first degree in their tradition. I stopped being active in the trad shortly afterward because I found Sylvan Tradition, which suited me far better—to this day, though I'm no longer in a Sylvan Trad coven, it informs my personal practice a great deal. I did continue volunteering for ATC festivals for quite a few years after that, though, until 2012 when I decided that I was done. (For the record, I made that decision before everything blew up that year, but the drama didn't do anything to change my mind.)

I don't have the same sense of grief that I did when Jesse died; I never had that kind of connection with Pete. My feelings and opinions concerning him are pretty well inextricable from those I have concerning the ATC in general, i.e. deeply ambivalent. Like most people he did a fair amount of good and a not inconsequential amount of ill; the ATC itself long struck me as one of several well-intentioned organizations I've been involved with that operated on the implicit assumption that being cool and funky and counterculture meant that they wouldn't ever have to deal with the inevitable challenges that all organizations are heir to. My view on this is complicated by my deep ambivalence toward churches in general, which doesn't stop me from taking ELCA's money (the university I work for is religiously affiliated).

But, whatever. I come neither to bury Pete nor to praise him, just to acknowledge that someone who did have a deep influence on my life through having created a place and group of people that I was affiliated with for awhile did leave his mark, complicated and problematic though it is. After all, if it weren't for the ATC, I'd never have had Mysteries, or met the wonderful people of Sylvan Trad or my priest and best friend, or many of the other people who have become dear friends. I'd never have gone to Eleusis, both the facsimile we created in a disused bunker on the Washington coast and the historical archaeological site in Greece. The stories I've written and continue to write never would have come to me. So you could say that I wouldn't be the person I am, were it not for Pete Davis.

At the same time, that association and what it meant is in my past. The last time I saw Pete was when everything was blowing up in 2012 and he came in to have a talk with the SMF cast. I don't know what anyone thought it would accomplish; in the end, it didn't accomplish much. For the people who were angry and hurt over what happened, I suspect it was already too late; my sense of things that day was that there were really two bodies, the festival cast and the church, and that any rapprochement that might occur was going to take a lot more than a single sit-down where no one really seemed to know what to say. Sometimes people go off in different directions. When there's already a lack of communication between them, that divergence is, in my experience, irreversible.

And yet, we were all there in the first place because of the house that Pete built, and that's worth acknowledging. Paganism in America is still a place people tend to gravitate to because the authority and expectations of mainstream religion don't work for them—that's as true of me as it is of anyone. So organizing on the level to pull off something even the size of SMF (which, at about 400 people max, is still pretty small really; at their height the historical Eleusinian Mysteries were considerably larger) is in itself an accomplishment. And now, those of us who left are taking the knowledge and experience we built there on to other things, and have left space behind for those who will come after—just as, when I first got involved with all this stuff, a fair number of people had moved on and left room for me and those I would work with for several years. So for that, at least, I am grateful to him.

The rest, I will leave to those he helped and harmed directly to sort out (in many cases the same people). I watch what happens with the ATC now with the idle curiosity of one who has the luxury of having no stake in the outcome, wondering what it will be able to continue, and what it will be able to overcome.

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