Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy old year, and hopeful new one

Good gods. So, so many things are happening in my life, and very soon this year has come to an end. December has been tumultuous and fantastic, much like the rest of the year. A couple of lovely melodic death metal concerts with good company (Amon Amarth and Dark Tranquility, yay!). A couple of very successful Lucia concerts with the choir and also the master students at the department. Several boardgame- and roleplaying nights together with great friends. A couple of super-cozy gaming conventions with lots of my favourite people. Not nearly enough, but at least a bit of running. A tiny bit of snow, but at least I did get the chance to go out and play in it. A tremendous amount of love. Many sleepless nights filled with laughter and craziness and even more love. Lots of stress around and preparations for a move and a trip to the other side of Earth. Somewhat-neglected studies. Chaos, confusion, wonder and amazement. I've been walking around in a euphoric, at times angsty, sleep-deprived state of bliss.

Now things have mostly come together, and the chaos has calmed down to some extent. I no longer have a home. Or I can call any place I like home, depending on the point of view. Which is pretty much what I'm going to do this coming month, travelling around visiting people before I leave for the southern hemisphere. Yikes, I'm so excited. Still a bit stressed out about a couple of practical details that haven't worked out quite yet, but I'm hoping for that to solve itself rather soon. It feels somewhat unreal to think that in less than a month's time a dream which I have had for so long will actually come true. Amazing things, things I used to lack even the capacity to dream of, has happened to me in abundance the past few years, but this is probably the first time a dream I've had since childhood will become real.

Anyway. This year is drawing to an end, and some sort of recap might be in order. I'll have to say that 2013 has been the best year in my life so far. I've evolved a hell of a lot, had many great adventures, and come close to some fantastic people who I love having in my life. At the beginning of the year I made a couple of resolutions. Firstly to finish the second draft of the book I wrote during NaNoWriMo last year. Heh, didn't really get that one down. I barely got started. The second resolution, however, was to be brave. And I'll be damned if that one wasn't such a slamming success that it might have compensated for the failure of the other one. 

Was I ever brave. I started out by explicitly going out in the open with being polyamorous. This brought on a wave of positive response from friends, acquaintances and strangers, and in the long run also a great deal of romance. This also meant that I have openly talked about it more than ever before, and in the process practically all the shame has gone away. I feel more free and secure than ever in myself, and my preferences in the matter have become more well-defined and well-articulated. All this much to the benefit of my own life of course, but it has also served to in a positive way open the eyes of others. So not only did the whole confession make my life more interesting and better, it also made other people's lives better. That is something to be proud of, I reckon!

I also challenged my LARP-anxiety, and went to several LARPs. All of them were great fun and not half as scary as I had imagined. Made a whole bunch of new friends in the process as well, so nothing but yay to that!

I travelled away from home for longer than ever before to work at a solar telescope on the island La Palma. Had a wonderful and interesting time at a mindblowingly beautiful place, so I am immensely grateful for that opportunity.

I worked hard with the bravery of open-heartedly telling the truth. I confessed feelings to people, which sometimes worked out and sometimes didn't; that's life. I talked about fears and past experiences, philosophical and moral thoughts, dreams and hopes, feelings and desires. Things I had never talked about before, things I thought no-one else would understand, things buried so deep within my heart and mind that I had thought they would never see the light again. And in return I got the same honesty, got very close in a very short time, and felt such trust that I have hardly ever felt before.

All in all this year was freakin' fantastic. I've learned so very much, not least about myself. I feel more well-defined in who I am, and more secure in the knowledge that I am a pretty damn good person. I have started to find a way of living that not only helps me cope with life's various difficulties, but also makes me absolutely love my life.

I can only hope for an equally great 2014. The premises look amazing; I'm going to spend half of it living in friggin' New Zealand. And then I'm going to come back and spend time with people I love and not have to worry about what to do with my life juuust yet. Feels kinda silly making plans that stretch further than a year or two into the future, considering how much my existence has a tendency to be turned upside down in an even shorter time-span. I have lots of hopes and dreams, but when it comes to solid plans I'll be thankful enough if I have the luck to be alive in a year's time. I'm sure I'll think of something interesting to do with my time.

When it comes to resolutions I'd like to change the wording into ambitions, considering my preference for attempting slightly impossible things. How about three of them? Yeah, sure, let's run with that. These things I shall endeavour to accomplish in 2014:
  • I will aspire to keep up my running to such an extent that I manage to run from Lund to Malmö and back again before the year is over. That's about the equivalent of a marathon, so considering the fact that I've never run further than ten kilometres before, and even that with great effort, it's going to take some hard work indeed. But what the hell, let's see how far the ambition will take me!
  • I will try to finish draft two of my book before November, and also to successfully participate in NaNoWriMo with the next part in the trilogy. I'd say this is about as realistic as the above ambition. But bring on the writing, I am motivated as fuck!
  • I will try to stop apologising for everything. This is something that several people of late has pointed out to me; that I have a tendency for saying 'sorry' all the time, and even apologising for things that couldn't even theoretically have been my fault. I believe that this is a rather self-destructive tendency in my personality, so my ambition is to make myself think about whether an apology is really warranted each time before I blurt out "I'm sorry!" and take on all the blame automatically. If this goes according to plan it might do some good for my self-esteem.

I hope you have all had a year even remotely as great as mine, dear readers. If you wish to share any thoughts regarding your experiences of the past year or resolutions for the new one I'd be delighted to read them. Regardless I wish you a happy new year! I'm gonna go back to being happy with my life now, so I'll see you on the other side of this arbitrary but symbolically heavy-laden night of renewal.

Happy year indeed,
Winterdragon

Thursday, 5 December 2013

I love my life

My life of late? Some ups and downs, but mostly freakin' sky-highs. A splendid birthday party filled with good friends, nice stories, lovely hugs and two masterpieces of cakes. Beautiful concerts and spectacular shows, great roleplaying, cozy choir-singing, better company than I could ever ask for. Days and nights filled with boardgames, running, snuggling, deep and interesting conversations, laughing, tea-drinking, creative writing, and a bit of work if I happen to find my brain for a second amidst all the distractions. And love. So very, very much love. It is slightly hard to grasp that I have so many amazing people in my life that I love and who also love me back, it is such an immense happiness. And today I got offered a place at University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. Flight tickets are booked and all, so in less than two months I will actually be there, at a place I have been dreaming of for so very long. It is almost starting to seem real, and I am about to burst with excitement for what the near future is about to bring.

Clearly I must have done something right in life to deserve such an abundance of awesomeness. Or I'm just ridiculously lucky. Either way, I'm enjoying the hell out of it.

Love and yayness,
Winterdragon

Friday, 22 November 2013

I will write


I will write in words of fire.
I will write them on your skin.
I will write about desire.
Write beginnings, write of sin.
You’re the book I love the best,
your skin only holds my truth,
you will be a palimpsest
lines of age rewriting youth.
You will not burn upon the pyre.
Or be buried on the shelf.
You’re my letter to desire:
And you’ll never read yourself.
I will trace each word and comma
As the final dusk descends,
You’re my tale of dreams and drama,
Let us find out how it ends.

— Neil Gaiman

No NaNoWriMo for me this year. I have gotten started with the editing of last year's masterpiece, though. Only a tiny bit, but still. And as often happens in my projects, the ambitions have gotten entirely out of hand. It's going to be three books, and I'm bloody well gonna say 'fuck you' to moderation and cram in every epic concept that has popped into my head regarding this story. It is my first really long one, so I'm gonna allow it to go absolutely bananas. I have no idea if I will succeed in tying it all together successfully, seeing as I don't even know the ending yet and have half a million loose threads and plotholes, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna let that stop me. Attempting to do slightly impossible things is one of my favourite hobbies, after all. I'm inspired as hell, at least. It's such a great feeling. But mostly I'm in love. Which means ridiculously easily distracted, so don't expect any productivity on my part anytime soon. Eheh.

Love and writing,
Winterdragon

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Amanda Palmer, fever and awesomeness

Been back for just over a week now. Presently lying at home, snivelling and coughing, attempting to defeat a cold. I shouldn't be surprised; what with coming home just in time for cold season and getting thrown into cold, dark and rain it is not more than could be expected. And it's not so bad, really. A couple more days of reading and movie-watching, and I should be back on my feet before long.

I miss La Palma. I miss it like crazy. Yet it is good to be back. Coming home just in time for a gaming convention, and getting to LARP and roleplay and play boardgames with most of my favourite friends was as good a welcoming home as it gets. Even went for a run with company, which was also great fun. I really hope I'll stop coughing before long, because I can hardly wait to get out again.

And this halloween. Oh my gods, it was the best halloween ever. Resolutely ignoring my feverish and infected state, I went to see Amanda Fucking Palmer live in concert in Copenhagen together with a very dear friend. Was it ever awesome! We made friends with some very nice and cool people already in the line. Oh, I do hope we'll get to meet them again! Then we danced and jumped and sang along to so many great songs. When she asked for requests I entreated her to play Ampersand, and I thought I would faint with excitement when she actually did.


I'm not gonna live my life on one side of an ampersand
And even if I went with you I'm not the girl you think I am
And I'm not gonna match you, 'cause I'll lose my voice completely
No I'm not gonna watch you, 'cause I'm not the one that's crazy

And then after the show I got to talk to her, and despite only having the presence of mind to stammer forth some expressions of my love and admiration for her I got both hugs and kisses in return. *swooon* It still makes me giddy just to think about it. Seriously, she is such an amazing person!

Such a splendid night, totally worth the increase in fever and the ruined voice the day after. Now I'll go back to eating silly amounts of fruit and read books. Just finished The Count of Monte Cristo, which I greatly enjoyed. Also the manga Hellsing, which I hardly enjoyed at all. Somehow the story just kept failing to interest me. Up next is a re-read of The Hobbit (last time was in Swedish ten years ago, so it's about time) and also the Gormenghast trilogy. Mmm. As long as I have books to read I shall never be bored.

There is neither happiness nor misery in the world. There is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die […] that we may appreciate the enjoyments of life.
— Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo)

Love and good times,
Winterdragon

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Leaving one home for another

Last day of work. Tomorrow I'm going back to Sweden. My heart is all over the place. I'm not ready for this. I want to stay here at this calm and beautiful place and get to know this oh-so-interesting island even better. I love working here, I love breathing here, I love living here. But I love Sweden too, and there are people and a certain cat there who I miss like crazy. Oh my gods. Polyamorous all the way through, it would seem.

And winter is coming. The observing season is coming to an end, the days are getting colder, and it is time to return. Whether I'm ready or not, it will happen anyway. I will leave this home and return home. It is such a wonderful feeling, to be able to call any place I like home. And really feel it too. I have lived for ten weeks now in a faraway place with only belongings that would fit in a backpack. And I haven't really missed much of all the stuff I've got in Sweden, either. A few boardgames and books perhaps, but other than that I've felt content with far less than usual. It made me think of all the unnecessary crap I fill my life with, and what's really important in the end. Friends, those I have been missing above all. Then it must surely be the greatest thing in life; friendship. Also, freedom. Freedom to do and say and think and take part of whatever I like or comes my way by chance. That's what I'm after, what I feel I have to a great degree and that I will do whatever I can to preserve. That's really what I want from life. To be free to find love and make friends and learn things without things or constrained ideas weighing me down.

I'm rambling now, I know. It's the state of mind that comes along with travelling anxiety. I'm just so full of feelings I'm not sure how to express. I went to the most beautiful place yesterday. With caves and tunnels and waterfalls and pine trees and clouds and birds and steep mountainsides and riverbeds and interesting paths. I seriously got floored by it, feeling euphoric and then like coming down from an adrenaline-intense high. Moved to tears at times. I remember thinking “oh come on, how fucking beautiful can a place get?” and then getting overwhelmed with views time after splendid time. A fantastic holiday to end my trip with. And yet there is so much more I want so get to know with this island. I guess I'll just have to return one day.

Now off to pack. See you on the other side of the adventure.

I don't think home is a place anymore. I think it's a state of mind.
— Neil Gaiman (Sandman vol. 5: A Game of You)

Love and feeeelings,
Winterdragon

Monday, 21 October 2013

Mountains of Madness

To observe observing observers can be interesting. If for no other reason then for the sheer meta-ness of it. It seems to take a special kind of personality to willingly go away to a faraway island, and spend two weeks at the top of a mountain looking at the Sun every day. Everything revolves around data. Everything. Mood swings are frequent, and depend a lot on the seeing. I have never seen such happy and excited people as observers when the weather is good and all the equipment is working. On the other hand, when something is not working... Sometimes you just want to hide. And when the seeing has been bad for a long time they tend to get downright depressed. I think one of them, who were here working for almost four weeks straight, actually started to go mad by the end.

Some quotes (taken entirely out of context), to illustrate typical observer exclamations:

It's not totally useless, maybe.

God, the Sun is so fucking big!

Push it until it breaks, then you know you will have gone too far, right?

Total-totals in units of bullshit.

But I'm still sane, right? I get days off, and my future doesn't depend on getting a lot of good data in a short time. I don't feel very crazy, and I actually like living up here (I love it still, after over nine weeks). But maybe that's exactly what a crazy person would say? I am talking to ravens, after all...

Also, what is up with astronomers being such Macintosh geeks? 13 out of 15 observers have had an Apple laptop. Could someone explain this tendency, which clearly deviates from the population in general?

Love and meta-observing,
Winterdragon

Friday, 18 October 2013

Mina äventyr på La Palma

Jag lovade min kära faster att skriva något på svenska. Så varsågod faster och övriga svenskspråkiga, här kommer en sammanfattning av mina äventyr på La Palma. Alla bilder går att klicka på för att se i större format. Där inget annat anges har jag själv fotat med min inte alltför avancerade mobilkamera, därav den låga kvaliteten.

I mitten av augusti styrde jag kosan mot La Palma, så jag har alltså bott här i nio veckor nu. La Palma är den nordvästraste av Kanarieöarna, som ligger i Atlanten utanför Afrikas kust (geografilektion). Det är en ganska liten ö egentligen, med sina 700 kvadratkilometer. Nu kanske inte kvadratkilometer ger så bra storleksuppfattning för någon som inte är kartograf till yrket, så låt oss som jämförelse säga att Gotland har en yta av 3000 kvadratkilometer. Det betyder alltså att La Palma är knappt en fjärdedel så stor som Gotland.

Gotland och La Palma i samma skala.
(Bildkälla: Google Earth)
Det är inte så väldans stort för en population på uppemot 90000 personer, med svenska mått mätt. (Jämför med Gotlands drygt 20000.) Tänk nu denna lilla ö, och ställ Kebnekaise därpå. Typ. La Palma är en vulkanö som bildades för cirka tre miljoner år sedan, och kanterna på den stora vulkankratern reser sig idag 2.4 kilometer över havsytan. För cirka en halv miljon år sedan eroderade en stor bit av berget bort och trillade ner i havet, så nu är det en flera kilometer djup grop där den ursprungliga kratern var, kallad Calderan.

Det är vid den högsta bergstoppen alldeles vid randen av Calderan som Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos ligger. Där finns 13 av världens mest avancerade teleskop, varav ett är det svenska solteleskopet (SST). Det är ett 1-meters vakuum-refraktorteleskop med en fokallängd på 20 meter (vilket betyder att det har en lins med en meters diameter och att ljuset färdas ner genom ett 20 meter högt torn i en tub tömd på luft).

Svenska solteleskopet.
(Bildkälla: Wikimedia Commons)
Inte för att skryta, men tillsammans med högteknologisk utrustning såsom en segmenterad spegel som  i realtid anpassar sig efter turbulens i atmosfären så går det här att få fram de mest högupplösta bilderna på solens yta som något solteleskop har lyckats producera. Som bilden här nedan, till exempel. I synfältet skulle planeten Jorden få plats hundra gånger, ändå är det här bara cirka en procent av solens yta. 

Solfläckar fotograferade med SST.
(Bildkälla: Kungliga Vetenskapsakademin)
Ja, att detaljstudera solens yta. Det är ungefär det jag jobbar med hela dagarna här. Som assistent är mitt jobb att öppna upp teleskopet varje morgon, starta alla datorer, och se till så att allting fungerar. Sedan hjälper jag observatörerna med att kalibrera spektrometern, och hjälper till med observationerna om det skulle behövas eller om de vill ha en paus. Resultatet blir bilder i stil med den ovan (fast utan de fina färgerna). Mååånga bilder blir det, och väldigt högupplösta. Under en bra dag är det inte ovanligt att observatörerna har samlat ihop över en terabyte data att ta med sig hem och analysera. Spektrometern fungerar som så att den tar bilder i olika våglängder (det vill säga färger), och genom att snabbt växla mellan olika våglängder går det att göra tidssekvenser (det vill säga filmer) för att se hur strukturer ändrar sig. 

Det händer nämligen saker på solen hela tiden. Speciellt nu, när det är maximum i den så kallade aktivitetscykeln. Det innebär att det händer mycket med magnetfälten på solytan, vilket gör att det uppstår aktiva områden med solfläckar, spikuler och annat spännande. Solens atmosfär har olika temperatur beroende på höjd över ytan, vilket medför att materialet vid dessa höjder sänder ut ljus i olika färger. Det i sin tur betyder att genom att titta på ljus i olika färger så kan vi se olika lager i solatmosfären. Det bästa är om vi kan få bilder av så många olika lager som möjligt, så att dessa sedan kan användas för att ta reda på precis vad det är som händer vid olika fenomen, till exempel koronamassutkastningar. 

Någonting som har gjorts en hel del när jag har varit här är att titta på samma områden som satelliten IRIS. IRIS kan se färger som inte går att se från jorden eftersom de blockeras av atmosfären, så genom att kombinera dess data med den från SST går det att följa fenomen genom alla lager ända ut i solatmosfärens yttersta lager, koronan. Ett stort mysterium som många solfysiker just nu försöker lösa är till exempel varför koronan är så het. Detta yttersta lager av plasma som omger solen är över en miljon grader varmt. Det är lite konstigt, eftersom själva solytan bara är omkring sex tusen grader varm. Snart kanske vi kommer att veta precis hur det går till när koronan hettas upp, kanske med hjälp av data från SST?

Soluppgång sedd från SST.
(Bildkälla: Wikimedia Commons)
Det är långa arbetsdagar, men oftast ganska lugna (så länge inget går sönder). Varje dag går jag upp före gryningen, och ser solen gå upp över ett hav av moln från tornet medan jag öppnar teleskopet. Sedan observeras det så länge det är bra väder, i bästa fall fram till någon timme innan solnedgången. Då stänger jag teleskopet och gör vad jag vill resten av kvällen. Oftast är himlen ovanför klar och molnfri, och luften torr. Men ibland kommer det höga moln, eller så kryper de låga upp för berget ända hit, och då blir det inga observationer och jag är ledig. Sen har jag dessutom två lediga dagar per vecka oavsett väder, så jag har haft gott om fritid för att utforska ön och uppleva äventyr.

Häruppe på berget brukar jag ägna mina lediga stunder åt att läsa artiklar till mitt mastersarbete, hälsa på hos de andra teleskopen (som är skithäftiga allihop), vandra, läsa böcker, stjärnskåda, och springa. Syrehalten häruppe är 75 % av vad den är vid havsnivå, och luften är oftast väldigt torr, så den första veckan var jag lite dåsig och allmänt bedrövlig i näsa, ögon och hals. Men jag har vant mig, och efter massor av löpturer i backarna som nog har förbättrat min kondition avsevärt så tänker jag knappast på det längre.

Grannteleskopen. Från vänster: William Herschel Telescope, Dutch Open Telescope, Liverpool Telescope, Mercator, Svenska Solteleskopet, Isaac Newton Telescope och Jakobus Kapetyn Telescope.
(Bildkälla: Wikimedia Commons)
Utsikten härifrån är alldeles förstummande vacker, både uppåt och nedåt och runtomkring. Jag ser bergstoppar, vulkaner, ner i Calderan, havet, moln från alla möjliga håll, och en gnistrande stjärnhimmel om nätterna. Ön är sannerligen varierande, som en hel kontinent i miniformat, och det är ett sant nöje att utforska den på närmre håll. Mest har jag vandrat. Som längst gick jag från observatoriet, ner längs bergen, över vulkanerna, över lavafälten och slätterna, och uppför bergen till observatoriet igen. En runda på 90 kilometer på fyra dagar. Tolv timmars vandring varje dag i brant och stenig terräng. Aldrig har jag gjort någonting så fysiskt krävande innan, men gudars skymning om det inte var värt varje sekund av utmattning, svettande, blödande tår och blåsor på fötterna. Att vandra under solen och månen och stjärnorna, genom moln och dimma och mossiga skogar, med allt jag behöver med mig på ryggen och få se, höra, lukta, smaka och känna dessa vidunderligt vackra och varierande platser på nära håll gör mig helt löjligt lycklig.

Månuppgång över Calderan.
Hällristningar, vattenfall, kaktusar, svarta stränder, höga vågor, stilla hav, tallar, ödlor, fåglar. Det finns oändligt många intressanta och lyckoframkallande saker här. Varje dag går jag ut för att äta lunch utanför teleskopet, och ibland kommer två korpar flygande: Carmelo och Nevermore. De äter ur min hand och hoppar upp på min axel och i mitt knä, och ibland stjäl de halva min lunch. Lätt värt för så fina, intelligenta vänner. Andra dagar när det blåser tittar jag på när de flyger. De och de inhemska arterna av kråka och svala. De cirklar upp på varma luftströmmar, dyker ner i Calderan och svischar förbi bergsväggarna (eller mig!) med osannolikt få centimetrar tillgodo.

Korp på bergstopp.
Jag har simmat, lekt bland vågorna och snorklat. Till och med testat att dyka med tuber trots att jag aldrig trodde att jag skulle våga det. Sett sjöborrar, krabbor, plattfiskar som knappt gått att urskilja från havsbotten, och fiskar som skimrat i blått och alla regnbågens färger. Jag har testat skärmflygning och sett vulkaner och lavafält från ovan. Varje dag äter jag lokalodlade frukter och grönsaker, såsom avocado, mango, ananas, persikor, vindruvor, papaya, chirimoya, guava, guarana, sötpotatis och massor av andra läckerheter som jag inte ens visste namnet på innan. Trots att den spanska matkulturen innehåller rejält med kött och fisk är det inte ett dugg svårt att vara vegan här, speciellt inte när jag har möjlighet att laga min egen mat. Jag har lärt känna både astronomer och lokalbefolkning. Mest tyskar och norrmän dock (jag har nog lärt mig mer norska än spanska under tiden jag varit här). Och möss. När hösten kom började möss flytta in i observatoriet. De är söta, men det är inte så bra att de trampar runt i och gnager på den optiska utrustningen, så vi måste tyvärr sätta upp fällor. En gång såg vi något svart och repliknande röra sig över solens yta i en av kamerorna. Det visade sig vara svansen på en mus som börjat bygga bo där...

Pithaya, även känd som drakfrukt.
Jag har blivit solbränd och betydligt mer avslappnad än jag brukar vara. Det känns lite som att tiden står stilla här. Som att La Palma är en ö i både tid och rum. Dagarna är i stort sett likadana, och bortsett från att det har blivit marginellt kallare och mörkare sedan jag kom hit så tycks det mig ändå råda ett tillstånd av evig sommar, med tillhörande sinnesfrid. Stress existerar nästan inte här. Tillvaron är fridfull och helt och hållet anpassad efter väderförhållandena. Den dramatiska skönheten och den väldigt varierande och påtagliga naturen har fått mig att bli helt handlöst förälskad i den här platsen. Jag har nu varit hemifrån längre än jag någonsin tidigare varit i mitt liv, och det känns underbart. Hade det inte varit för att jag saknar mina vänner och min katt helt galet mycket så hade jag lätt kunnat stanna kvar här i paradiset.

Arton sekunder före soluppgången. I fjärran syns Teneriffa. 
Om en vecka åker jag hem. Till mörker, regn, kyla och stress. Men det blir nog bra, det är så mycket jag älskar med tillvaron i Sverige också. Åh, vad jag kommer sakna denna fantastiska plats. Någon gång i framtiden hoppas jag återvända hit. Det här har varit ett oerhört lärorikt, roligt och vackert äventyr som jag är tusenfalt tacksam för att få ha varit med om.

Kärlek och äventyr,
Winterdragon

Friday, 11 October 2013

A good day

And so the good mood returns, with a vengeance. Today was a splendid day. The seeing was fantastic well into the afternoon, and we observed a group of sunspot in an active region where flare after flare was going off before our eyes. The data set from today alone might provide for a year's worth of analysis and at least one paper, say the observers. Exciting!

And I wrote a whole page on my master's thesis. Ugh, it feels like writing uphill and my brain is standing still or gets distracted by just about anything, and most of the formulations that eventually do come out are utter rubbish, but at least it's a start. It tends to become easier after a while, that writing business. (speaking of which I should quit neglecting my poor book and get the bloody editing started...) But anyway! A page about dwarf spheroidal galaxies is better than no pages.

I went for a walk in the Sun, and lay down to look at the clear sky and listen to the occasional birds but mostly the silence. I made pancakes and watched another marvellous sunset. And I felt happy and thankful and not one bit stressed. Yay!

Have also been visiting the Nordic Optical Telescope one evening, which was especially exciting since the data on which I'm basing aforementioned master's thesis was taken at that very telescope. Now that I've seen the place and know what their observing is like those images of faint fuzzy blobs somehow feel more real, and if possible even more intriguing than before. It's a piece of reality seen through the inherently biased senses of some of our most high-tech understanding-the-world machines, and now it's up to me to try and make some sense of it. Science, isn't it great?

Love and sunshine,
Winterdragon

Monday, 7 October 2013

Fear

Haven't written in a while. There's something in the way, a sort of hurdle to get over. I might as well write my way through it. It's the best way I have of getting thoughts out of the way so that I can move on and find something resembling peace of mind again.

Fear. That's the thing in the way. The thing that is always there, lurking behind some dark mental corner. I'm not always as euphoric as my latest posts might indicate. Oh, I have highs, a lot of them. Splendid times when I feel like I'm on top of the world, in control of my life, and generally an amazing person not undeserving of all the awesomeness in my life. At those times I cannot believe that times will ever be bad again because oh wow life is too great to waste on feeling miserable. And although experience tells me otherwise it sometimes utterly succeeds in convincing me that there will never come a low again, that those days are past. For good.

But the darkness always, always finds a way. In a month, a week, a day or a minute it finds a crack somewhere, and before I know it that familiar feeling of angst is all over me again and it is all I can do to try keeping my composure and not fall helplessly into panic. Most of the time I succeed, but it always takes virtually all of my energy. Breathing deeply, clinging to anything that might keep me from falling into despair. And although the memory of the oh-so-recent joy stands clear before me I cannot seem to grasp it. In between there is a bottomless abyss of self-doubt, self-loathing and regret. Not to mention fear. Fear that I am not good enough, fear that I don't really deserve to live the life I do and the affection of people I love. Fear that they will at any moment realise what a horrible person I really am and stop pretending to like me. Fear that they will find out that I have these ridiculous, irrational fears inside me and lock me up somewhere where I cannot hurt anybody.

It makes no sense, I know that perfectly well. But at those times my brain cannot really seem to understand it. And although experience tells me otherwise, joy and elation seem to be far out of reach. The only comfort is the theoretical knowledge that this is not a permanent state, that times will change for the better. Light, also, seems to always find its way. The darkness doesn't happen as often as it used to, either. If I take care of my body, giving it proper food, rest and exercise, it can be kept at bay for long periods at a time. I can be happy for days, weeks, or even months at a time. But it would seem I can never outrun it entirely. Once in a while I will find it there again, sitting in its familiar place on my shoulder with its claws messing up my thoughts while greedily draining away my positive emotions.

But you know what I have realised? I can't fight it off entirely, but I can learn to live with it. Battling it on my own terms. Whether the challenge of such a day consists in talking to a stranger, meeting up with a friend, or just getting out of bed at all, any little victory feels like a triumph on par with climbing a mountain. That's largely why I like physical mountain-climbing; it reminds me of the inner mountains I sometimes have to climb to accomplish things that to others might seem trivial. I do not always succeed, mind you, far from it. I have spent day upon miserable day doing nothing but staring at the wall, or disappearing into a book, while all the time feeling a little worse about being so useless.

But I can fight, and sometimes I win. I do things that I had never imagined I would dare, whether it be going scuba diving, travelling away from home for longer than I've ever done before, talking to strangers, open-heartedly telling the truth, or just facing another day when I'd rather hide from the whole world. I actively seek out things that I fear, and go at them with sword held high. And little by little, I conquer my fears. I'm still as scared as ever, but I'm getting used to facing things and bravely standing my ground against them.

Because when you're scared, but you do it anyway, that's brave.
— Neil Gaiman (Coraline)


I have my fears
But they do not have me

Love and fear (yes, at the same bloody time),
Winterdragon

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Hiking: a quest of pain and beauty

And so I return from a quest. The quest of hiking around this island, which I had taken upon myself to endeavour. On a bright and sunny morning (as are most mornings around here, but still) I walked out through the door of the telescope building, and set forth upon the mountain path which winds its way along the crest of the caldera, precariously close to the precipice. My rucksack packed with enough food to sustain me for days in the wilderness, a tent, a sleeping bag, and other things useful for somewhat convenient survival in nature. An adventure stretching ahead of me, determination guiding my steps, and joy filling my heart. Four days later I return in triumph. On a moonlit path, with an exhausted and blistered body but with an unbroken spirit, with memories of sweetness and wonders and agony, and a desire to sleep for a week.

I walked ninety kilometres in four days. Mostly uphill and downhill through rocky terrain. I was by no means sure that I was going to make it, and many times during the hike I contemplated giving up and calling for a taxi. I had never before walked so far for so long, with almost a third of my weight on my back, in such difficult terrain, and by myself at that. But apparently my willpower is far from insignificant, and I made it through what proved to be the physically hardest thing I've ever done. Fuck modesty, I'm proud as hell of myself!

And it was so thoroughly worth it, just as I had hoped. There is that to be said about agony, that you really get to know a land if you let it torment you for a bit. Through pain, sweat, blood, tears and exhaustion I've gotten to know this island. I have seen most of it now, and not only that. I have heard it, smelled it, felt it, even tasted it. Sensed it in every way possible. Dizzying heights and petroglyphs and ravens eating nuts out of my hands on mountain tops. Silent, mossy, dewy and sweet-smelling pine forests. Clouds, poked and prodded from above, below and inside. Volcanoes, with craters and petrified lava streams and many-layered geological beauty. Picking wild cactus fruits, figs and almonds. Meeting goats, chickens, horses and stray dogs. Seeing the cities by night and the moon reflected in the sea or illuminating the sea of clouds. Trudging along up the steep mountainside, miserably wrapped in a cloud that's been raining on me for hours, and then finally seeing the clouds clear before my eyes as I break through the cloud layer. Never in my life have I been so happy to see the sun, and I cried out with joy as I saw its evening rays gilding the mountain tops so close to home.

Home. Yes, that's how I feel about this place, now and for five more weeks. I have completely and utterly fallen in love with this beautiful, dramatic and interesting island. I would like to just lie on the couch and read books for a week right now and let my poor feet heal a bit, but no matter. I managed this ordeal far better than I had expected, and I am positive I have my running to thank for that. My legs groaned and complained about the constant going up- and downhill, yes, but I could convince them to continue onwards in spite of that much better than I could a year ago. My neck and shoulders had their share of stiffness, but my back could cope with the weight of the rucksack without taking damage. My heart pounded on without cramping, and with some disciplined breathing I could push myself through things that seemed all but un-aspireable to my fatigue-dazed brain (eleven to thirteen hours of walking a day for four days takes its toll on the psyche if you're not used to it!). And even though my toes got blistered and started bleeding after a while, I think my feet and calves hurt considerably less than they would have without all that barefoot training. The best thing of all: I didn't feel the slightest hint of pain in my injured knee, despite walking so hard for so long in such difficult terrain, without the support of either staff or bandage. Seeing as my main motive for starting running was to make hiking less of an ordeal I can only say: mission incredibly successfully accomplished! Just think what another year will do.

So, after having spent three days descending 2000 metres, and then one day ascending as much, I have now spent an extremely lazy day doing not much more than surfing the internet. I am now off to sleep in an oh-so-comfortable bed and waking up to dry clothes and a warm cup of tea. These luxuries that we take for granted. It teaches you a lot about nature and yourself, hiking, not least to be thankful.

Love and adventure,
Winterdragon

Thursday, 12 September 2013

I've looked at clouds from all sides now

It's been a cloudy day today. The definition of a cloudy day around here is pretty much being inside a cloud. It certainly intensifies the feeling of isolation when you cannot even see the nearby telescopes anymore. Just damp whiteness. So yeah, we didn't even open up today, which meant I basically had the day off. Spent it mostly napping and reading, but also running (in an attempt to offset the laziness). Running inside clouds has the benefit of (extremely) humid air, which makes my sore nose happy and less clogged.

I've also been on adventures at evening- and nighttime. Went to see the Mercator telescope, and also MAGIC. Both very interesting and high-tech! And yesterday the William Herschel telescope shone their laser to calibrate their adaptive optics system. I have never seen a cooler laser! A 40 watt green beam pointing out into space, and I got to stand right under it and look up. Squee!

Have been down to Santa Cruz as well on my free days this week. Got to practise a lot of driving while getting lost in search for a particular beach on the other side of the island. It's still stressful, but I think I'm getting the hang of it. Arrived at the beach at last only to find it closed off due to risk for falling rocks. Typical. Oh well, it still was a beautiful place. And I got to see a fair number of banana plantations, I guess that counts for something.

Also seized the opportunity to go for a run in abundant oxygen-levels. Ran to the beach, took a swim, then ran back to the hotel. Turned quite a few heads and got whistled after since I was barefoot and wore nothing but swimming trunks and a sports bra, but what the hell. I was too busy enjoying the sensation of being strong enough to run that far without a problem to be bothered by the stares.

It is a lovely feeling, and it helps keeping me sane. Running endorphins are a really good way to cope with the occasional loneliness and oversocialisation around here. An effective way of finding peace.

I heard a storm is coming in tonight. That usually lulls me to sleep very effectively. And tomorrow promises clear skies. In any case I've got to get up before sunrise, so off to bed I go.

Love and clouds,
Winterdragon

Friday, 6 September 2013

SST villanelle*

We spend the days here looking at the Sun
From the tower watching the sunrise
And hoping for a good observing run

The plans for this had long ago begun
In Sweden because Stockholm thought it wise
To build this place for looking at the Sun

The telescope has lens of metre one
And artefacts in cameras from mice
All optimised for good observing run

Sometimes the hope for data is all gone
Calima or high clouds will once or twice
Destroy our chance of looking at the Sun

When polcal, darks and flats have all been done
We make a quick-look movie for our eyes
While hoping for a good observing run

Sometimes observers have a lot of fun
Recording when the seeing's looking nice
A day well spent on looking at the Sun
Then bringing home a good observing run

* This happens to be my first attempt at a villanelle, so please regard kindly the liberties I've taken with the form.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Learning to live

September is here. Today the term starts at the university back home. It feels overwhelmingly strange to not be responsible for and stressing over and being excited about a dozen things. September is usually one of the busiest months for me, what with new courses to study for, an astronomy club to organise activities for, the culture night with the planetarium and the institution to work at, new pieces to practice for the orchestra, a fantastic film festival to attend, roleplaying to take up again and new friends to meet and old ones to recap with after summer. Routines to get into again, both the good and the less constructive ones.

Now, none of that. This September I'm spending at the top of a mountain, at an island in the Atlantic ocean. It feels good. Peaceful, even. This is a calm and beautiful place, and the days are much the same. When not helping the observers I have time to read, to go for long and interesting walks, to run, and to think. I haven't felt this relaxed and generally on top of things in ages. Apart from missing my friends and my cat I absolutely love this place and my existence here. It's probably doing wonders for my mental health as well, solitude and sun and all. I hope I will bring some of the good habits I've developed here with me back home. From this place which feels like an island in both space and in time.

I'm missing out. Back home people are carrying on with their lives without me. Maybe they don't even notice that I'm gone all that much. I don't know how big a hole I've left in existence. In their worlds there is only one person missing, while inside me is this gigantic abyss filled with aching where all of them used to be. But I actually don't mind so much. I am finding myself up here, under these clear skies and amidst this timelessness. I can feel myself evolving towards something I only ever dreamt of, and I realise that I've been doing so for a long time now. And the adventure carries ever on. I'm learning to live.


I need to live life, like some people never will
So find me kindness, find me beauty, find me truth

Another chance to lift my life
Free the sensation in my heart
To ride the wings of dreams into changing horizons
It brings inner peace within my mind

The way your heart sounds makes all the difference
It's what decides if you'll endure the pain that we all feel
The way your heart beats makes all the difference in learning to live
Here before me is my soul, I'm learning to live

Love and beauty and truth,
Winterdragon

Friday, 30 August 2013

Volcanoes, aborigines and Solar worship

Adventures were had. On my free day this week I made some excursions, and learned a few things about La Palma. For example: 
  • Like the other Canary islands, La Palma formed after volcanic eruptions in the Atlantic ocean some millions of years ago. They formed from East to West starting about 20 million years ago, so La Palma is the youngest, being around 2 million years old.
  • The southern tip of La Palma is the newest, and consists of a landscape of dormant volcanoes (taking dormant to mean there not currently being a risk of eruption but not unlikely to erupt in the future). The last eruption was during the 1970's, creating land which had simply not been there before. (The thought of setting foot on land which is younger than living humans is just staggering to me.)
  • The volcano San Antonio last erupted during the 1600's. Now there is a pine forest growing in its crater. (Trees! I just cannot get over how awesome they are.)
  • I now know what a wet volcano smells like. It smells extremely interesting.
  • The first inhabitants of La Palma were the Awara people, who came from the North African coast 2500 years ago. They herded goats, planted some crops, harvested fruits, did a bit of fishing, carved patterns into rock and sculpted pottery for a living. They lived in caves during the winter, and in the summer they lived in shelters up on the mountain while letting their goats graze up there and making cheese. 
  • The Awara appears to have had religious practices centred on the Sun. They worshipped Abora, the sun, and also the moon. They feared Iruene, the representation of darkness and evil in the shape of a ferocious dog.
  • The second wave of new inhabitants came from Africa at around 1000 years ago, as some cultural changes in pottery and so on indicate, say archeologists.
  • The third wave of settlers were the Spanish assholes conquistadors in the 1400's, after which the aboriginal people and their culture met a swift decline.
So, yeah, this island has its history alright. Now I shall proceed in the ancient tradition of worshipping the Sun in the only way I know: to study it. I think that is the most profound expression for holding something sacred: to try to understand it. Isn't that what all the ancient myths are about, really? An attempt to make sense of the world and find out what you can do to optimise your chances of surviving in it. We change our stories based on the best of our observations, but the fundamental reason why we tell them remains the same. The same reason why we have evolved into the knowledge-thirsting human beings we are today. Curiosity; the desire to understand.

Love and Sun,
Winterdragon

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Location, location, location!

There seems to be some confusion about exactly where in the world I'm actually staying at the moment, so let's clear things up a bit. There is a place called Palma de Mallorca, which is a town on the island Mallorca. It lies in the Mediterranean ocean outside the Spanish coast like so:

Palma de Mallorca. This is not where I am.
This is not where I am at the moment. I am on the Canary Islands, which also belong to Spain but which are located outside the coast of Africa, like so:

The Canary Islands. This is where I am.
Let's take a closer look on these islands. There are seven of them, pictured below. On Gran Canaria, the biggest town is called Las Palmas. This is not where I am. I am at the island La Palma, the North-Westernmost of the Canaries. 

The Canary Islands, with La Palma circled in red. This is where I am!
The main city of the island is called Santa Cruz de la Palma. I usually go down there on my free days to spend the night at a hotel at sea level, but it's not exactly where I live. About an hour and a half's drive up the steep mountainside you find the Observatory at the Roque de los Muchachos. There, at the Swedish Solar Telescope, is where I live!

The island La Palma, with Roque de los Muchachos. X marks the spot!
So now you know where to find me, should you feel the urge to stop by for a cup of tea. It's a rather pretty island seen from above, isn't it? Its rather damn pretty up close as well I can tell you, not to mention dramatic and diverse. A perfect place for adventures. Tomorrow I'll tell you about what I learned during some of my recent ones.

Love and islands,
Winterdragon

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Quoth the raven: I can has ur sammich plz?

You'll never believe what happened to me today! As I was sitting outside, eating my lunch, a raven landed on the telescope building. I recognised him (by the ring around his leg) as one of the two tame ravens around here, Carmelo. I tossed him a piece of my sandwich, and he flew down from the roof and eagerly gulped it down. Then he hopped closer and, stopping only half a metre before me, looked up at me expectantly. So I proceeded to put pieces of my sandwich in my hand, which he carefully picked up and ate. Then he started walking around behind me, and just as I turned around to look what in the world he was doing — he jumped up and perched himself upon my shoulder! Amazed I turned to look at him, feeling the light touch of his claws through my t-shirt. I was just about to tear off another part of my sandwich to give to him when he resolutely grabbed hold of what was left of it in his beak — glanced at me in what seemed like a triumphant manner — and flew away beyond the telescopes to enjoy his lunch, peanut butter and jam and all. Astonished and immensely happy, I couldn't help laughing for a good while. Totally worth the rest of my lunch!

That is however not the only animal-related adventure I've had while living up here. A couple of days ago, as I was brushing my hair in the bathroom, a mouse dropped down at me from an air duct in the ceiling! I'm not usually scared of mice, but when they fall from above I can't help getting a bit startled. I spent about twenty minutes trying to catch the mouse and escort it out of the building (since it's part of my job to rid the place of mice I happen upon in any way I see fit). It was hard though, and eventually it got away, probably into a crack in the wall or something. Not only was it difficult due to its quickness, but also because I was terrified of accidentally hurting it. It was heartbreakingly adorable, looking up at me with tiny dark eyes and with brown fur and small, nimble feet. Although I don't want it chewing on any of the hundreds of electrical cords around here, in a way it feels good to have it for company.

In other news, I've also spotted a rabbit, some lizards, crickets (or possibly catydids or grasshoppers, I can never tell the difference) and a bat. So apparently there are more creatures than astronomers live in this biosphere!

In yet other news: the weather finally cleared up, resulting in excellent seeing. Yay! So now I've been observing for two days along with Norwegian astronomers. It's fun and interesting, and I believe we have actually gotten some good data.

...

And just right now the mouse trap in the corner snapped shut. My gods, I feel terrible for that poor, poor mouse. Augh, whyyyy do they have to be killed? Going to bed now, will try not to freak out after just having seen a lovely little creature die...

Love and animals,
Winterdragon

Friday, 23 August 2013

Vacation and weather

I've been here for a week now. It's my turn to fully take over as assistant, after having had Karl show me the ropes. Everything is getting less and less confusing, and even though I think I will never understand all the technical details I think I can handle it. Hopefully without panicking as soon as a computer screen or something freezes.

It's been an interesting, tiring and fun week. We had two days off, and Karl introduced me to some nice astronomers and showed me around the island. We went hiking into the Caldera, which was beautiful and lots of fun. Hiking around at interesting and beautiful places is one of my very favourite pastimes, so I think I will have lots of fun here at La Palma. The scenery was somewhat surreal to me. Imagine a pineforest (albeit with a strange species of pine) with ferns, sure, that's normal. Add in some cacti, lots of little lizards scurrying around everywhere, dizzyingly steep mountainsides, volcanic rocks and dried-out waterbeds and the landscape turns way more exotic. And so interesting! If I had known some Spanish I might have learned the name of some plants and animals. (But I would probably just have forgotten it the day after anyway, biology and its remembering of names have never been my forte.)

The day after we headed into a subtropical forest. It had a waterfall and nice views! And it was wet and the air was fresh and all was quiet. Only the occasional calling of a bird or the scurrying of lizards in the undergrowth. We went to the beach, and I got to try out snorkeling for the first time in my life. Difficult and scary, but also fascinating. The sea is intimidating for sure, but looking at fishes can be kind of fun. Perhaps I will try to do it again. I'm constantly battling my fear of heights, so why not my fear of the sea as well while I'm at it?

I also got to drive quite a bit. Not on the very scariest roads, but up and down the mountain and through uncountable curves. That's also scary and difficult, but I suppose I'll get used to it. There are some other things on the list of things to get used to when living at this mountain-top. The thin air. I suppose I'll stop feeling drowsy before long. The dry air. It's messing up my eyes and my nose, and together with the sands from the desert wind it's giving me frequent nosebleeds. It's called the Calima, the warm wind from Sahara, and it's messing up the seeing as well. The weather has actually been rather lousy ever since I got here. It even rained a couple of days ago, which means not even a chance of observations. I hope I didn't bring it.

I'm not complaining, mind you. When all comes around I really love this place. The temperature is nice, unlike the stifling heat at sea-level it rarely reaches above twenty degrees here, and even cooler at nighttime. The physical circumstances I'm sure I will adapt to, and hopefully the mental aspect of living pretty much alone up here and looking at the Sun through an advanced-beyond-belief telescope all day will not drive me crazy either. But if so I'm sure it at least will result in interesting blog posts. The one who lives will see, as we say in Sweden.

Love and Calima,
Winterdragon

Sunday, 18 August 2013

This windy, starry mountain

It's a bit windy today. And when I say "a bit" I mean "hell of". About 20 metres per second up here on the mountain-top. Enough to make opening the door difficult, and almost enough to knock you off your feet if you're not careful when heading out. It was a bit scary to climb the telescope tower and remove the cover this morning, to say the least. Unfortunately, the seeing has been so crappy since I got here that we've been unable to do any observations at all. (Seeing is an astronomical term referring to the effects of air turbulence. If there is too much of it the image gets blurry.)

Apart from a disappointing lack of observations, it's been an interesting couple of days here at the mountain-top. Yesterday I headed out for a couple of walks to take in the scenery. It's stunningly, indescribably, beautiful. A few hundred meters away lies the highest point of La Palma, 2426 metres above sea level. Looking around one sees a bunch of obervatories, one of which is the Swedish Solar Telescope where I work. Looking down one sees a big crater called the Caldera. The way I've heard it told, the Canary islands (including La Palma) formed via volcanic eruptions some two million years ago (so they are coincidentally about as old as the human race). The Caldera is located where a volcanic crater originally was, but since then the mountain has eroded away to make it as deep as it is today (it's almost two kilometres deep!). I heard that they have actually found the mountain-piece lying around at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean.

The island of La Palma, with the Caldera in the centre. 
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore you can also see the sea, and a layer of clouds far below. Not much grows up here but evergreen bushes and some special flowers. Birds seem to love the place, especially grachas, a species of crow which are only found at the Canary islands, and also very large ravens. Yesterday I met one of the ravens, apparently locally known as Nevermore.

I also got to visit the Isaac Newton Telescope. It was fun and interesting to see how night-time observers work. Especially much so since the data I used for analyse in my bachelor's thesis was acquired at that very telescope.

And the sky! So many interesting new stars and constellations that I've never before seen in real life. Scorpio! Sagittarius! Venus as bright as I have ever seen it! Things high in the sky which at best are barely visible above the horizon in Sweden. Full moon is approaching, so the Milky Way couldn't be seen, and some of the obscurer constellations were hidden from view as well due to its light pollution. But I can wait! In two weeks or so the sky should be as dark as anything I've ever experienced. There is a reason why there are so many telescopes up here, after all.

Love and beauty,
Winterdragon

Friday, 16 August 2013

First impressions of La Palma

And so the adventure begins. Holy shit people, I am currently located at a volcanic island, at the top of a 2.4 km mountain, the farthest south I've ever been, in a telescope building. Holy shit! How did this happen?

I've begun my ten-week assistantship at the Swedish Solar Telescope at La Palma is how. I travelled for most of yesterday, and today I've been going up and down and up again to this mountaintop, seen the telescope and a lot of the island and my head is kind of spinning from all the new impressions.

It's hot. It's humid at sea-level but dry up here. There are a lot of observatories up here, and I hope I will get to visit them all before I leave.

That's all I have to give of my current situation at the moment I'm afraid. I kind of feel like crap after an exhausting trip, so now I'm going to bed. Will return when feeling more coherent.

Love and low oxygen-levels,
Winterdragon

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

I've got so much to say and life is so fantastic

And so once again I end up in a state where I've got so overwhelmingly much to say that nothing at all comes out. I just don't know where to begin. So many wonderful, strange, chaotic, confusing, interesting, painful and joyous things have happened to and around me the past month that everything is just a blur of thoughts and emotions. Some things might have gone according to plan, but for the most part I didn't really have a plan to begin with. How do you plan for life? More and more it seems to me that the best and most interesting things are the ones that just happen by some strange coincidence or impulse.

Like when I went to Belgium on tour with the orchestra, in the beginning of June. (Fear not, I shall spare you an all-too-lengthy travel blog this time.) We played a concert in Gent and went touristing in Brussels. I went sightseeing and had fun along with some nice orchestra-people, yet I think my favourite part of the journey was actually the very last day, which I spent mostly on my own. I got up early, several hours before check-out and before any of my roommates were awake, pulled on my sneakers and headphones, and went out for a run in the chilly morning air. I ran along the canale, crossing streets and bridges, over jetties and through parks. I skipped over water-puddles, ran past people who stared at me with a smile on my face, stopped to play around in playgrounds, laughed at some nice street-art, and enjoyed myself immensely. I think I have found a new favourite way of discovering a city.

Then at lunch-time me and some friends from the orchestra were sitting out in the sunlight at a café, enjoying breakfast or juice or coffee, respectively. The café was located at one of the most crowded street-crossings in Brussels. All of a sudden, a bunch of people ran out into the street, in front of the cars, spread out blankets, and sat down to have picnic. By and by more people showed up and joined in. A band took out their instruments and started playing. Someone brought a table for table-tennis, and soon people were playing. Rolls of fake grass were rolled out, people mounted up parasols and lay down to read books. Crayons were brought forth, and children and grown-ups started drawing on the street. There was a rainbow flag and lots of peace and love. Nobody was angry or shouting, strangers were hugging each other. The police got there and re-directed the traffic so that the manifestation could continue. I finished writing my postcards and couldn't help but joining in. I spent my last few hours of the trip drawing on the streets of Brussels, talking and laughing with and getting hugged and kissed by strangers. Making art. Pretty much having the time of my life.

I wrote

Stop pretending art is hard

and

You are what you grow into

and I drew a bunch of flowers and hearts and abstract colourful patterns. (If you pick up the song references just like that I love you so much.) After a while I learned that the manifestation was a recurring one with the aim of making the public spaces of Brussels more bicycle-friendly. I can totally get behind that. I happen to live in the most bicycle-friendly town of Sweden, and still this place could get better. If all cities became half as good, though, the world would for certain be a better place.

The evening of the bus-ride home was spent in interesting conversation, and so the very good day ended on a happy note. I fell asleep with my body uncomfortably oriented in a bus seat, but with my mind at ease, my inner idealist content. I got home, and hade more adventures. Magical ones, really. But I think that is a story for another time. I shall go to bed now, while this state of low-key euphoria still lasts. I don't know when I'll write again, but when I do there will surely be a story to tell.

Love and a wonderful life,
Winterdragon

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Androgynity, how it itches

Still insanely busy, but just have to share these anecdotes. So, apparently some people have problems with my somewhat androgynous appearance.

This weekend I was walking down the streets of Brussels, when two dude-bros started talking loudly as I walked past.
Dude-bro 1: “Is that a guy with long hair, or just a really ugly girl?”
Dude-bro 2 (shouts at me): “Hey! What are you?”
You wouldn't believe how often I ask myself that very question, I might have said. But as always I was at a loss for words, so I chose to just ignore them and walk on, with that familiar feeling of exasperation mixed with a sort of smug satisfaction.

Then today I went into a store selling clothes and random stuff (Åhlens, I think it was) and asked the girl at the register if they sold ties. I got the answer that no, they didn't sell men's clothes, but could she perhaps interest me in their amazing mascara at a discount?

Arghl. This gender-binary thing is a very, very annoying thing, especially in its omniscience. I just want to be me, gods damn it! I don't need prescribed roles and expectations based on what sex my body happened to be born with. I can (and would very much like to) think for myself, thank you very much.

Okay, enough with the whining, back to preparing LARP stuff.
Winterdragon

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Update of unupdatedness

AAAAAA GENERAL RELATIVITY MADNESS AAAAARGH

In case you wondered about my absence in the blogosphere recently (like, the last couple of months or so). Will return when this insanity is at an end.

Expect me when you see me,
Winterdragon

Monday, 22 April 2013

Curiosity


We pretend it's personality
But it's really sexuality
We put faith in love and honesty
But the stuff that makes our history
And sets us free is
CURIOSITY

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Frihet, rollspel och queerfeminism

Hemkommen från GothCon sedan nästan en vecka tillbaka, och känslan av nördigt awesomeness som spelkonvent brukar föra med sig sitter fortfarande i. Den här gången har jag dock fått mer att tänka på än spel och underbara människor. Diskussioner på temat feminism i spelnördsammanhang har florerat bland mina vänner, bekanta, och folk i allmänhet alltsedan konventets slut, med anledning av ett arrangemang med syfte att lyfta fram frågan om kvinnor inom spelhobbyn och att diskutera feminism ägt rum på konventet. Drama uppstod. Och diskussioner följde, som i alla fall inte bestod enbart av hat som slängdes fram och tillbaka över en vägg av missförstånd. Hurra, framsteg!

Jag tänkte ta tillfället i akt och skriva av mig lite på ämnet. Feminism och könsmaktstrukturer är ändå ämnen som upptar en inte obetydlig del av min tankeverksamhet, sedan råkar jag dessutom vara i en mycket relevant position för att relatera till frågan. Vi kan börja med det. Jag har en kvinnokropp och blir oftast uppfattad som kvinna. Vafan, vad är det för sätt att formulera sig på? Varför kan jag inte bara skriva att jag är kvinna, och gå vidare till någon viktigare fråga? Det tar emot. Jag hoppas att jag kommer lyckas förklara varför under inläggets gång, so bear with me.

Spelkonvent är inte det enda sammanhang jag brukar befinna mig i där kvinnor är i minoritet. Jag pluggar fysik, vilket är ett tämligen mansdominerat forskningsområde. Jag sysslar med kampsport, också där är kvinnor ganska sällsynta i dagsläget. Det är så naturligt för mig att vara omgiven av mestadels män vid det här laget att jag borde ha vant mig vid det. Det kanske jag har, men jag har inte slutat reflektera över det. Men nog med bakgrundsfakta. Till den så kallade pudelns kärna.

Alla som jag någonsin har spelat rollspel med, framför allt i egenskap av spelledare, har förmodligen lagt märke till att så fort det blir dags att definiera karaktärers kön så skall jag nödvändigtvis börja bråka.  Det är inte så att jag har någonting emot att spela kvinnliga karaktärer, eller manliga för den delen. Men eftersom det i de allra flesta fallen inte slutar där, utan alltid för med sig någon form av förväntningar, så känner jag mig nödgad att ta upp det för diskussion. Det är väldigt få rollspelsvärldar där karaktärernas kön inte spelar någon som helst roll (och om inte annat så har det en tendens att bli så eftersom spelarna själva lever i en patriarkal värld), och alltså kommer karaktärens kön i högsta grad påverka dess förutsättningar inom världen den gestaltas i. Då blir det lite problematiskt när spelledare vill begränsa spelares val av kön på sina karaktärer med argument i stil med "det blir så förvirrande om inte alla spelar sitt eget kön". Bam. Helt plötsligt har det dykt upp en stor begränsning i vad du kan spela, på grund av en fysisk förutsättning som du inte kan göra så mycket åt.

Skitsnack, säger jag! Hallå, det är rollspel vi pratar om. Om vi kan låtsas att vi är cyborg-alv-pirater från yttre rymden, hur mycket svårare är det att låtsas att vi har ett annat kön än vårt biologiska? Sätter vi inte högre tilltro till vår fantasi än så? Det skulle gå att hävda att det ändå inte spelar någon roll vad karaktären har för kön. I wish. Någon gång i mitt liv skulle jag vilja spela i en värld där det faktiskt är sant på riktigt, och där spelarna också lyckas gestalta det på ett framgångsrikt sätt. Min dröm är att spela ett helt rollspel utan att behöva definiera kön på karaktären över huvud taget. Det skall liksom inte vara mer vidkommande än vilken blodgrupp rollpersonen råkar ha. Men det lär inte hända, har jag insett. Kön är alldeles för viktigt för att bortses från.

Det är applicerbart i den verkliga världen också. Det fanns en tid då jag var övertygad om att problem som sexism och misogyna maktstrukturer skulle försvinna om vi bara bortsåg från vad folk hade för kön och slutade bråka om saken. Det tycks dock inte vara så enkelt. Det verkar vara så att vi måste erkänna problem och skillnader, och definiera dem så tydligt som möjligt, för att sedan kunna ifrågasätta dem och i förlängningen i bästa fall göra något åt dem.

Culture is about unspoken rules. Once we articulate those rules we can begin to reform them to meet new expectations and new needs.
— Londa Schiebinger (Has Feminism Changed Science?)

Jag tycker att det är viktigt att prata om och problematisera saken, och rollspel är ett så utmärkt sammanhang att göra det ifrån att jag bara inte kan låta bli. Där har vi ju möjligheten att simulera; testa vad som skulle hända och vilka reaktioner det skulle framkalla om vi låter våra karaktärer göra könsrollsmässigt absurda saker. Och om det inte är vad vi är ute efter så är det lungt det också, jag är okej med att inte precis allt jag gör behöver vara en radikalfeministisk yttring, men i så fall vill jag ändå att det skall vara ett medvetet beslut att spela så. Vi kan komma överens om att spela i en precis lika ojämställd värld som den vi lever i, men jag föredrar ändå att lägga fram möjligheten att göra det annorlunda, när vi ändå har chansen att skapa en värld som ser ut precis som vi själva vill att den skall göra. Det kanske har en del att göra med rabiat feministpropaganda, men ännu mer har det att göra med min strävan efter frihet.

Freedom is what I'm after.
— Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd

I rollspel, liksom i verkliga livet, vill jag vara fri att agera och prata utan att alltför snäva fördomar och förväntningar hindrar mig från att göra det. Men framför allt vill jag vara fri att tänka som jag vill. Rent teoretiskt är jag självklart det, men i praktiken finns det massor av små och stora irriterande hinder i vägen för såväl tanke som ord och handling. Fullkomligt irrationella hinder som enbart utgår från vilket kön min kropp råkade födas med. En hel jävla livslång hjärntvätt som för mig ännu längre bort från mitt ouppnåeliga objektiva ideal.

Det är alltså inte själva identifieringen med det ena eller det andra könet jag har problem med, utan det är alla oskrivna regler som följer med det som får mig att vilja förbli androgyn så långt det bara går. Människor är sociala varelser, så omgivningens attityd kommer att påverka individens tankar och val i någon riktning, oftast omedvetet. Det är det här som kallas strukturer. Oftast osynliga, fundamentala och svåra att sätta fingret på. Vad jag vill uppnå genom att diskutera dem är att medvetandegöra dem till så hög grad det är möjligt, så att jag sedan med flit kan ge blanka fan i dem.

Look, that's why there's rules, understand? So that you think before you break 'em.
— Terry Pratchett (Thief of Time)

På min ondskefulla agenda står också att försöka få så många andra medvetna om strukturerna-som-i-hemlighet-styr-våra-liv som möjligt. Mest för att det vore intressant att se vad som skulle hända. Om tillräckligt många börjar tänka och ifrågasätta (om så bara de värdsligaste småsaker) så kommer någonting att förändras förr eller senare. Det är emergenta effekter som jag inte tänker låtsas att jag kan förutse, men jag kan ju alltid hoppas på spektakulära resultat. Eller så lever jag i en uppåt väggarna naiv verklighetsförnekelse. Tillvaron är satt i sten och jag har inte skuggan av en chans att påverka någonting över huvud taget.

Fullt möjligt, rentav troligt. Tur att jag har en reservplan. Om jag inte kan påverka världen får jag anpassa mig till den bäst jag kan. Att improvisera mig fram och bråka om petitesser kommer kanske inte göra någon som helst skillnad för världens allmänna tillstånd i det långa loppet, men det kan göra livet intressantare och ge mig bättre förutsättningar rent personligen. Egoism må inte anses vara ett ädelt syfte, men det skiter jag i. Jag är trött på att be om ursäkt och foga mig för att försöka passa in i en värld som ställer krav som bara får mig att må dåligt. Och det verkar faktiskt fungera till någon grad.

If you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don't apply to you.
— Terry Pratchett (Equal Rites)

Folk vänjer sig liksom vid konstiga tankar, ord och handlingar. Ja, rentav personer. Och om tillräckligt många vill och vågar vara konstiga så kommer det till slut att sluta betraktas som konstigt. För att återknyta till inledningen av detta monstruösa blogginlägg så är det nog vad jag gillar allra mest med spelkonvent, och nördkulturen i största allmänhet. Det är, enligt min erfarenhet, inte bara accepterat utan rentav uppmuntrat att vara konstig, så egentligen borde det vara den ultimata miljön att ifrågasätta normer inifrån. Det kan med fördel göras både utanför och inifrån rollspel. 

Ett exempel hämtar jag glatt från en av mina favorit-webbserier: Order of the Stick, som handlar om just ett gäng rollspelskaraktärer (spoiler alert för resten av stycket!). Där har vi alven Vaarsuvius (V), vars kön aldrig klargörs inför de andra karaktärerna (eller inför läsarna heller, för den delen). Till en början tycker de andra karaktärerna att det är väldigt märkligt; de vill till varje pris ta reda på vilket kön V har, och de är osäkra på hur de skall spela på V's androgynitet. V föredrar dock att behålla sin könstillhörighet som en privatsak, och bryr sig inte så mycket om de andras spekulerande. Det blir en del nedvärderande skämt och gliringar på temat från vissa av de andra karaktärerna, men efter ett tag vänjer de sig vid att hen är som hen är oberoende av vilket kön V nu än skulle råka ha, och så kan fokus återgå till att rollspela om viktigare saker. Success!

Dags att avsluta detta monument till bloggpost, tror jag. Jag tänkte skriva lite allmänt om feminism och rollspel, och så urartade det i en lång rant där jag inte bara kom ut som queer (för det hade ju ingen någonsin kunnat ana! *sarkasm*), radikalfeminist, och orerade om hela min jävla livsfilosofi. Gudars, kanske borde jag bara radera allt det här och gå och lägga mig istället innan det ställer till med trubbel. Men det är ju å andra sidan precis vad jag vill uppnå. Så nu postar jag det här skrället och hoppas att jag inte blir nerslagen på gatan i morgon. Jävlar vad modig jag har blivit på sista tiden, alltså.

Kärlek och frihet,
Winterdragon