Swords, Flash, and Glamour

Many of y’all know I’m a performer at the New York Renaissance Faire. In addition to directing, singing, dancing, and acting as part of the Robin Hood scenario, I’m also a stage combatant.

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*photo credit: Richard Jones*

Straight up: it’s beyond cool. Tiny Kelly grew up on fantasy novels, stories where swords were wielded in the name of justice/moving the plot along. Tiny Kelly dreamt* of learning to swing steel, all the while realizing that chances of actually learning to do so were very, VERY slim**. Then Ren Faire came into my life, and I met people who were exceedingly adept in stage combat, and I lucked into the chance to actually live my childhood dreams. The full story is rather more nuanced than that, but we’ll save that for another day.

Fast forward to now, my fifteenth (non-consecutive) year of performing. In addition to performing, I’m now a director and head of our Fighters Guild. I work with incredibly gifted and driven Fight Choreographers and Captains. Their hard work, along with that of our combatants, makes what we do look easy.

It’s not. It’s a slog. It’s frustrating. This is a stunt show. This is physical storytelling. Safety is paramount, but there are injuries. Story is supremely important, but there are blocks. Our stages are swathes of lawn or sand, without shelter or shade. Rain or shine, we are there, doing our damnedest. We put in extra rehearsal weekends: 8+ hours of full fight days. We show up among the earliest to the costume shop to change, grab weapons, run fights. We are the last to leave after a full performance day: weapons have to be transported back from the grounds, and then sanded, oiled, stowed away.

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But damn if our folks don’t make it look amazing, even on those hot and humid and soul-sapping days. Damn if they don’t inspire others to want to be a part of it. And exhausting though it may be, I am honored beyond all measure that I get to be a part of it myself.

Tiny Kelly would expect no less.

*literally: I had recurring dreams of entering a sword dancer’s circle (ta, Jennifer Roberson!), and of riding my magical white horse while brandishing a gorgeous blade (credit: Mercedes Lackey)

**tiny Wisconsin town, followed by tiny Connecticut town, offered zero opportunity

 

Ren Faire rehearsals make for long days. I was on site at the extra-early hour of 8am (aborted ukulele lesson; I used the time to practice my own music and stretch) and didn’t leave until 6pm*. Spent the day in fight choreography, blocking, running scenes, running fights. Because my role is active, and because I need to be mindful of footwear, my pre-‘fully costumed attire’ is as practical as I can make it: workout leggings, boots, long tank top.

I mention all of this because, well…

Stopped at the store on my way home**.  A cashier commented on my ensemble. “Love the boots. Cool look!” And then… and then… “Ugly wallet, though. Totally ruins the entire look.”

First of all, it’s my Loungefly R2D2 wallet.

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Look at that prettiness! LOOK!

Secondly, what?

“It’s so nerdy.”

I smiled, but only because I wasn’t sure what else to do. It’s my default. I am not a badass. “You know why I’m dressed this way? Because I just spent ten hours at the Renaissance Faire. I swing swords and pretend to be part of the Robin Hood Band.” Pause. “There is nothing about me that is not nerdy.”

“Oh,” the cashier said after a moment. “I thought you were a biker.”

And nothing against bikers, because I’m certain you’re lovely/imposing/whatever it is that makes you feel amazing, but really? I’m perfectly happy to be with my tribe of improvisational beasts, of singers, of dancers, of acrobats, of archers, of crafters and poets and Shakespearean scholars and swordsmen.

Yeah, we’re nerdy. And we make it look damned good.

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*hours for performance days are even longer. super glamorous, y’all!
**my actors work hard; they deserve cookies, and I most certainly wasn’t going to have time to bake tonight.

Sleep brings no joy…

Yes, I get it, Emily Bronte. Sleep should bring respite, offer the chance to recharge. It’s haven. It’s a refuge.

Unless you’re me.

In what might come as a surprise to absolutely no one, I’m not the most confident and self assured person. I carry considerable worry, concern, and fear that at any given moment I’m letting a whole lot of people down. Fortunately, my sub-conscious is there for me. It rakes in all of the angst and self-doubt and packages it neatly into gut-wrenching, exhausting Stress Dreams. So far, these dreams have slotted themselves into three very tidy categories.

1. Packing/clutter. These dreams involve packing up and moving from a hotel room, a dorm room, an apartment, a house. Whatever I manage to pack is continually dwarfed by what still remains to be sorted. This dream is defined by frustration and a whole lot of tears.

2. Unattainable destination. These dreams find me on a journey that will never be finished. There may be epic derailment (“so sorry, have to go fight a manticore”) or something more mundane (“This ticket is only good for a Sunday that lands on an even number. You’re going to have to wait.”). I may be sent on a path that finds the stones eroding beneath my feet, where I fall into fathomless waters to literally find myself out of my depth*. This dream is defined by deeming myself to be less important than everyone else, and to the destruction of foundations.

3. Claustrophobic entryways. These dreams deny me entry into places of security/creativity/comfort due to tiny portals, points of entry though which I would have to squeeze and squirm and hold my breath. Just typing this sentence made me uneasy. This dream is generally defined by inability to move, make a decision, or breathe without hyperventilating.

There are variations on a theme. Sometimes the unattainable destination involves getting to a rehearsal or performance on time/with matching boots. Claustrophobic scenarios might place pets in peril**. Clutter might find my dearest love disgusted with my inability to Get Things Done, and deciding to leave me***. Haven’t even touched on the zombie invasion theme.  I’m down with the idea that dreams are a way to sift through the crap your mind accumulates on any given day. I own that I’m sensitive, that I shoulder more worry than I ought.

But then again, every so often, there’s a night where I make lifelong friends with a unicorn. Where I hang out and watch Downton Abbey with my mom, holding my breath because I don’t dare to mention that she can’t be here, but so grateful that she is. Where Ewan McGregor asks me out, but even in Dreamland I can’t accept because my real life sweetie is just that great. A night where I’ve kicked off the blankets and am cold and hovering on the edge of wakefulness. And then, my brain gives me Poe Dameron (real life: pulling up the sheet over my shoulders) curled up around me and  BB-8 (real life: my one-eyed kitty Esme) snuggled up in the crook of my knees

Sleep may bring you respite or joy,challenge or gift. Make of it what you will.

 

*honestly, brain. you could try a bit harder.
**this went horrifically dark
***took me days (in the waking world) to realize we were good, that he wasn’t going anywhere

 

 

Bumbleflex is not enough

I have a complicated relationship with running.

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It’s not uncommon for people to look at me and think I’m a natural runner. I’ve got a moderately lean-ish build and long legs. Stumpy torso, alas, but that’s another story. My walking stride is long, purposeful, energetic. Somehow, though, running has never quite taken with me. Don’t get me wrong: my body likes it. I’ve never been slimmer than when I was running several times a week alongside my regular workouts. It’s just… we don’t mesh.

My first attempt to pursue running in its own right was in my sophomore year of high school. I signed up for the winter session of indoor track (read: running laps of the hallways). Not even a week in, I contracted mono and had to bow out. It’s as if my body knew; it was trying to warn me. “This is wrong! Go down. STAY DOWN.” Every so often I’d dive in again. Gave Couch-to-5-K several shots. Usually worked at too quick a pace, ensuring I’d gas out quickly even as I just tried to get it bloody well over with. Ran a few races. Hated hills. Hated wind. Loved rain, actually. Hated all the bits that jiggled with every footfall. Couldn’t distract myself with music or podcasts or audiobooks, because every single style of earbud is incompatible with my abnormally tiny earholes.

Still, I persisted. My crowning glory was training for a half-marathon. The race was in April, so I spent the four preceding months (in the dead of a very cold, gusty, and snowy NY winter) running outdoors four times a week. I never missed a run, and I never once dropped to a walk… until the day of the race. Two loops of Central Park kicked my ass. Still: got my medal, got my banana, got my bragging rights and the certainty that I never needed to do that again.

Not long after, I set my mind to running a minimum of a mile a day for a full month. Six days in, the pain hit. My right hip radiated agony with every step. I finished my run, stubbornly, gasping and sobbing. Despite orthotic insoles and treadmill testing and carefully selected shoes and gear, my body was not having it. So, we broke up, running and I. It was rough. I have a lot of friends who are in beautifully compatible relationships with running, and assure me I just need to give it a bit more time. A bit more acceptance. I desperately envy them their love, their joy, but realize it’s not for me.

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Still, every so often, I reconsider. “I’ll just run one race,” I think.

“I’ll work walk/run intervals.”

“Maybe trail running…”

I know it’s not the right fit, and yet I keep coming back. Hoping against hope that this time, we’ll find a way to make it work. And yes, I’ve been fitted for custom orthotic insoles. I’ve been matched to my (apparently) perfect shoes. I’ve stretched and taken fish oil and watched inspirational videos (Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli running after abducted hobbits totally counts). We are simply not right for one another.

And yet… I am taking part in a 40 day fitness challenge, which coincides nicely as I try to get myself in shape for a physically demanding summer. I’ve got significant weight to shed and serious strength to build. Against all of my history, all of the evidence, all of my angst, I have determined to add three runs  week to my regime. I know, I know. It’s never been good. Nothing has really changed.

And yet… maybe this time will be different.

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And yet… if nothing else, there are cows.

Z is for Zuko: #AtoZchallenge

Oh, my sweet baby Zuko.

I knew from the moment I chose the theme of Fictional Favorites that it would be bookended by characters from Avatar: The Last Airbender. This post covers a huge character arc, so if you’ve yet to see the show and want to remain unspoiled, move along. Don’t worry; you can come back and read this once you’ve watched all three seasons.

*****SPOILERS for Avatar: The Last Airbender*****

As the series opens, 16 year old Prince Zuko is on a quest to find the missing Avatar. The completion of this task is the only thing that will allow him to reclaim his birthright, win back the respect of his father, and restore his honor.
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Zuko’s drive to find the Avatar defines his every moment, as does his anger. It comes as a surprise to find that he had a decent childhood.
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His mother was warm and loving.

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Then,  his father Ozai claimed the throne and title of Fire Lord.

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Yup; he can also bend lighting.

Zuko’s mother was sent away. The boy was left to the company of his gifted but manipulative sister Azula and the growing disregard and disappointment of his father. When Zuko was 13, he begged to be allowed to attend a military strategy meeting. Speaking out against a plan to sacrifice troops in a diversionary maneuver, he was called out for insubordination by his father. Ozai demanded Zuko reclaim his honor by participating in an Agni Kai, a firebending duel, then stepped up to fight the boy himself. Zuko would not lift a hand against his father, and asked forgiveness. It was denied.
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He was scarred, banished, and set upon a fool’s errand to regain his honour.  This is all Zuko has left, and he clings to it.

Despite his father’s disdain, Zuko is a formidable firebender.
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He’s also skilled with dual blades.
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His very nature is at war with itself: he longs for the acceptance of his war-like father, but finds appeal in the more reasoned, kinder approach of his Uncle Iroh. For a time, it looks as if Zuko might find  peace without fulfilling his quest. Then his sister returns with promises of Ozai’s praise, of a place at his side.

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FYI: she bends lightning, too.

Zuko betrays his uncle and they return to the Fire Nation: Iroh in chains, Zuko certain that his honor will be restored at last.  He’s a prince once more.
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He remains conflicted. He’s angry, he’s moody, he’s given to the dramatic.
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At last, he realizes why he’s so desperately unhappy.

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“I’M ANGRY AT MYSELF.”

His honor was always his to reclaim for himself: his choice, his path.
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Armed with newfound resolve, he confronts his father.

“Zuko: For so long, all I wanted was for you to love me, to accept me. I thought it was my honor I wanted, but really, I was just trying to please you. You, my father, who banished me just for talking out of turn. My father, who challenged me, a thirteen-year-old boy, to an Agni Kai. How could you possibly justify a duel with a child?

Ozai:  It was to teach you respect!

Zuko: It was cruel! And it was wrong.”

He announces his intention to join the Avatar, to bring peace to the Four Nations. He heads to the prison to free his uncle, but Iroh has broken himself out of jail and is long gone. Zuko follows the Gaang, though he struggles with how to approach them. Straightforward seems best.
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Naturally, the team is pretty wary, sending him packing.
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When he steps up to protect them during an attack (of an assassin he had previously hired, no less), they tentatively agree to give him a chance. Appa is totally cool with this.
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He finds his place in Team Avatar gradually. Zuko teaches Aang firebending, though it requires a quick field trip.
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He fights alongside Sokka on a mission to rescue Sokka’s father.
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They form a comfortable friendship.

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On the eve of battle, he is reunited with Uncle Iroh – the man who has been more of a father to him than Ozai ever was. The man he betrayed. The man who loves him and is deeply proud of him.

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As the members of the Gaang disperse to their separate fights, Zuko meets Azula in a spectacular Agni Kai. Seriously, the entire scene is stunning, from visuals to choreography to score.
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When the war is won, newly crowned Fire Lord Zuko is free to make good his promise of rebuilding a kinder world.
“I promised my uncle that I would restore the honor of the Fire Nation, and I will. The road ahead of us is challenging. A hundred years of fighting has left the world scarred and divided, but with the Avatar’s help, we can get it back on the right path and begin a new era of love and peace. “

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#Zuko 2016!

I know I ran long with this, and even so failed to touch on particular character beats, dialogue, and moments that make Zuko such a well-realized, memorable character. Flameo, hotman. Flameo.
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And so ends the A to Z Challenge for 2016. Thanks for stopping by, for commenting, for liking, for being the awesome people that you are.

Y is for Yvaine: #AtoZchallenge

Neil Gaiman’s novel (or in its first incarnation, story with pictures) Stardust is, at its heart, a Victorian fairy story. Ordinary village boy is hopelessly in love with beautiful village girl. Boy pledges to fulfill a quest to win girl’s heart, and ventures into an unknown realm to do so. The quest: retrieve a fallen star. The unknown realm: the world beyond the Wall. Faerieland.

When a star falls onto earth, there is light and heat and then cold, pitted rock.  When one lands in Faerie…
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“And there was a voice, a high clear, female voice, which said “Ow”, and then, very quietly, it said “Fuck”, and then it said “Ow”, once more.”

And there you have Yvaine. She who once graced the night sky, dancing with radiance, has been slammed to earth. Leg broken. Completely alone. When all but pounced upon by our cheerful young village lad, she’s not in the best of moods.
“You’re the star,” said Tristran, comprehension dawning. “And you’re a clodpoll,” said the girl, bitterly, “and a ninny, a numbskull, a lackwit and a coxcomb!”

When Tristran explains the nature of his quest – return Yvaine to his village crush – she is understandably cross.
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“I just want you to know,’ said the girl, coldly, ‘that whoever you are and whatever you intend with me, I shall give you no aid of any kind, nor shall I assist you, and I shall do whatever is in my power to frustrate your plans and devices.’ And then she added, with feeling, ‘Idiot.”

He has no desire to bind Yvaine forever, merely to prove that he was able to retrieve the star and so win the affection of his village girl. In fact, he intends to help the star return to her home when his task is complete.

“That doesn’t happen,” she explained. “Stars fall. They don’t go back up again.” “You could be the first,” he told her.”

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Of course the heart of a star holds powerful magic, and there are many who would stop at nothing to claim it. Other forces come into play. Princes and sorceresses seek the fallen star. There is trouble, as in any true quest, at every turn. Tristran finds courage and heroism. Yvaine finds (continued) tenacity and deep, unexpected love.

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For his part, Tristran is equally smitten.

“He wondered how it could have taken him so long to realize how much he cared for her, and he told her so, and she called him an idiot, and he declared that it was the finest thing that ever a man has been called.”

When villains are vanquished and affections are sorted, Yvaine has her happy-ever-after with Tristran. They adventure for a while, then settle down to rule his rightful realm. But she is a star, and will shine for time untold. When her love sleeps, forever and at last, she remains: a star bound to earth.

“They say that each night, when the duties of state permit, she climbs, on foot, and limps, alone, to the highest peak of the palace, where she stands for hour after hour, seeming not to notice the cold peak winds. She says nothing at all, but simply stares upward into the dark sky and watches, with sad eyes, the slow dance of the infinite stars.”

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postscript: While I fully adore the original novel, I really liked the 2007 movie adaptation; just planting that flag.

 

 

X is for X-Wing: #AtoZchallenge

Hello. I am the X-Wing fighter.
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There have been many variations on my basic model, but one thing is clear: I am THE fighter of the Rebellion and the Resistance. I am sleek. I am strong. I am ready to bring the pain with my s-foils, my maneuverability, my adjustable weapons array.
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I have been paired with the finest pilots.

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Wedge Antilles.

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Luke Skywalker.

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*grrroowwwrr* I mean, Poe Dameron.

I am down with the astromechs.
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I can not promise I won’t fall to enemy fire, but I will do my best.
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I am as beautiful in flight as I am deadly. Rebellion, Resistance, whatever comes next…

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*pew pew pew*

… I am there for you.