Monday, 25 March 2019

A battle bard's tale

When the High Elves of the Empire disappeared on mass the peoples they had subjugated were free, and the caste system they had implemented based on species was disbanded. But, as with the fall of any great empire, order went with it, and strife followed in its wake. Much knowledge and magic was lost.

This was the world into which Mara of the Morrigan's Fae was born. In the empire the fae had been bound to entertain the elves. The Morrigan's Fae were a band of fae who had been taught, and bred, to entertain elves with darker tastes. They followed the Morrigan, Goddess of Death in Winter, Fertility in Summer, and Battle all year. Mara was born in Thornhill, a Morrigan worshipping, matriarchal, fascist stronghold. She was a bard, as was the the norm for her people. But she wanted to be a warrior, and as fighting was a part of the lives of all Thornhillites, she fought as much as she sang. She fell in love with Brandon, a human being. Monogamy was not the norm in Thornhill, monogamy between those who could not produce offspring was actively frowned upon. But they were in love and did not care.

Brandon, wanting to hear his name sung in the stories of heroes, left Thornhill to join the Academy of Eblana, which was set up to bring heroics back into the world. Mara followed him there, as she did everywhere. There she started to learn a new way of seeing the world. Rather than letting the weak die in an effort to protect the strength of the group, the heroes of the Academy protected the weak at all costs. This world was very new to Mara, but compassion appealed to her, and their ideals slowly seeped into her being.

After graduation, the people who attended the Academy became a band of adventurers, as the founders were before them. They went on expeditions to right wrongs in the world and fight the good fight. Mara and Brandon graduated with a few others from Thornhill. On Mara's first mission a stranger appeared at the camp and invited Academy graduates to a grand hunt. Mara and Brandon were among those that stepped up. As they found themselves scattered in the dark woods, they realised that he had not specified what their role in the hunt would be. Mara saw the hunters catching another Academy member, Barnaby. She herself was hidden, and could possibly have survived. She fought with herself. Was she of Thornhill? Of the Raven Queen aspect of the Morrigan, who says that the weak should be left to die? Or was she of the Academy of Eblana, a hero, ready to protect those that needed protecting, at any cost. Decision made, she ran forward to save him. He lived perhaps one minute longer because of her interference. It cemented with her who she was, and it cost her life.

Mara woke up. Given that she remembered dying, this was surprising. She learned that the Huntsman, who had killed her, brought her, and several others back. Their life force was now tied to his power. If he was killed, if he could be killed, they would die with him.

It became clear that the Huntsman was merely the first of his kind to attack the Academy. The Sidhe, ancient beings of near godlike power, were unlike anything they had faced before.

Even before the hunt, the people from Thornhill were not well liked or trusted in the Academy. Other graduates now became suspicious, unsure if the loyalties of the risen were with the Academy, or the being that had raised them. And the risen became more insular and isolated over time.

One of the risen began behaving erratically, bringing more suspicion to the group, and, in their eyes, endangering the Academy as a whole. They dealt with this problem as it would be dealt with in Thornhill, and removed it by executing him. The rest of the Academy were horrified and the risen were punished for this by being further ostracised and demoted to undergraduate status.

A second Sidhe, the Storyteller, attacked the Academy and they acquired his book, a powerful magical relic that could be used against the Sidhe. Brandon betrayed the Academy by giving this book to the Huntsman in exchange for power. He exchanged more and more of his autonomy for power, and eventually left to join the Huntsman, giving up the last of his free will. Mara was broken hearted, and swore she would both avenge and kill him. But, although he appeared each time the Huntsman did in future, he was unkillable. He would get back up, or simply disappear.

Mara slowly became useful to, and accepted by, the Academy. She proved herself and was made a graduate once more. Her songs were well known and often stuck in people's heads. She made some friends, including Ishmael, a fellow follower of the Morrigan. And even those that did not like her deemed her ‘useful to have around’. She was often mistaken for a cleric of the Morrigan because she was so devout. But her bardic magics, providing support to others in battle, were well known and respected.

As a consequence of being raised by the Huntsman, rather than really alive, she could not have children. She enlisted the help of a male fae by the name of Yasha in confirming this. She was distraught, because having children, for those able, was a huge part of her Faith. She hated herself for spending so long with Brandon, with whom she could not reproduce. Her people back in Thornhill agreed, and she was shunned.

Once, briefly, the laws of the universe were changed, so that Gods could walk on earth. Several chose to do so, and met their followers. Mara met the Morrigan herself, who assured her that her devotion to Her Battle Maiden aspect, was sufficient. This brought a great lightness to Mara, but it was short lived.
It appeared that the Academy had a way of killing one, or both, of Brandon and the Huntsman. Mara was certain that the time for revenge had come. She resigned herself to her own death, and lamented the deaths of the other risen, and prepared. But the weapon was lost before it could be used to kill either Brandon or the Huntsman. Mara lost all hope and disappeared into the bottom of a bottle for years.

Ishmael, Mara's old friend, roused her from her drunken stupor. He sobered her up and told her that the Academy were on their way to a final battle with the Sidhe. He trained with her and with undergraduates and got her back into fighting shape. Better shape, in fact, than she had ever been in. Mara strode to the confrontation with the sure knowledge that this time her mission would be completed, and she and Brandon would be free, avenged, and dead. Ishmael adopted Mara as his daughter. No longer Mara of the Morrigan's Fae, she became Mara ap Ishmael bin Sheyalia.

The honour of killing the Huntsman fell to another, but Brandon was killed by Mara's own hand. Over the years, her anger at him for leaving her, betraying her, and betraying all she had since come to love, had hidden from her how much she had loved him. But as she stood over his unconscious body, preparing to kill him one last time, and knowing that this time he would stay dead, it all came back. Relief and grief flooded over her together. As soon as the Huntsman was dead she could feel that the energies keeping her going were draining away. This was Mara's final battle, but the Academy had eight more Sidhe to deal with. She stood with them and supported them, as she always had.

The Gatekeeper, who keeps the gate between their world and the next, had barred it on behalf of the Shadow, perhaps the darkest of the Sidhe. Any Academy members slain in the domain of the Sidhe would not pass through. Mara wept again for Brandon, who would not have another chance to live a better life. She worried for herself, unsure if she would make it home before the last of the Huntsman’s power dissipated. And she fought all the harder to stop any more Academy members from falling.

With the other Sidhe defeated, the Academy's final confrontation with the Shadow grew close. The Shadow was aided by Academy members who had fallen, raised as themselves, but twisted. Ishmael was killed. Mara, consumed by grief, saw and heard little else of the fight. He had fallen in battle, a noble and good death for a cleric of the Morrigan, but could not return to his Goddess. But the Academy came through for Mara, as she had always done for them. With the Shadow defeated, the Gatekeeper unbarred the gate. Mara and Ishmael walked through together, towards their Goddess, and the unknown.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

My Dad

On Tuesday 5th of December, Motor Neuron Disease, which has been cripling my wonderful father all year, brought his lungs to a point where even his immense will could not make them go, and killed him.

Our conversations over the past few days have been interspersed with 'oh, we need to tell that person / group of people, they / some of them were really fond of him'. I think pretty much everyone who ever met him was. My siblings and I had a good laugh / cry on Tuesday night trying imagine the one person that didn't like Dad. I've had so many lovely messages from people who met him through me, sometimes only once or twice, and knew how wonderful he was.

I don't want to sound arrogant, but I really love who I am. And so much of that comes from my Dad. He gave me my love of public speaking, of dancing, of games, of logic, of puzzles, a lot of my sense of humour, warmth, love of people, of learning, of words, of music. From him comes my tendency to pick up a new passion or hobby, fall deeply in love with it, and do / practice / learn about it all I can. From him comes my (reasonably) quiet determination, and I believe his was all that kept him alive since the nurses said he could go any minute last Thursday.

Our time with him over the past week was a blessing. It was difficult, and the waiting for an awful but inevitable thing was exhausting. But spending so much time with my immediate family, in a way we haven't done in a long, long time, was beautiful. My brother reckons Dad organised it that way on purpose. He was mostly sleeping, but we had some really lovely moments with him when he was awake.

I am going to miss my Dad terribly. But I will also always have him with me.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Ask Culture, Guess Culture, me, and Tea

I find the concept of 'ask culture versus guess culture' fascinating. I find it really useful for understanding social interactions that otherwise didn't make a lot of sense to me. I'm normally very much an ask culture person. I say what I mean, and I mean what I say. But I've realised one 'guess culture' thing I have. If I say 'do you want a cup of tea or coffee' to someone who is, for one reason or another, briefly in my home, that's not all I mean. It is a genuine offer of tea or coffee, but more than that it is also an invitation to stay and hang out, and a request for further company. I don't know why I don't say 'I'm enjoying your company. I'm not busy for the next while, wanna stay and hang out?' But I don't.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Mini Marathon 2017

I've completed the Mini Marathon four times now. The first time I did so was not long after I had taken up running, and I was mostly just viewing it as 'another race'. When I took part I realised that it was much more a fundraising event. So many different people displaying their causes proudly. I nearly cried several times reading t-shirts. I knew that if I took part again I would do so for a cause. The second time I ran for Alzheimer Society of Ireland in memory of Terry Pratchett. And the third I ran for CMRF, as the staff in Crumlin had saved my son's life when he went into anaphylactic shock at seven months old.

It's still a race though. I've improved my time each year. I'm particularly proud of this year's time or 51 minutes and 18 seconds. 42 seconds faster than I was aiming for, nearly 3 and a half minutes faster than last year, and over 5 minutes faster than the year before. It was particularly pleasing because I've been missing a lot of BHAA races lately, and had felt a little like my running skill had plateaued. A 5 minute improvement on your 10K PB over two years is not a plateau! I really pushed myself to get there, as can be seen from these before and after pictures:

This year's charity was particularly close to my heart. My Dad was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease just after Christmas. I've been fundraising for IMND for the race and the response has been phenomenal. I was also interviewed for a 'human interest' story for the Evening Herald on the topic.

I told my Mam yesterday to make sure Dad understood that the reporter had played up the 'she really wants to see him at the finish line' angle because it made a good story, and that I care more about him looking after himself. I didn't want him pushing himself to come and see me. I meant it. But when I sat down on the ground after pushing myself over the finish, felt my mam touch me on the shoulder and looked up to see my Dad there. Well, I'm gonna carry that moment with me for a very long time.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Weight update

Three years ago I posted about my weight loss journey. And later about reaching my goal weight. I said I'd post an update after three years, so here I am.

I haven't managed to keep all of the weight off. I've managed to keep the regain to 'slow and steady' and have only regained about half of what I lost.

Not only that, me at this weight now looks substantially better (to me, anyway) than me at this weight on the way down. I guess it's more muscle than it was that time.

I'm still not happy though. I did manage to still be down at least 30 pounds after a year. I printed the forms to apply to that Nationals Weight Control Registry. But I never sent them and no now longer qualify.

Lately I've been feeling a lot like this:

So I need to reopen that line of communication. Too high a proportion of my clothes have moved into the 'not right now' pile. Time to get them back. Well, soon. Soon.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Paddy -v- Patty, and the joy of acceptance

I'd bet good money that there are no actual Irish people, in Ireland, who refer to the 17th of March as 'Patty's Day'. Maybe there are some blissfully unaware that anyone at all does this. But you only only need to check out the twitter feed at the end of Paddy, Not Patty to see that they do, oh they do. 

This, understandably, frustrates a lot of Irish people. I'll admit, that the first time I found out, I spent some time, Canute-like, on Twitter, politely asking people not to do that. I don't think it helped. This feeling spawns some excellent art:

But it probably doesn't achieve much. I realised, recently, that I'm much happier just accepting that we're talking about two different holidays. St. Patrick's Day, also known as Paddy's Day, an Irish celebration, and Patty's Day, and Irish-American derivative holiday. It's okay everyone, their thing is not our thing, they can have it.

The main reason behind seems to be a noble enough one. They don't want to say 'Paddy' because it's a slur. I know that for us that's super weird, because it's not a slur here, it's just a name. The name, in fact, for the patron saint of our country. The 2nd most popular name for 52 year old men in the country. But that's here. That's us. It isn't there. They don't know what it's like to be Irish. But we don't know what it's like to be Irish-American. We don't know what it's like for Irish to be just your culture and heritage any more than they know what it's like to also have it be your nationality. If calling it Paddy's Day hurts people, why should we try to make them?

On a tangentially related note. I recently learned that Mammy is a racist term in America. I was shocked. I called my mother Mammy until I was old enough to call her Mam. I still do, occasionally, when joking or wheedling. Likewise my son with me. I'm bothered when anyone calls me his Mum or his Mom. That's not who I am. I'm his Mammy. Knowing what I know now I'll be careful with that term if I'm over there. But I won't stop using it here. They have their thing, we have ours.

And really, in the end of the day, I think it's time to sit back and accept this, 'cause we're not going to win this one:

Monday, 22 February 2016

A quick 'what not to do'

Lately, I've been dipping a toe into wearable electronics (clothes and accessories that light up or make noise, that kind of thing). On Saturday just gone, the nice folks at DAQRI sponsored a few of us to work on our own projects in the vicinity of their stand at Career Zoo. They paid us in components, and we drew interested passers-by to their stand. It was a win win situation for everyone involved.

Over the course of the day lots of people came over to ask what we were doing. We talked several people through the project we were working on, recommended Adafruit enough that I thought several times that they should be the ones sponsoring us, and had some really excellent chats with people. I mostly let my excellent sister, who has more experience with this stuff than I do, do the talking.

I'm not sure whether (the also excellent) Vicky was specifically tasked with recruiting women for this role. I do know that everyone in the group except her husband was a woman. I wasn't really aware of it though, until a man, probably not quite old enough to be my father, but approaching that age, came over to us and 'hi, I'm female friendly!'. No, sir, you are not.

'Female friendly' is a useful term when it comes to events and spaces, particularly in tech or other male-dominated fields. It's good to know before committing to something that I'm going to be welcome, and that there is at least an implication to the men there that they should be on good behaviour in relation to people that don't share their gender. Drawing attention to gender in these situations can be dangerous, risking invoking stereotype threat, among other potential problems. But often, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

But in the case of this gentleman's statement, there were no such advantages. We were the ones in the position of authority, it was not up to him to make us feel comfortable there, all that we needed was for him not to make us feel uncomfortable. And in that he failed miserably. His statement served to draw attention to our female-ness, said, in fact, that that was what was interesting about us, more so than what we were doing. The other two women at my table noticeably, understandably, went cold once they'd heard this statement. I managed to give a polite, brief introduction to what we were doing. But he had taken me out of my comfort zone. For the next hour or two I would occasionally think about that interaction and shudder slightly.

I was sorry, afterwards, that I didn't say something to him about it. After all, the fact that he was familiar with the term, and tried to use it, implies that he meant well, that he was trying to be nice. He may even pride himself in trying to make tech spaces welcoming to women. I wish that I had had it in me, right then, to tell him how badly he was failing. But I didn't.

If you don't get why this bothered me, that's okay. You don't need to understand why it's a problem. But please understand that it's a problem. And please, please do not draw attention to the 'female'-ness of women in tech spaces. Just don't do it. Thanks.