Saturday, November 23, 2002

It recently struck me that my Stanford life is positively filled with girls. There are no less than ten such specimens in Testimony, to say nothing of the Ailouriskai, Phoebe, Cythereia, Alanna (who comes by so often now, more's the delight!), and next quarter Thalassa and Blue Tango will return. It's as if somebody crowded the female side of my life into northern California, and left all the males down south. Not that I don't enjoy being surrounded by lovely ladies, mind. It does give me pause to think, though. I wonder how much of the behavior differential between Stanford and home is due to the gender imbalance in my social sphere.

Consider that up here I go to great lengths to establish myself as one of the girls, so to speak. Down home I don't do that, and I don't think it's just because there are so few girls in my social sphere. Even with Princess and Thea I didn't behave like that. What is different up here? Partially of course I'm making a deliberate statement about what I think of male stereotypes. Partially it's a way of interjecting a tiny bit of acting into my campus life, where affectation is so common but acting so rare. Partially it's because my support structure here pales in comparison to the one I grew up with, and I try to compensate with a special emphasis on gallantry. And partially it's to increase the amount of time I spend with girls. And I mean that in a very literal sense. I like being around girls. I like studying their behavior, I like trying to get inside their heads, I like practicing to be a good date when I go somewhere with one of them.

Partially too, of course, it's a reflection of the fact that while I celebrate the division of the human organism into two gendered halves, I don't think those halves are really very different at all. But they are different, different and wonderful. Retaking Social I, this time as a follow, has pointed this out to me. There is something about dancing with a girl that is entirely independent of the dancing part. What I mean is, if you give me two partners of equal skill but opposite gender, I will probably enjoy the dance with the girl more than with the guy. There is something magical about the presence of a girl that makes the dance that extra bit better. Speaking of dancing, I recently compiled my "waltz favorites" playlist, and it inspired me to write my Social I essay. Here it is:

A friend of mine recently asked me why I like waltz so much. He’s a swing dancer from Los Angeles, and so far as I know has never danced a waltz in his life. I don’t mean to imply that he isn’t a real dancer, of course; he’s been a part of the LA swing scene for years. I was surprised at his confusion, though: didn’t I find the music boring, he wondered? And that’s when we discovered that he thought of waltz as being done to classical music. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at that. Most people probably think of waltz in the same way my friend does. All the same, I was surprised.

I recently compiled a playlist of my favorite waltz tunes. The effect of the music is hard to describe: if you imagine that it made lightning course through my veins, caused my heart to leap into my throat, and lit a fire behind my eyes, you will have some idea of what I experienced. No doubt the audiences of the great romantic composers felt something similar when they waltzed for the first time to the music of that era—I do not. But when I listen to the waltzes of my generation, the dance enters my body like a ghost and possesses me with the aching need to counterbalance, to spin and be spun, to drive across the floor with a momentum that is unstoppable and yet leaves me weightless in the arms of my partner. How could anyone find this music boring?

Of course my friend probably hadn’t ever seen people waltz to “Erin Shore” or “Caribbean Blue.” But I think that that is only part of the answer. When I listen to a good waltz, I can picture myself waltzing to it—I can all but feel my partner in my arms. In fact, one of my criteria for a good waltz tune is whether or not it conjures up that image in my mind.

But wait—if I didn’t already love the waltz, the songs would never have become imbued with the power to conjure the dance. And why precisely do I love the songs so much? Because they do have that power. There is a cycle at work here: dance and music run together until one is scarcely separable from the other. The dance is not complete without the music—and the music longs for the dance.
My point? I could be writing all of this to recommend to my fellow leads that they learn to dance with the music. But while I think that is a good idea, it is not why I wrote these ruminations. The truth is that I wrote them down because I was listening to that waltz playlist, and I felt that I had to unpack some of what I was feeling or I would explode. Boring, indeed!

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Addendum: apparently that motto should read "eithe diamenoien hoi hetairoi," (long live the Companions) which I think sounds all right poetically but is in my humble opinion less suited to bellowing. But I think that Meg Anassa is correct that it ought to be an optative of wish rather than a third person imperative (isn't the idea of a third person imperative weird?), so there it is. And "eithe diamenoien hoi hetairoi" sounds better than "diamenoien hoi hetairoi" or "ei gar diamenoien hoi hetairoi," all of which mean the same thing.

Monday, November 11, 2002

I love fiddles. I'm sure I've mentioned that before, but in case I haven't let the record reflect that a properly played fiddle makes everything seem bright and cheery. "Brother found work in Indiana; Sister's a nurse at the old folks' home ..." such words are right up there with "Bring it up, Marty!" with their ability to make me smile. The Dixie Chicks have that ability, which is why I truly consider them good artists: inasmuch as art aims at manipulating the emotions (which is the essence of my definition), the Chicks are rather masterful artists. "Li'l Jack Slade" is an instrumental piece that actually speaks to me - one of a single-hand handful of pieces of music that I can understand without lyrics. That's pretty impressive, if you ask me.

I had a realization today while reading Turtledove's Striking the Balance. Now, I think that Turtledove is a pretty fair author, and as a thinker about science fiction I'd say he's the best I know of. I think he's a pretty fair writer, too, but he is not a genius writer - by which I mean that his sentencecraft is better than average but not really standout. I don't really have a better word for it than "sentencecraft," so I shall have to attempt a definition. By "good sentencecraft" I refer to that phenomenon whereby you are reading a book and you just fall into this kind of rhythm where the author's words are so well fitted together that their very arrangement is art by itself. But it's not rhythm, not really. When real rhythm is off, it's painful. When sentencecraft is not good, it's just nondescript.

So much to my surprise, somebody commented. Evidently people still read this. I wouldn't have the leisure to blog right now, though, if it weren't for Meg Anassa's migraine on Friday. Not that I would wish a migraine on anybody, let alone our current didaskole, but Jesus did use that to my full advantage this weekend as far as leisure goes. And by "our" of course I refer to the Companions, hoi hetairoi, my Greek class. Ever since last fall, when I embarked upon this great Hellenic journey, I have been blessed with the most phenomenal Greek class. This is what college is supposed to be like: careening through the halls of academia with Antilles, Neani, the Dark Age King, and the Didactic - and of course our fearless leaders, of whom Meg Anassa is the current - watching movies and discussing Star Wars, signing our names in Greek and generally having a blast learning stuff. My life would be immeasurably poorer here if not for the Companions. Diamenontwn hoi hetairoi! (Isn't that a cool motto? I could definitely bellow that at the top of my lungs while charging into the teeth of Darius' army, lance in my hands and horse between my legs. Not that I know how to ride, or how to use a lance).

Anyway, the other great advantage of not having Greek to read tomorrow due to Meg Anassa's migraine is that I was able to go home this weekend and have a wonderful time. Returning to the Cove is and remains a wonderful experience. I don't want to trumpet the virtues of my family too highly, but so far as I'm concerned evil exists outside the Cove. All is warmth and safety and sense and love. Seeing my sister is particularly good, as Adelphe has become my model for my peers as women. I should point out here that in Natalie, "woman" need not be particularly different from "man." Those words, when used in a moral sense, are merely gender markers. That is to say, when used to refer to moral states of being, "woman" in Natalie means "female man," and "man" means "male woman."

The reason for this is that I have decided that what makes a "good man" is essentially the same thing as that which makes a "good woman." There are a few differences, naturally, to account for deity-specified gender roles, but by and large I think that the virtues that make a good man are the same virtues demanded of a good woman, since those virtues (in my opinion), are not framed in terms of gender but in terms of Christ-likeness - and so it is that the apostle can say there is neither male nor female, since the truly important things about being human has nothing to do with your gender (I'm breaking with Heinlein here; mark your calendars) but how well you resemble the Christ.

On a final note, Blue Rose and Alanna sat in on a session of my D&D game. I am both glad and sad about that. I am glad because, as Rose said, now she understands what I'm talking about when I talk about roleplaying. I think that's good. I also got to see Alanna again (she comes over regularly now; that's cool), too. That is also good. However, I don't consider my D&D game to be a particularly satisfying from a roleplaying\\artistic standpoint, which means I don't consider it a very good example of what roleplayiing can be. I feel rather like somebody attempting to explain the concept of visual art, and the person I'm trying to explain it to has finally seen her first real picture: except that it's one of those medieval illustrations with no sense of depth or perspective. It's not bad art for what it is - but visual art can be so much more! What I really wish is that Rose, and all those other folks who ask me about roleplaying, could see a Phoenix Earth or Infernal Gaslamp session.

And speaking of Phoenix Earth, no luck yet. Neani is interested, and I think I could get one of the guys in my D&D game interested. Shanah might be interested, though I'm not holding my breath - although I consider Phoenix Earth (that is, Phoenix Earth with the crew) to be very good roleplaying indeed, it presupposes certain attitudes on the parts of the players: attitudes such as an amenability to engaging in violence in life-threatening situations, or the acceptability of using violence in defense of the innocent (quote from the combat packet: "Although the point of Phoenix Earth is not to put characters into life-threatening situations, this does happen with alarming frequency."), and I'm not sure those are attitudes that Shanah has, so Phoenix Earth itself might not be attractive to her even though I suspect roleplaying as a concept is. That means that I'm two players short of a quorum - and I have no idea where I'm going to get the other two. Oh well. Mr. Clean has begun what he calls "faux Phoenix Earth" back home, with all new players, and it's been a smash so far. I shall content myself with that.