I Pity the Immortal

If elves were real, they’d be whimpering, anxious wrecks, too wracked by fear to leave their towers or trees. For an immortal, no risk would be worth taking. A plague, a stray arrow, or an angry bandit might rob a human of fifty or eighty years. The same might rob an elf of the lifespan of the planet.

I was a nerdy, anxious kid. I’m a nerdy, anxious adult. I spend a lot of my time thinking about even my mental health in terms of Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of the Rings.

Elves, as popularly understood, can live thousands of years, watching mortals grow old and die like we might watch the leaves on trees turn color and fall. When I was younger, I idolized elves. Now? I pity them.

Avoiding danger is a self-reinforcing behavior, a behavior that elves would have centuries or millennia to perfect.

“Parent, what is death?” an elf kid might ask one night, in that gender-neutral language I figure elves probably have because that would be awesome.

“It’s the end of everything,” the parent elf would say back to their kid, tucking them into bed under a blanket of moss or unicorn wool or some bullshit like that. “But don’t worry. You’re an elf, you get to live forever. As long as you never slip up ever. Sweet dreams!”
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Men With Beards Wearing Dresses Are Ruining The Country

I was driving through northwestern Ohio, which from the car window sure looks like a series of small towns strung out along cornfields. No offense to cornfields of course. My high school in Maryland was surrounded on three sides by cornfields. But my phone was broken so I was stuck listening to the radio and I’d made the mistake of tuning in to the local Christian talk radio station.

“Now, they say they just want to use the bathroom,” the announcer said, “but it’s really a trojan horse. What they actually want to do is destroy the nuclear family and drive us away from God.”
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How I Learned to Hate My Rapist

This post contains my account as a survivor of rape. I’m not looking for public expressions of sympathy nor to argue the specifics of my situation. For context, despite my feminine name, I grew up as a boy and am genderqueer.

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

“Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

“Forgive others not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.”

So say the Lord’s prayer, Martin Luther King Jr., Yoda, and some random picture I found when I image searched “forgiveness meme” while researching this article. There’s no shortage of cultural wisdom extolling the virtues of forgiving people. There’s a lot there I agree with — as someone who desires to live in a society with neither prisons nor constant warfare, forgiveness is an important part of my political practice. I’m no pacifist, either, but I think the cycle of how violence begets violence is damn important for revolutionaries to understand.

And yet.
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Gandalf Isn’t Running For President

When I was young and naive I half-heartedly campaigned for Ralph Nader. It was the year 2000 and I wasn’t quite old enough to vote but I had a green party pin on the lapel of my corduroy blazer. I’m as embarrassed of my teenage fashion choices as I am of having ever supported third party politics, if I’m being honest.

I had my excuses and talking points all lined up. Not about the corduroy, there’s no excusing corduroy. About the pin. About Ralph Nader.

“He’s unelectable,” someone might say.

“That’s only because we assume it to be true,” I said. “The only reason we’re locked into a two-party system is because people say we are.”

I think I got that line from my friend, the Nader campaign coordinator on campus. Thanks to the Nader campaign, he and I both got to feel like we were part of something important.

Nader lost, and a year later I realized that the only reason we’re trapped in capitalism and statist politics is because people assume we are. People assume revolution is off the table. People assume that taking autonomy for ourselves and defending it is off the table. We, as people, can reconstruct society to be anything we want it to be, and I’d been wasting my time imagining spending that potential on some vaguely-better version of the status quo.

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2015 in review

2015 has been good to me, as a writer and a person. This year:

  • I made my first five professional short fiction sales. Three of these are published:
  • I went to Clarion West. These six weeks did as much to improve my fiction as six years of writing.
  • I made a five-figure income for the first time in my life, through freelancing.
  • I ghostwrote a romance novel.
  • I got over my phobia of flying.
  • I went to England for the first time.
  • I started seeing someone amazing.

Next year, I’ll hit fifteen years of veganism and five years with my wonderful van. I’ll leave my early thirties, and hopefully I’ll finish another novel of my own.

The Fires Out West

I left Seattle on an Amtrak. Heading north, I saw the Olympic peninsula burning. I was watching a rainforest on fire. Rainforests aren’t supposed to be on fire.

I felt almost nothing.

I’ve heard it called “disaster fatigue.” No one on the train reacted while the announcer told us what we were watching. I’d been a committed environmentalist anarchist for more than a decade, and I was numb.

* * *

People maybe rearranged deck chairs on the Titanic while it sank. So what. What do you want them to have done? Run around screaming?
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September 15, 2008

Content Warning: misogynist violence

It might be that the anarchist traveler scene died when Sali died, on September 15, 2008, as summer gave way to autumn. It was two weeks before her twenty-first birthday.

It might be that the man who killed her marked the end of a way of life.

There were probably hundreds of us in the early-to-mid aughts, us crusty anarchist travelers. We hopped freight trains and we fought the state. We ate out of trash cans, we shoplifted and scammed corporations. We stole photocopies from Kinkos to disseminate our zines, we broke into empty buildings to sleep and throw parties and convergences, because fuck capitalism and fuck asking permission from the system we detest. We worked hard, fought the State tooth and nail, and interwove play into everything we did. An endless summer.

There was no future in it, of course.
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Book Design Template for InDesign

Well, I’ve been meaning to for years now, but I finally went ahead and made myself a cleaner template for designing the interior of books. So I figure I might as well put it online. I want self-publishers to have better books, after all.

indt file | idml file

Use the indt file if you’re using InDesign CS6 or later. It’s a template file, which means every time you open it, it will open as an “untitled” project that needs to be saved. Use the idml file if you’re using InDesign CS4-5.5.

Designing a book is hella complicated. This template can help. Or you can hire someone (like me) to design your book for you. I offer discounts to self-publishers, collectively-run publishers, and to not-for-profit ventures that I believe in. My email address is magpie@birdsbeforethestorm.net.
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Wearing Chainmail

Chainmail is kind of magical. It conforms to your body, fixes your posture, sheds heat, feels great, is self-cleaning, and turns most blades. On the other hand, it’s also heavy as hell, might bruise you, makes you and/or your clothes filthy, and can hurt your back if you’re as dumb as me and wear it every day before you’ve worked up to it.

After I made my chainmail shirt, I wore it every day for months. Because, uh, science. Here’s what I learned:
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Coming Out as Genderqueer

Hi. I’m coming out as genderqueer.

For people who know me, and people who know what genderqueer means, this probably isn’t some big surprise. I told a couple of my friends that I was going to come out — like this, in writing — and they just assumed I was already out.

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary (yes, that one that comes with Mac), genderqueer as an adjective is: “denoting or relating to a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders.”

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