Sunday, 14 December 2014

A new home

So. I have a home. It's one of those excellent luxuries too often taken for granted. After five months of homelessness I finally have one, and I thoroughly enjoy it. That, and the peace of mind that comes with not having to stress about where to spend the night every single day. Not having to constantly feel like an intruder. Even though I know that I'm welcome to the homes of the friends who have invited me I have this little anxiety-demon on my shoulder that whispers things like “Are you sure you're not being too much of a burden?”. I've had to battle thoughts and feelings of that nature, among others, pretty intensely this autumn. All in all I haven't held together quite as well as I hoped I would, and the people closest to me have had to endure sides of me that I hate and am ashamed of, and that I otherwise mostly manage to conceal.

It hasn't all been bad, though. I've learned a lot about myself under pressure, and I've come closer to people who I might have kept at a distance otherwise. But it is nice to have a sanctuary of my own again. I do love travelling, but after having had indefinite homelessness more or less forced upon me I have to conclude that the nervousness of being completely uprooted prevails over the feeling of freedom in my psyche. In a way you're actually less free without a home, because it makes you dependent upon others in a very palpable way. We all need others alright, but a little bit of independence can be a sweet, sweet thing.

I also love having the ability to offer hospitality again. To have the means to give back to those who have supported me in my time of need, and to give forth to those who have yet to pay it forward. And I really do have a nice place here. It has walls, a ceiling, even a floor! Along with a small kitchen and bathroom that's really all I could ask for, but together with all the worldly possessions of mine that survived one year of mouse-infested storage space, and my sorely-missed cat, it is a twenty-six square metre paradise. A temporary one, yes, but then again so is life itself. I have what I need for now, and that is enough.

Normality is still settling into my mind, and I find great joy in ordinary things such as collecting my mail or taking a book out from a bookshelf. Drowning out the now unfamiliar silence with music or stories. Solitude is a luxury which I'm learning how to savour again. But I'm hardly isolating myself completely. I haven't even lived here for a month, and I've already thrown several parties and had lots of friends over for movies or board games or cuddling. And gone to a gaming convention, and to the midnight premiere of the third Hobbit movie. Admittedly I didn't think it was all that great when it comes to doing the book justice, but I reserve the right to be excited about it anyway. Because that world means a lot to me.

That's all for now. Now I'm off to try and fix my sleep-schedule into something resembling sanity (for the millionth time, or so). I'll see you when I see you.

Me in my new home, with a couple of Middle-Earth maps.
Photo by this lovely person.

Love and home,
Winterdragon

Friday, 14 November 2014

Livsgäld: The best LARP I ever went to

My goodness, things have been insanely busy of late. But I guess that's par for the course when it comes to my life. One of the things I've been stressing about is preparations for a LARP which took place last weekend. This sewing clothes-activity isn't something I much enjoy or have any skills whatsoever in. But it had to be done, and I had so been looking forward to this particular LARP that I endeavoured to fight down all the anxiety that the preparations generated.

I have been writing about my issues with gender and sexism in roleplaying before (in Swedish). Basically the thing is that I'm so utterly fed up with sexism and gender segregation in real life that I think it would be nice to explore worlds where things are different. Why not try, while we're at it using our imaginations? I mean, if we can pretend to be cyborg-elf-pirates from outer space, then how much harder can it be to imagine being of a different gender than the one you were born with (or are perceived as belonging to by others based on your physical sex)? Or a world where no sexism, gender-segregation, or even the concept of gender exists?

It has long been a dream of mine to get to play through an entire LARP without having to define the sex of my character. To get to simulate a world where physical sex is about as relevant as the blood-type of the character (i.e. irrelevant in all situations but very specific medical ones). Where your identity and how you're treated and seen by others is entirely unaffected by it. 

Oh, I've been to several games where the organisers have claimed the setting to be equal and free from sexism when I've raised the issue beforehand. But once the game has begun I have never before actually experienced that to be the case. I believe it is because it hasn't been actively problematised (or sometimes even mentioned) by neither the GM's nor the players. Then it's perfectly understandable that the players fall into the patterns of the real world. Most people don't even think about it in terms of sexism or segregation, because we're so used to that this is the way the world is supposed to be. But we do not live in an equal society, so it would take conscious effort to simulate equality.

This LARP that I went to last weekend made a huge effort to do just that. It's called Livsgäld (translates loosely to life-debt. if you're in close enough proximity of Sweden you should check it out, it will quite possibly be run again!). The society that the LARP focuses on is a small village of altogether around forty people. In this culture your social role isn't based upon your physical sex at all. Instead there is another arbitrary attribute which dictates how you're expected to be and behave, namely at what time of day you were born. Depending on your hour of birth you are then for the rest of your life considered to belong to one of four elements: water, earth, air and fire.

The ones born during the evening are waterborn. They are considered to be soft, emotional, collective-minded and practical. They always have the well of the people in mind and tend to focus on the present. Therefore they take on roles as psychologists and mediators. They have the attributes that the people have had most use of in their time of need, and therefore they have the highest status and are considered to be natural leaders.

The ones born during the day are earthborn. They are considered to be hard, intellectual, collective-minded and practical. Crafting and farming are considered to be natural talents of theirs, and they are therefore appointed roles as decision-makers concerning practical matters in the village. Because of this useful practicality and pragmatism they are held in almost as high esteem as the waterborn.

The ones born during the night are airborn. They are considered to be soft, intellectual, individualistic and theoretical. Their diplomatic ways, sense of order and logical thinking make them suitable priests, writers, cleaners and thinkers. They are held in reasonably high esteem within the village, but not as high as the water- and earthborn because of their potentially dangerous individual streak.

Finally, the ones born during the morning are fireborn. They are considered to be hard, emotional, individualistic and theoretical. Their intense, passionate and sometimes egotistical ways make them suitable for tasks such as hunting and manual labour which requires strength but not patience and precision. They harbour all the traits which are considered dangerous by a people whose survival has depended on carefulness and discretion, and are therefore ranking lowest in status and are often looked down upon.

Of course not everyone fits perfectly into these expectations, just like not everyone conforms in every way to the gender roles of our society. But they're still seen as fundamentally defining; physical realities that inescapably will influence you. And because everyone believes in the self-evidence of these stereotypes, they also become real.

I played an old fireborn person. A rather grumpy character with a sarcastic sense of humour. Generally unpopular and looked down upon by the other elders, but well-liked among the other fireborn. Rather proud and emotionally high-strung, self-centered but protective of the young. At first I was intimidated by playing a character so different from myself, but as it turned out it was closer to home than I could possibly have imagined.

The clothes of Naorch, my character.

It was a mighty experience, and I learned a lot from it, too. To belong to the element at the bottom of the hierarchy and experience that oppression in ways both similar to and different from the ones I'm used to as a perceived woman. To be reprimanded and guilt-tripped for taking up too much space or belittled for showing my emotions too strongly. The fear of being considered a bad role-model for the younger fireborns, and at the same time the fear of not being welcomed as one of them if I suppressed my fiery personality traits too much. 

As a rather young person I though I wouldn't be able to relate to this last thing, but it went straight to my heart in terms of familiarity. That's exactly what it's like to be perceived as a woman. It is often the case that to be accepted as belonging to a female-dominated group you have to be able to show that you can behave like a female; bringing forth those traits that are otherwise looked down upon or seen as destructive by the patriarchal society in general. And then when you find yourself in a male-dominated group you're expected to behave as manly as possible in order to gain any respect at all. And not only for yourself! If you're the only perceived female in a group of men you suddenly become a representative for your entire gender. Then you must do your best to suppress all those womanly traits or risk having the respect for all women ever lost on your account.

It is a heavy burden to bear! That became very clear for me during the LARP, where having my character constantly trying to balance these two ways of being in order to overall lose as little respect as possible induced quite a palpable anxiety. It wasn't until after the LARP during the debrief that I realised that this was what was actually going on, and that I am very often facing the same situations with the same kind of pressures in real life. No wonder identity crises are induced by constantly having to play this double-charade. No wonder I can hardly ever relax and just be myself when what I am is so heavily influenced by social pressures from all kinds of directions that I'm not sure what's really left underneath all the expectations.

Livsgäld was an emotional experience for me, to say the least. Apart from the angst generated by the above mentioned status- and elemental role-based play there were also things going on that provoked many thoughts and feelings within my character and ultimately also me. There were moments of friendship and love, of worry for the future of the village, of desperation and fear in the face of the prospect of death, of stories and rituals, of humour and mischief, of failure and shame, and also pride and success.

I cried and I laughed, and I thought. Most of the time I didn't even have to remind myself to stay in character. I really became Naorch, and it was also mightily interesting to see how people around me was seeing and treating me accordingly. So be it that I only saw the game from my character's point of view, but I'd hazard to say that we actually managed to realistically simulate a different society there for a weekend. The GM's had us do a lot of preparatory things to get into the swing of things. We spent an entire day just workshopping behaviours and theoreticising about the elemental roles and the general structure of the society, and the elements also had clothes of very distinct colour and shape in order to aid the mind in categorising according to an unfamiliar system. We even endeavoured to use gender-neutral language to as high a degree as we could muster (e.g. using they instead of he or she, or referring to the elements instead).

I was cautiously hopeful of how well we would manage in the end. Based on previous experiences I tried keeping my expectations down somewhat, but I couldn't help thinking that with all this effort put in by both the GM's and the players, it just might work this time. And in the end it actually astonished me how well it worked. Sure, it happened that people slipped up and said he or she when referring to others, but there was never made a big deal about it. And overall the elemental roles became so profound in our minds that the genders of the players or the characters didn't seem to matter up to the point that I stopped reflecting on it. I still don't know what the physical sex of my character is, and it feels like it actually doesn't matter in any way whatsoever. That's enough for me to be happy and to have had a LARPing dream come true.

But this game gave me so much more than that. It was mightily interesting to see how easily we could change our way of thinking. Not just individually, but on a collective, societal level (albeit a tiny society). The elemental roles really became fundamental and self-evident, up to the point that I found myself thinking in terms of them for days after the LARP had ended. That's a pretty staggering realisation, that my thoughts did this automatically even though I knew it was a make-believe construction. No wonder we're so firmly rooted in the gender roles of our society! We can't help believing in them even after we become aware that they are mostly just a social construction. This game gave me the insight that we might need to substitute something else for those roles. That if we are to succeed in creating an equal society we need to actively imagine that things can be different, and consciously focus on equality as a concept rather than just try to avoid the differences and injustices in the hope that this will make them go away.

Unfortunately this is the much more difficult way, because it requires constant mental dedication on an individual level before it can be accomplished by a whole society to collectively change its way of thinking. In real life I think we have to work by consciously spreading ideas from individuals to groups, because unlike at LARPs we have no way of taking everybody aside and agree beforehand on how we want the world order to be (if you know of a way to do this non-violently, though, please let me know!).

It was scary, in a way, to see how effectively we changed our way of thinking and behaving over a mere weekend. It showed me how easy it is to create oppression on completely arbitrary grounds, and how real those feelings provoked can be even though you know it's just play-pretend. But most of all it gave me hope. If we could change our way of thinking and behaving so easily over such a short period of time I have no doubts about that it can be done on a much larger scale. All it takes is that most of us play along.

So let's stop playing along with these make-believe sexist structures of today and together imagine a world of gender equality, eh?

Love and inspiration,
Winterdragon

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Voice of Treason


Inside the ghost of love is laughing
It mocks the footsteps where I go
It tells me nothing has been lost
It whispers, "You've seen darkness before."
In time the hurting will subside
And longing is overthrown
What's left is a void that grows inside
And the echo of a failure

Opeth live in concert soon yaaay,
Winterdragon

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Some awesome music

Yaay, music! I went to a concert yesterday. Tesseract and Animals As Leaders. Both bands I hadn't heard of a month ago, and now I can't stop listening to them. So much energy! Apparently there's this heavy metal subgenre called 'djent'. As in the sound guitars make when bending the notes. I think I'm in love. Anyway, if you're into polyrythms, syncopation and many-stringed guitars you should check them out!



Love and djent,
Winterdragon

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Recipe: Fake risotto

I signed up for VeganMoFo this year. Still I haven't written a single food-related post during September. I'm sorry! Time got tighter than I'd expected, and I chose to prioritise differently. As a tiny attempt to compensation, here's a super-simple recipe of my own making. I have even served it to several non-vegan friends, and they seemed to enjoy it!

Cheating risotto


Boil circa 3 dl rice (of any kind) together with a pinch of salt in a can of coconut milk. Stir occasionally so it doesn't burn, and add in some water as needed. In the meantime, drain and rinse a can of chickpeas, and chop up an avocado or two. When the rice is done boiling, add in chickpeas, avocado, cocktail tomatoes, basil (preferably fresh, but dried works) and salt and pepper to taste. Done!

Super-easy, and can be thrown together in under 15 minutes. Feel free to substitute any beans or peas for the chickpeas, and to exchange the avocado and tomatoes for something else if you're so inclined. The main point of the recipe is that rice boiled in coconut milk makes for a quick, cheapskate fake-risotto.

Love and food,
Winterdragon

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Isolated incidents

Everything that happens is devoid of context
Independent
Isolated incidents
But everything happens for a reason
And that reason is you
You, at the age of reason
Responsible
Not for thoughts and feelings
But for your actions
Everything is either wrong or right
True or false
The world is black and white
So simple to think about
Chaos is not warranted
And the signal is independent of the noise

Love and uncalled for poetry,
Winterdragon

Friday, 12 September 2014

My mind has no sex

I work at a planetarium. In my job I get a lot of questions, from children and adults, that I'm supposed to answer to the best of my ability. Questions about stars, planets, galaxies, and the Universe in general. But the hardest question, one which I get from time to time, has nothing to do with astronomy.

“Are you a boy or a girl?”

It's such a simple question. A bit personal, perhaps, but it should be straightforward to answer. I wish. Instead it's instant identity crisis every time someone asks. I don't even know where to begin, and usually end up unable to put together an intelligible answer. Or I panic and tell them what I think they want to hear and spend the rest of the day feeling utterly uncomfortable with myself and the world. Damn it, I think to myself. Why did you have to ask the hard question? “How big is the Universe?” or “What happened before the Big Bang?” are trifles in comparison.

With this blog post I intend to put some of my thoughts and feelings regarding the matter into words. This has been a very long time coming, yet it is only very recently I have begun to talk to others about my own gender identity. It's tricky, incredibly personal, and most of all I'm scared of not being taken seriously. But I'm so terribly sick of having expectations and assumptions forced upon me all the time which make me feel like an alien abomination. Therefore I want people to understand.

So am I a boy or a girl, then? Well, it turns out not to be as simple as that. My body is female and I'm generally comfortable with it. Yet I do not identify as a woman. I've tried, but most of the time it feels like pretending to be something I'm not. But I don't really want to be a man either. Sometimes I think it would have been easier if I would have been born with a male body, but I don't think it would have fundamentally changed things.

It comes down to these blasted things called gender roles. Views and expectations, often even rules and regulations. Told and untold they dictate how we're supposed to act, feel, and even think. All of it based on something as arbitrary as what sex our bodies happened to be born with. Most of the time they're invisible, too. It's called structures; ways of reasoning and perceiving we've collectively brainwashed ourselves into thinking of as fundamental and inescapable.

Does it have to be this way? I certainly don't think so. But these structures aren't going to go away by us simply ignoring them and pretending that we're all equal. No, we have to illuminate the unseen and speak the unspoken, really see and become aware of the injustices before we will be able to work against them. That's the way it is with subconscious patterns of thought, and here we're talking about it on a cultural level.

We have to start questioning. Is it true that women and men are wired fundamentally differently, and that there are no alternative ways of being? And do we really have to categorise, segregate, and treat people differently based on these supposed differences? I think we don't. I believe that a world where your sex is about as relevant as your blood group would be much more interesting to live in.

I want to be free. Free to act, speak and think whatever I like. But I'm not. I find myself avoiding doing certain things for fear of being viewed as a woman. Wearing dresses, for example, is problematic for me because I find myself being treated differently in an unwelcome way. I get loads of comments about my clothing, and conversation topics tend to drift towards appearance and general gossip, as opposed to the rather more interesting topics of e.g. science, culture or politics which tend to be brought up around me if I'm wearing traditionally male or gender-neutral clothes. So, while I'd like to wear traditionally female clothes once in a while, I prefer being judged based on my thoughts and intellectual qualities rather than my appearance, and so I don't.

The only way of gaining respect seems to be by appearing as manly as possible. But while I often avoid things conventionally regarded as expressions of femininity I wouldn't want to be a man either. There are huge problems with the masculine ideal as well. The whole never-ever-talk-about-your-feelings thing, for example, why would I want to assign to that? Why would anyone?

No. I'm done with it. Understand that I'm totally fine with you assigning to either gender, and feel free to challenge or conform to any gender roles and stereotypes from within that identity. Go for it! But I can't. Every time I am forced to label my identity either 'male' or 'female' I am overcome by such a profound feeling of disgust that I've simply given up on it. I consider myself to be without gender, agender, or simply undefined. It is a form of genderqueer.

Now, I understand that this is confusing. Why is it relevant to you? Why should you even care? Well, I'm not the only one who view myself as outside the gender-binary system. We're a fair number of people, and we deserve respect and recognition, just like everyone else. And yes, I do realise that it takes conscious effort to think of and treat people in a way you may not be accustomed to. Therefore I here present some tips on How To Be A Good Ally:

  • Ask what pronoun people would prefer you using when referring to them, instead of assuming something that might make them uncomfortable. For myself I'd prefer if you'd use they rather than he or she. I will not get angry with you if you slip up and use the wrong word, but if I have enough mental energy at the time I will politely correct you.
  • If somebody else uses the wrong pronoun about someone you know identifies differently, politely correct them. Especially if they're present, this shows that you take their gender identity seriously and that they have people on their side.
  • Try using gender-neutral words when talking about people in general when their gender is unknown or of no importance (which according to me would be most of the time). For example, use person instead of woman or man, sibling instead of brother or sister, parent instead of mother or father, child instead of boy or girl. This works towards an inclusive way of speaking (and ultimately also thinking).
  • Do not question somebody's gender identity, especially not in public. Trust me, there is often enough of an internal identity crisis going on without having it forced upon oneself by others.
  • Do not joke about someone's gender identity. There might be exceptions if you know the person really well, but be very careful. Even if it's in good fun with no malicious intent it trivialises the matter and might serve to undermine the person's self-confidence.
  • Accept the situation. Even if you don't understand. You don't have to understand. We're here, we're queer, deal with it. It doesn't hurt or threaten you in any way whatsoever, and you are still free to assign to any gender of your choice.

That's enough for now, I think. Someday I might run through the streets screaming 'THE MIND HAS NO SEX' at the top of my lungs, but I think blogging about the issue is a big enough step in my coming-out process for now. If you survived this far, thank you kindly for reading this wall of text. If you feel like it, I would greatly appreciate a comment with your thoughts on the matter. Coming out is a scary thing, and knowing that there is support helps enormously. Feel free to ask me a question if you're curious about something. But no hating, please. If that's your sentiment you can bloody well bugger off, and good riddance.

Hah. Now I know what to answer the next time somebody asks me that question. 

"Are you a boy or a girl?"

"NO."

Love and rainbows,
Winterdragon

Mitt sinne har inget kön

Jag jobbar på ett planetarium. I mitt jobb får jag massor av frågor, från barn och vuxna, som det är tänkt att jag skall svara på utefter bästa förmåga. Frågor om stjärnor, planeter, galaxer, och Universum i allmänhet. Men den svåraste frågan, en som jag får då och då, har ingenting att göra med astronomi.

“Är du en tjej eller en kille?”

Det är en så simpel fråga. Lite personlig, kanske, men den borde vara okomplicerad att svara på. Eller ja, jag önskar att den vore det. I stället är det omedelbar identitetskris som gäller så fort någon frågar. Jag vet inte ens var jag skall börja, och det slutar oftast med att jag är oförmögen att komma med ett begripligt svar. Eller så får jag panik och hasplar ur mig vad jag tror att de vill höra, och spenderar resten av dagen i ett tillstånd av total obekvämhet med mig själv och världen. Fan, tänker jag för mig själv. Varför var du tvungen att ställa den svåra frågan? “Hur stort är Universum?” eller “Vad hände innan Stora Smällen?” är trivialiteter i jämförelse.

Med det här blogginlägget ämnar jag sätta ord på några av mina tankar och känslor angående ämnet. Det är något som jag har tänkt på väldigt länge, ändå är det först nyligen som jag har börjat prata med andra om min egen könsidentitet. Det är knepigt, otroligt personligt, och mest av allt är jag rädd för att inte bli tagen på allvar. Men jag är så hemskt trött på att få förväntningar och antaganden tvingade på mig hela tiden som får mig att känna mig som en främmande styggelse. Därför vill jag att folk skall förstå.

Så är jag en tjej eller en kille, då? Tja, det visar sig inte vara riktigt så enkelt. Min kropp är av kvinnligt kön, och jag är i största allmänhet bekväm med den. Ändå identifierar jag mig inte som kvinna. Jag har försökt, men för det mesta känns det som att låtsas vara någonting jag inte är. Men jag vill inte riktigt vara en man heller. Ibland tror jag att det hade varit lättare om jag fötts med en manskropp, men jag tror egentligen inte att det skulle ha fundamentalt ändrat på saker.

Det handlar om dessa sabla grejer som kallas könsroller. Uppfattningar och förväntningar, ofta till och med regler och begränsningar. Uttalade och outtalade dikterar de hur vi borde agera, känna, och till och med tänka. Alltihop baserat på något så godtyckligt som vilket kön våra kroppar råkade födas med. Oftast är de osynliga, dessutom. Det kallas strukturer; sätt att resonera och uppfatta omvärlden som vi kollektivt har hjärntvättat oss själva till att se som fundamentala och ofrånkomliga.

Måste det vara såhär? Jag tror verkligen inte det. Men dessa strukturer kommer inte försvinna om vi bara ignorerar dem och låtsas att vi alla är jämställda. Nej, vi måste belysa det osedda och högt säga det outtalade, verkligen se och medvetandegöra orättvisorna innan vi har möjlighet att jobba emot dem. Det är så det funkar med undermedvetna tankemönster, och här talar vi om det på en kulturell nivå.

Vi måste börja ifrågasätta. Är det verkligen så att kvinnor och män är fundamentalt olika funtade, och att det inte finns några alternativa sätt att vara? Och måste vi verkligen kategorisera, segregera, och behandla folk annorlunda baserat på dessa påstådda skillnader? Jag tror inte det. Jag tror att en värld där ditt kön är ungefär lika relevant som din blodgrupp skulle vara mycket intressantare att leva i.

Jag vill vara fri. Fri att agera, säga och tänka precis vad jag vill. Men det är jag inte. Jag kommer på mig själv med att undvika att göra vissa saker av rädsla för att bli betraktad som kvinna. Att bära klänning, till exempel, är problematiskt för mig eftersom jag märker att jag blir behandlad annorlunda på ett ganska ovälkommet sätt. Jag får massor av kommentarer om min klädsel, och samtalsämnena har en tendens att kretsa kring utseende och allmänt skvaller, till skillnad mot mer intressanta ämnen som t.ex. vetenskap, kultur eller politik som har en tendens att tas upp omkring mig om jag har på mig traditionellt manliga eller könsneutrala kläder. Så fastän jag skulle vilja klä mig i traditionellt kvinnliga kläder emellanåt föredrar jag att bli bedömd baserad på mina tankar och intellektuella kvalitéer snarare än mitt utseende, så jag låter bli.

Det enda sättet att få respekt verkar vara genom att uppträda så manligt som möjligt. Fast medan jag ofta undviker saker som som konventionellt betraktas som uttryck för kvinnlighet så skulle jag inte vilja vara man heller. Det finns enorma problem med det maskulina idealet också. Hela den här tala-aldrig-någonsin-om-dina-känslor-grejen, till exempel, varför skulle jag vilja skriva under på det? Varför skulle någon vilja det?

Nej. Jag pallar inte mer. Du får förstå att jag är helt lugn med att du identifierar dig med vilket kön du vill, och känn dig fri att utmana eller konformera till vilka könsroller och stereotyper som helst inifrån den identiteten. Kör hårt! Men jag kan inte. Varje gång jag måste sätta en etikett på min identitet motsvarande antingen 'man' eller 'kvinna' överväldigas jag av en så djup känsla av äckel att jag helt enkelt har gett upp. Jag anser mig själv vara androgyn, agender, eller helt enkelt odefinierad. Det är en form av genderqueer.

Alltså, jag förstår att det här är förvirrande. Varför är det här relevant för dig? Varför skall du ens bry dig? Jo, jag är inte den enda som anser mig själv stå utanför könsbinariteten. Vi är ganska många, och vi förtjänar respekt och erkännande, precis som alla andra. Och ja, jag inser att det krävs en medveten ansträngning för att tänka på och behandla folk på ett sätt du kanske inte är van vid. Därför presenterar jag här några tips på hur du kan vara en Bra Allierad:

  • Fråga vilket pronomen folk föredrar, i stället för att anta någonting som skulle kunna göra dem obekväma. Själv föredrar jag hen snarare än han eller hon. (Böjningsformerna hens och henom motsvarar hans/hennes och honom/henne.) På engelska är det they som gäller, inte he eller she. Jag kommer inte bli arg om du råkar säga fel, men om jag har tillräckligt med mental energi just då så kommer jag att artigt rätta dig.
  • Om någon annan använder fel pronomen om någon du vet identifierar sig annorlunda, rätta dem artigt. Särskilt om personen är närvarande visar det att du tar deras könsidentitet på allvar och att de har folk på sin sida.
  • Försök använda könsneutrala ord när du pratar om folk i allmänhet när deras kön är okänt eller irrelevant (vilket det oftast är, i min mening). Till exempel, använd person istället för kvinna eller man, syskon istället för bror eller syster, förälder istället för mamma eller pappa, barn istället för pojke eller flicka. Det här strävar mot ett inklusivt sätt att tala (och i förlängningen också tänka).
  • Ifrågasätt inte någons könsidentitet, speciellt inte bland folk. Tro mig, det finns ofta tillräckligt mycket inre identitetskris utan att den behöver triggas utifrån av andra.
  • Skämta inte om någons könsidentitet. Det kan finnas undantag om du känner personen väldigt väl, men var väldigt försiktig. Även om det bara är på skoj med inga onda intentioner trivialiserar det saken och kan undergräva personens självförtroende.
  • Acceptera situationen. Även om du inte förstår. Du behöver inte förstå. We're here, we're queer, deal with it. Det varken skadar eller hotar dig på något sätt alls, och du är fortfarande fri att identifiera dig med vilket kön du vill.

Det får räcka för den här gången, tror jag. En dag kommer jag kanske springa gatorna fram och ropa "SINNET HAR INGET KÖN" så högt jag kan, men jag tror att blogga om det hela är ett stort nog steg i min komma ut-process just nu. Om du överlevde så här långt, tack så hjärtligt för att du läste hela den här väggen av text. Om du känner för det så skulle jag verkligen uppskatta en kommentar med dina tankar om saken. Att komma ut är läskigt, och att veta att det finns stöd hjälper något enormt. Varsågod att ställa en fråga om du är nyfiken på någonting. Men inget hat, tack. Om det är så du känner så kan du tamigfan sticka härifrån, och du kommer inte bli saknad.

Hah. Nu vet jag vad jag skall svara nästa gång någon ställer den där frågan.

“Är du en tjej eller en kille?”

“NEJ.”

Kärlek och regnbågar,
Winterdragon

Friday, 22 August 2014

Where the heart is

Back in Sweden. Everything is the same, but I'm different. A year of mostly travelling has changed me. Not to mention the way I see the world. It feels smaller and friendlier, now that I've circumnavigated it. This ground is familiar, but the sky feels strange now that I know that there is another side to it. That's when I miss it the most. Looking up at the stars, feeling the tug of longing for adventure. At least that's the way it's always been.

Here's familiarity. So much it almost chafes. People hadn't forgotten me, and there have been many happy reunions. That combined with lots of things happening keeps me distracted enough not to drown in my longing back to New Zealand. Instead that land is like a happy dream, only I know it's real. It makes other dreams seem less impossible, and that brings me even more happiness. And a sort of peace of mind.

Problems that once would have freaked me out don't bother me so much. My current living situation, for example. I didn't manage to find an apartment as was the plan, and so I'm currently homeless until further notice. Luckily I have several awesome friends who have offered me their homes to crash at. The very thought of such a temporary existence would have driven me crazy not very long ago, but with the better part of a year of living out of a backpack behind me it feels quite okay. 

I'll admit it makes me a bit nervous. It puts me in a very dependent position and forces me to trust others to a pretty high degree. And there is that little fear of being too much of a burden without giving enough back. An unthankful parasite. But then again, I know that I would do (and have done to a rather large extent) the same for my friends. Helping them out in their time of need without asking anything back, just hoping that they will pay it forward to whoever will need it some day.

So I'm being as calm and positive about it as can be. I will get to spend more time than usual with my friends. And there is a certain feeling of freedom to not having a fixed geographical location full of stuff to own me. Hopefully I'll learn something about the world, or about myself. Also: it is a temporary thing, just like life itself.

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

Love and home,
Winterdragon

Friday, 18 July 2014

Vacation

Still alive, still in New Zealand. Everything is well apart from an annoyingly lingering cold. Seriously, how much mucus is it possible for one body to produce? New Zealand in midwinter is cold, in an unexpected way. The temperature isn't all that low, usually lying somewhere between 5 and 15 degrees it's more like Nordic spring or autumn. And although I see signs of people falling into winter depression around me, the light levels are higher than what I'm used to, so the darkness doesn't faze me. 

What bothers me is that it's cold indoors. Even with multiple layers of clothing one is left shivering without people to snuggle up against. This is just wrong! I know it's kind of impolite to be all "this is how we civilised people do things better than you barbaric foreigners" when visiting another country, but seriously kiwis. Did you know that double-glass windows is a thing? That insulation is pretty useful, and that building houses with radiators placed under the windows is actually rather clever when it comes to heat-preservation? Have you noticed that while you may not get much snow, temperatures actually tend to get quite low in your country in wintertime? That building more expensive but warm houses could be very well-spent money?

Oh well, end of rant. In a couple of weeks I'll have more heat than I can handle, going back to pretty much the height of the Swedish summer. In the meantime I'm visiting Dunedin and Auckland again, to hang out with awesome people. Roleplaying, larping, playing boardgames, swordfighting, going to interesting shows and museums, snuggling. Going for some sightseeing walks as far as I have the energy for it. An excellent way of spending four weeks' vacation in this lovely country, I'd say. There are still places I'd like to visit and mountains I'd like to climb, but that will have to wait for the future, I think. The flu messed up my physical energy levels pretty badly, and moneywise I'm almost broke. But I'm not sad about that; I am enjoying myself immensely.

I'll be sad to leave, but that's the way it has to be for now. I'm happy and grateful for all the wonderful memories of places and people and moments and adventures I will take with me. 

The sun sets behind the hills of Dunedin.

Love and vacation,
Winterdragon

Friday, 4 July 2014

Bittersweet endings

University is out for the semester. Courses are over and done, whether I passed my finals or not. Results won't be brilliant, but hopefully good enough. I gave up the high-grade-chasing game a long time ago, since I really quite enjoy having spare time. There are so overwhelmingly many fun things to fill it with.

Moved out of my student room this week, and in a few days I will be leaving this place which has been my home for the past half year. The beautiful, shaken, construction site of a city called Christchurch. I love it to bits, along with all the lovely people I've made friends with here. 

The plague I've been down with for the past few weeks is giving way at last, and I feel my energy gradually returning. Joy and rejoicing! It makes such a difference that I realise I shouldn't be taking my health for granted. If you haven't got your health you haven't got anything, indeed.

I'm spending this last week here hanging out with awesome people. Roleplaying, boardgaming, swordfighting, movie-watching, snuggling, making out, partying, exploring. All those things I love so much and that make me feel like I belong. This is home now.

But I'll soon be pulling up the roots I've grown here and go back to where I came from. It hurts. It always hurts to leave someone or someplace you've gotten attached to. Because it's scary. I'm having nightmares about going back to Sweden only to find that the place has changed completely and that no-one remembers me anymore. The same fears are creeping up on me regarding New Zealand. That I will be forgotten as soon as I leave and that the friendships with people I've connected with will fade to nothing before long.

But that's the risk in any situation, not only for travel. Nothing lasts forever, and in many cases that is much more of a blessing than a curse. Life itself is fragile and will pass, so either nothing or everything will have been worthwhile. I'm going to go with the latter. I don't want fear of loss stopping me from enjoying life or connecting with people, because that's no way to live. Every moment is worth experiencing for its own sake, regardless of any possible prices of pain. I've found that the joy gained is so much greater.

Besides, since there are never any guarantees for anything, there is plenty of room for hope of future re-meetings. No expectations, for those quench the soul. Just hope.

Love and endings,
Winterdragon

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Feverish musings

Snivel. Here I am, coughing my lungs out, and in a little more than a week I'll be leaving this lovely town that I've been living in for the past half year or so. But not forever. I couldn't bear it if I had to tell myself I'd be leaving this place never to come back. I don't know when or how I'm going to get the money for it, but someday I will return to this wonderful land. Someday.

Accursed cold. I'd rather spend this time doing fun things, socialising, and properly preparing for my exams than lying around fever-dazed, devoid of energy and just generally wanting to escape my body. Talk about shitty timing. But then again, any timing tends to be shitty when it comes to illnesses. Maybe this is some kind of divine punishment for my numerous sins. Oh well, in that case it was totally worth it. 

I've had a splendid time these past couple of weekends. Hanging out with awesome people, and dancing almost until my legs fell off. I used to hate dancing, but now I love it. New Zealand is changing me. In a lot of ways. And I think all of them good.

Love and sniffles,
Winterdragon

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

All-nighter euphoria

So. True.

BOOM. Project report finished. Well, sorta, at least. Still got some details to fix probably, but that is a problem for tomorrow. The equivalent of a bachelor's project. Ten weeks' worth of work. I'm about as happy about my accomplishments in this one as with my actual bachelor's thesis. Although this one was a bit easier. I didn't have to learn a new programming language basically from scratch, and the data I got to work with actually yielded some scientifically interesting results. Woo!

According to my analysis colliding galaxies actually do produce more stars than their isolated counterparts, but dust can make it appear like the opposite is the case by obscuring the star-formation if you look at light in the wrong colours (i.e. optical rather than infrared). I'll have to say it's somewhat satisfying getting to write the academic equivalent of "HAHA I'm right and this is why you're wrong!".

Now I'm savouring the blissful state that can only be reached through excessive amounts of energy drink and sugar, dissonant gregorian chants (apparently the ultimate study music! who knew?), sleep deprivation, an overdose of academic lingo, the mandatory hours of wrestling with Python and LaTeX, and four days' worth of an undoubtedly unhealthy mix of work and procrastination. For goodness' sake, I've even gotten some writing done on my novel as a means of procrastination. That must surely be a sign of the ultimate reluctance of writing up a report. 

Nah. I'd like to tell myself that I'm just a slow starter. I actually do like the writing once I get a flow going. It is my favourite part of science, and the process through which I learn the most. And I may be slow, but once I get those words down the formulations tend to be pretty darned good. But maybe that's just the all-nighter euphoria talking. Right now my project and my report and I and everything seems fucking awesome.

I should go to bed. As much as I love this state of mind, it would be nice to get a couple hours of sleep before having to tackle the world tomorrow. Future me will probably thank me for it. So well. See ya.

Love and all-nighter high,
Winterdragon

Monday, 2 June 2014

Buckets of Dice

Who am I, again? A hopelessly romantic smuggler in space? A member of the resistance, or a traitor? A bureaucracy demon having had a proposition of the most alphabetic firesome in history turned down by the hottest vampire in the castle? A teenage witch with werewolf-ghoul-fae-human friends? A scientist occasionally passing through heaven? A meeple fleeing from owlbears in the world of necronomiconomics? A president loyalist, or a terrorist?

Trying to regain sanity and a sense of my own identity after a weekend filled with gaming convention. Back in Sweden my favourite convention LinCon is celebrating its 30th birthday, but I can't find it in my heart to feel the least bit disappointed for having missed it. I've been to an admittedly smaller, but still very excellent, one in my current hometown: Buckets of Dice. Awesome games, awesome people. Fun times were had! And I even won a prize for communicating only through interpretive dance when my character lost its ability of speech for the remainder of the game during a larp.

The post-convention feeling of euphoria coupled with exhaustion is the same on this side of the world, I've found. It is the best way to meet people, hands down. Totally worth the social overload. Now, time for food, tea and some silence. Possibly also stop being incoherent, but probably not.

Love and gaming conventions,
Winterdragon


Thursday, 29 May 2014

Street art

Just to clear things up after my recent rant. I love street art. There are a lot of nice examples of it in New Zealand, too. Here's some of what I've found.








 Love and art,
Winterdragon

Friday, 23 May 2014

Life and its lemons

My code is handing me a lot of lemons today. In the form of error messages and ridiculously unreasonable results. I debug and solve some problems, just to have new ones crop up. This was supposed to be a very simple piece of programming. My supervisors are disappointed, and I feel so stupid. I'm useless at programming. Even in Python, the simplest programming language on the planet, I manage to fuck everything up. And I suck at maths. What am I doing with my life? I'm not worthy to study astronomy. I'm about as much of an astronomer as Rincewind is a wizard. The only reason I haven't been kicked out from the university is because they need someone to keep around to blame for all the things that go wrong, and to make everyone else look like a genius in comparison.

... yeah. Self-esteem level hardly detectable today. Fuck this shit, for now. I'm gonna spend the rest of this evening writing, and pretend that it doesn't matter how useless I am at it. *puts on hat saying WRITTER*

 
Having an office on the 8th floor has its upsides. Autumn Christchurch is pretty.

Love and lemons,
Winterdragon

Friday, 16 May 2014

Rösta, för tusan!

En solig höstdag med långa promenader och inspirerande insikter. Jag har fått klarhet i min politiska ståndpunkt och brevröstat till EU-parlamentsvalet. Är du svensk medborgare så gör detsamma. Om du inte bryr dig eller har gett upp hoppet så till den grad att allt verkar kört ändå: tänk om. Hitta någonting du bryr dig om, läs på, och om utsikterna verkar dystra så rösta på det parti du tycker verkar minst ondskefullt. Politik påverkar dig, vare sig du vill det eller inte. Demokrati är din möjlighet att påverka den tillbaka, och det är sjukt jäkla viktigt att du ser den möjligheten som ett ansvar. Därför att om någon makt skall finnas kvar hos folket så måste den utnyttjas.

Om du inte använder din röst så kommer andra att använda din tystnad!

Kärlek och politik,
Winterdragon

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Vandalism

It's everywhere. It's bloody everywhere. At bus stops, train stations, bridges. On buses, street-light poles, even on trees. In dark alleys, on brightly-lit streets, all over windows. On cars and bikes. On the outsides of trains, and on the insides too. On the walls of crumbling houses, and even fancy new or beautiful old buildings. Sometimes on the very street itself. Offensive messages, words and images meant to be inspiring or funny, but for the most part just names scribbled all over the place. As if these signatures being seen by people at every street-corner would inspire respect and be a ticket to immortality. I hear there is a whole business for it nowadays. Children are growing up thinking that it is a perfectly respectable way of making a living. That it is not vandalism, morally despicable, or defacing our beautiful surroundings. Some even go as far as calling it art. The general population seems to have accepted it as a part of our culture, and there are even spaces specifically dedicated to it. There is just no respect for public places these days!


It's time to free our cities from this vandalism. Let us ban and eradicate advertisements once and for all!

Love and bitching,
Winterdragon

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Easter break

So I had an easter break. Best easter break ever. I had so many adventures and so much fun that it apparently resulted in a total writer's block. When it comes to blogging, at least. One of the many awesome things I did during these past three weeks was to finally get started with the second draft of my poor novel. It feels so damn good to be writing again. Inspiration is flowing, and I've even gotten some ideas for how to fill in some major plotholes and how this world I've created actually works. Yay!

But adventures! Were they ever had. I always consider a vacation well spent if you return from it more tired than when you set out, and this was certainly the case. I spent two weeks in Auckland hanging out with lovely people and then a week largely on my own in Queenstown.

Volcanoes were scaled and explored. Here are Mount Eden and the island Rangitoto. The latter one is just 600 years old, so very young for a volcano. There are around 40 volcanoes in Auckland, and apparently the volcanic field the city sits upon is not dead yet. Just resting. A new volcano could erupt next week or in 5000 years, no way of telling really. Still the city's inhabitants are going about their lives as if they weren't living on the brink of destruction. Humans are fascinating.


A trip was made to the Northlands, more specifically Bay of Islands with the towns of Paihia and Russel. Got the opportunity to learn a lot about the time of early European settlement by visiting museums and historic sites, made all the more fun and interesting by having a historian by my side telling awesome stories. Visited Waitangi, the place where the treaty between the British crown and Maori people regarding land ownership and legal rights and obligations was signed in 1840. Essentially the founding document of New Zealand, it is to this day relevant and problematically ambiguous. Oh, and apart from all the interesting things to learn about human history the nature of the place was really gorgeous as well. Woods to walk in with magical light and fascinating trees, a sea with such pretty islands, and a dark and splendid night sky. Yet another place to fall in love with.



I had such a great time in Auckland as well. Got to hang out with awesome people who dragged me around (quite willingly) to playing board games, roleplaying, urban explorations, acrobatics, swordfighting, movie-watching, museums, storytelling, partying... I even got invited to a wedding. All of which was so much fun and made me feel more at home than at the place where I actually live. Whee, so much happiness.

Then I moved on to Queenstown, which was a dramatic change in many respects. From late-summer weather (from my Nordic point of view) to frosty cold. From hills and seaside to snowy mountains and fiordy lakes. From very intense socialising to quiet loneliness (or at least loneliness-in-a-crowd). Queenstown is a stunningly beautiful and remote place, full of adventures. And tourists. Like that gorgeously handsome person you cannot help falling head over heels in love with, even though you know that you could never live together in the long run.


I enjoyed myself immensely. I visited the glow-worm caves in Te Anau. Underground waterfalls and little larvae glowing like so many stars! I went bungy jumping. It involved some mind-boggling terror, a lot of screaming and then hysterical laughter. I'd totally do it again! Then skydiving. Not half as scary as I had imagined, just absolutely delightful. I'd love to skydive every single day! I visited a conservation park for kiwis and other birds. They're rather cute and lay absurdly large eggs, those nocturnal, flightless little weirdos. I explored Milford Sound. Turns out that it is actually a fiord, not a sound, being carved out by a glacier some thousands of years ago. Huge waterfalls, vertical forests and seals. Very spectacular! Lastly I also went hiking up to the top of Ben Lomond at 1743 metres. Views of snow-covered mountains stretching far into the distance, a silence so profound I could hear my own heartbeats, and a perfectly dark night sky where I got to see a couple of fireball meteors and learned some new constellations. Heart-wrenchingly beautiful, it filled me with tons of joy and inspiration!


And then I took the bus home to Christchurch. Stopped for a break at Tekapo, and I got to see Mount John again. Autumn has changed the place. Yellowing leaves, snow on the mountains, and an even more icy-cold lake. Still as beautiful, still the feeling of 'this is where I want to be' that keeps following me around this country.

Love and adventure,
Winterdragon

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Rain in Akaroa (and a possum!)


Kinda like that, yeah. It's been raining horizontally of late. At least there were no floodings or jetskiing on the streets this time around. Went on a trip to Akaroa, with the intention of going on a boat trip and hopefully seeing dolphins. But the weather was too stormy for that, so we spent some hours investigating the area around the harbour on land instead. Learned that the British were as notorious as ever regarding the conquering of the place, raising their flag pretty much in the face of the French settlers and the Maori. More interestingly, I also learned that the whole Banks peninsula once was a volcanic island, which rose from the bottom of the sea some 12 million years ago. Rising land made it into the peninsula it is today, and the two harbours of Akaroa and Lyttleton are remnants of the volcano's two giant craters. A beautiful and interesting place, the Banks peninsula! Apparently it has a microclimate which is considerably warmer than its surroundings, so that olive trees and other mediterranean things can grow there. Although it was covered by woods when the first humans came there, it has since been mostly transformed into farmlands, and in typical New Zealand fashion sheep are grazing most of the hillsides.

Some trees were left though, so a walk among them was had. We saw fantails! And pukekos! And lots of terns by the shore. And during a walk in central Christchurch, a possum climbing a tree and then looking down at us with its large, round, black eyes. To think that such an adorable, fuzzy little creature can wreak so much havoc in the ecosystem. I heard that they stem from a population of just about a hundred, which were brought here from Australia for their fur, but when that proved unprofitable they were let loose. Now there's more than 30 million of them, and they've pretty much got a price on their heads what with all the damage they do to indigenous plant-life.

So yeah, an interesting and pleasant weekend overall, even though it didn't turn out exactly as expected. But then again, few things in life do. Now I have a wonderful thing called an Easter break for three weeks, and I'm heading off to Auckland and then Queenstown. Such a fantastic concept, why don't we have breaks in the middle of the semester in Sweden?

Enjoying the wind at Birdling beach. Notice the terns in the background.

Love and rain,
Winterdragon

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Mount John Observatory

I joined a couple of observers on their trip to Mount John Observatory for a few nights. What a place of science, beauty and adventure! Running around on a grassy mountain, swimming in a clear and cold Lake Tekapo, watching an absolutely gorgeous night sky. The southern sky really is more interesting than the northern one: the centre of the Milky Way, the Magellanic Clouds, new constellations and star-clusters for me to discover. I have a new favourite constellation now. Surrounded by wind-swept plains, snowy mountains in the distance. The silence, the clean air. There aren't words enough for the beauty of this place. It just feels like home. If I ever want to do this settling-down thing, New Zealand certainly seems like the place to be. Life is great.

Here, have some pictures. My cellphone camera isn't up for snuff when it comes to astrophotography, so you'll have to be content with daytime photos.




Love and observations,
Winterdragon

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Crazy birds

Early morning somewhere in the mountains of Arthur's pass. The greyish light of a world about to dawn outside the tent. I wake up to a piercing scream that makes the blood curdle in my veins. It sounds like the creature vildvittra from the Swedish movie Ronja Rövardotter. Nightmareish, bird-like creatures that hunt down humans and feed on their flesh. The screams continue, and before long several other voices come flying and join in on the screaming. Terror seizes me and I have time to think "Oh no, we're all gonna die!".

"Now the blood shall flow!"

Then I hear someone in the next tent say "It's all right, it's just keas! They're gigantic, highly intelligent parrots who kill sheep and eat their flesh." Oh all right, no worries then. ... wait, what? New Zealand and its crazy birds!

Kea in flight. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Love and birds,
Winterdragon

Friday, 21 March 2014

How not to climb a mountain

Lessons learned today:
  • Me and busses still isn't a dependable combination. We ended up on the other side of the mountains we were intending to scale, far from any footpath.
  • Mountains are always steeper than they look.
  • Just because it looks like a path it doesn't necessarily lead anywhere.
  • There are wiser things you could do than straddling a thorn-bush while discovering that the foothold you thought was there turned out to be a hole.
  • It is amazing how much motivation to keep scrambling through far-too-pointy undergrowth and over intimidating boulders can stem just from the realisation that there is just no way I'm going down that same way again, ouch, yikes.
  • The mountains are full of sheep. Also bunnies.
  • Christchurch is really pretty from above.
  • Running around on mountains is ridiculously fun. I-could-do-this-everyday kind of fun.
  • Peanut butter could probably fuel me through anything.
  • Despite light-pollution from a rather large city the starry skies up there are breathtakingly splendid.
  • Things not going according to plan more often than not result in awesome adventures.
  • The "mountains" were in fact hills, but in the eyes of someone who grew up in flatland more than half a kilometre's height is a bloody mountain.

Suitably heroic pose after having scaled Mount Pleasant in Port Hills.

Oh, and as for lessons of a more theoretical nature, I also started studying glaciology today. It seems to be a cool (haha!) and insanely intriguing subject. One of those if-I-had-unlimited-amounts-of-time-and-money-I'd-learn-all-there-is-to-know-about-it kind of subjects. The kind of subject that makes me wish I'd gone for more than one major. But oh well, astronomy is pretty fucking awesome too.

Love and hills,
Winterdragon

Sunday, 16 March 2014

New Zealand adventures of the fantastic kind

Writer's block, eh? We meet again. Anyway, what I've been wanting but failing to write about for the past couple of weeks are adventures of a geekier kind. Y'know; fantasy, roleplaying, boardgaming, LARPing... that kind of stuff. The kind of stuff I live for.

This place isn't New Zealand so much as it is Middle Earth, you know. I am aware that general propaganda attempts to claim otherwise; that this is merely the place where the movies based on the stories of Tolkien were filmed. But I know better now. This is Middle Earth for real, I've seen it with my own eyes! Just take a look at this photographic evidence from Hobbiton (click on them for larger versions, and also a thousand thanks to the lovely Viv for the photos):

 



So yeah, it's real alright. Bag End, the party tree, Sam's house, the Green Dragon Inn (where they have the best ginger ale in the world, no kidding!). I was running and jumping around, investigating everything and soaking up the magical atmosphere, spontaneously doing cartwheels and squealing out of sheer delight. Just generally being the happiest elf in the world.

In the time I've been here so far I've managed to miss a gaming convention in Sweden, but I couldn't care less. I've been to one in New Zealand instead: Battlecry. There were both differences and similarities compared with the ones I've frequented in Sweden, but there was no mistaking that the general atmosphere of geekiness and friendliness was just the same. I felt right at home. It was all set in a big stadium filled with tables where people played miniature wargames, roleplaying games, boardgames, card games, and sold stuff. Everything in the same huge place. I'm not used to that, but it seemed to work out fine without the noise levels getting overwhelming. There were maybe a couple of hundred participants, and most of the activity seemed to take place during the day. People didn't sleep at the convention itself either, which I suppose would account for it being mostly a day-time thing. No LARPs this time around, but I did get the chance to roleplay something other than D&D (which by all means can be fun, but if I'm given the choice it's not really my preferred cup of tea). An adventure set in the world created by Peter Hamilton in his Void books, which made me even more keen to read those books. Also a Doctor Who adventure, which was epic and fun in much the same way as an actual episode. Lastly I also got to play the Firefly boardgame, which was so much fun I will very likely buy it at some point.

And the LARPing (which means Live-Action RolePlaying, hello non-geeky readers!). Judging by my (admittedly few) experiences so far there are some differences from the genreal LARPing culture in Sweden. So-called day games, lasting for only a few hours, seem to be common within campaigns (even if weekend-long games also happen). NPCs (Non-Player Characters) are also more common, played by crew who volunteer and get briefed concerning their role (and hitpoints) the same day. So crewing is what we did, and we got to borrow gear including weapons and makeup. Off-signs are used frequently, and "talking roleplay" means LARPing but without hitting each other with foam weapons. Also, New Zealand LARPers seem to have a considerably more relaxed attitude towards what constitutes a good enough costume, and there doesn't seem to be the same prestige involved when it comes to creating your own gear, compared with what I've experienced in the Swedish LARPing community in general. And the surroundings are stunning. Good gods, every single place I've visited in this country is positively magical, perfect for LARPing! Running around barefeet through gullies and along the waves on a sunlit shore, talking and hunting and screaming and fighting the players, and dying countless times by their hands. It burned my footsoles and left black sand in my hair for days. So totally worth it; I had ridiculous amounts of fun.


And there is a club at the university that does roleplaying and boardgaming, which means I can get my fix of geekiness on a weekly basis. Dreams keep coming true spontaneously. New Zealand and its lovely inhabitants continue to make me feel so at home that I want to stay here. Ahwell, settling down isn't something I'm even considering anytime soon, but I sure hope I get to see this place again after I leave.

Love and fantasy,
Winterdragon

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

More New Zealand yayness

I like dreaming. And I do it a lot. About realistic things, unrealistic things, and things that are completely bonkers. Going to New Zealand was one of my dreams for so very long, so realistic that it bordered on a plan. And now here I am. It seems to be a place where dreams come true. Adventures that seemed far out of reach are happening to me spontaneously. I let myself get dragged into things, and I love it.

My studies not least. That's nominally what I'm doing here, after all: being an exchange student for half a year. I'm taking a course on galaxies and the formation of them. It has actually been my main research interest for the past few years, still I haven't actually taken a course on the topic until now. So while many of the concepts are already familiar to me it is nice to finally get to learn it all properly, and I also pick up quite a few new things. I'm also doing a research project on colliding galaxy pairs, which is greatly interesting. All in all I find it so intriguing that I'm now fairly convinced that galaxies in general is indeed a research area which is interesting enough for me to continue working in. If you feel thrills of curiosity throughout your whole body while reading a paper or looking at a couple of fuzzy blobs on a picture that must be a sign that you're doing the right thing with your life, right? Or possibly just a sign of budding insanity. I don't really care as long as it makes me happy!

The third course I'm taking is on Antarctica. This continent of eternal winter which I have also been dreaming of for so long. I am positively mesmerised: at every lecture I am almost dazed with fascination, and the lecturer already knows me as the somewhat over-enthusiastic student in the front row who asks ridiculously many questions. I really can't help it though. I get to learn GEOLOGY! Tectonic plates, continents, volcanoes, rocks, fossils, glaciers, the changing appearance of the Earth. “Geology is just physics slowed with trees on top” some genius said (Terry Pratchett, if my memory doesn't fail me), and yes, my background knowledge of physics does make it easier for me to ask intelligent questions. But to an astronomer the geological timescales are actually fairly short. Processes taking millions of years are considered to be fast when studying stars, so while most of my classmates marvel at the slowness of continental drift I can't help thinking things like “wow, Gondwana only started breaking apart 180 million years ago, that's practically yesterday!”. Astronomy does weird things to your brain when it comes to perspective.

And all the stories it creates in my head. It certainly triggers my imagination to think about what this now-frozen continent was like in warmer times with strange species of dinosaur roaming it, rivers flowing across the landscape and now-extinct trees growing all over. Oh how I'd love to go there. Some day… In the meantime I'm enjoying the hell out of this land. As of right now the rain is pouring down in a horizontal fashion, and has been doing so for the whole day, so it feels exceedingly much like Skåne. What did not feel like Skåne was going mountain-hiking to the peak of Mount Peel the other day and actually finding a bit of snow at the top (though it's still summer here)! That reminded me more of the Swedish alps, and the surrounding forests gave me flashbacks to the wonderful northern parts of La Palma. Both of them places I love to bits, so along with its touch of endemicness it made me fall even deeper in love with New Zealand. 

Let's just face it, I'm never gonna shut up about how much I love this place. I quite like Christchurch as a city also. It is still a bit crumbled in places due to the earthquake three years back, but all in all the city seems to be alive and well. To my great delight there are lots of gardens and trees, and the city is more spread out horizontally than piled high vertically. Maybe a bit too much traffic for me to feel relaxed and safe while walking around, though, but I suppose I am rather spoiled in that area. But there is a river, and if you follow it for five hours or so it leads you to the sea! The pacific ocean. It was wild, and cold, and wavy. Not very pacific at all, but I love it anyway, despite the fear and respect I felt by just jumping into its waves very close to the shore.

So yeah, studying and exploring, that's pretty much what I'm up to right now. I'm greatly excited to get to see more of the island I'm living on, and to learn more on islands in general: both galactic and continental ones. And I've done a whole bunch of nerdy stuff that has made me ridiculously happy as well, but that is the subject for another time. See ya later, as they say around here.

Love and excitement,
Winterdragon