It’s Freezing: Stay Indoors and Play These Table Top Games

It’s too cold to be outside, but that doesn’t mean you have to be anti-social (unless you want to, in which case you might check out the games below that work for a single player).  Play one of these table top games that I can personally vouch for!

I want to acknowledge that board games can be expensive.  If you don’t think you’re ready to invest in a board game, you can still enjoy them!  You can borrow a game from a friend, check out a board game from the library, or head out to a cafe or pub that allows you to play a huge variety of games while eating and drinking.  (If you’re in the Vancouver area, I recommend Storm Crow Tavern or Pizzeria Ludica.)

5-Minute Dungeon (2-5 players, 25 minute gameplay)5 Minute Dungeon
5-Minute Dungeon is an excellent game to start the evening.  Each round literally lasts five minutes, so it’s a quick and chaotic cooperative way to get in the gaming mood with your friends.  Using D&D archetypes such as rogue, wizard, or barbarian, you have the option of choosing from five character cards (male or female on either side, equaling ten option in total) to team up and defeat five increasingly difficult boss battles.  The gameplay is simple, as you and your teammates match icons from your hand to defeat a series of monsters and obstacles, and the five minute time limit guarantees that you will be laughing and screaming in an attempt to be victorious in time.

Unstable Unicorns (2-8 players, 30-45 minute gameplay) Unstable Unicorns
Unstable Unicorns is an adorably designed game of killer unicorns with hilarious names and powers (Americorn!  Stabby the Unicorn!) that combines strategy and ruthlessness with seriously, just the cutest illustrations ever.  Build up your stable of unicorns (as well as narwhals, the unicorns of the sea) and try to destroy the unicorns of other players.  It is a simple system with the potential for a lot of clever gameplay.

QuelfQuelf (3-8 players, 1-2 hour gameplay)
Quelf is my favorite party game, and I have historically described it as “if you are willing to look ridiculous for 30 seconds, you get to watch your friends look ridiculous too.”  It is out and out bonkers, as you move along the track by miming falling down an elevator or scouring your kitchen for materials to make a scuba mask that must be worn for the remainder of the game.  Sometimes you lose points if you forget to bark at someone entering the room.  It’s the silliest thing I’ve ever voluntarily done on repeat, and it never gets old.

MunchkinMunchkin (3-6 players, 1-2 hour gameplay)
Munchkin is a card-based strategy game wherein you strengthen your character with loot like the Kneepads of Sexiness and fight monsters, racing to level 10 before any of your competitors.  It’s a lot of fun that never gets old, because holy cow, there are so many expansions.  You can work your way through Adventure Time scenarios or Cthulhu horrors or dinosaurs.  This game has a fairly simple conceit, but it’s heightened with creative twists like giving monsters additional hit points for every drink that’s on the table.

Eldtrich HorrorEldritch Horror (1-8 players, 2-4 hour gameplay)
Eldritch Horror is one of the most complicated, most difficult games I’ve ever played.  In fact, in the three times I’ve played this with groups of experienced gamers, I have never once won.  Yet this only makes me want to try again!  A cooperative game based on H.P. Lovecraft’s novels, you and your friends race to find clues and defeat horrors appearing through rifts all over the world before your health and sanity disappear.  It requires strategy, flexibility, and the willingness to mourn the takeover of planet earth after hours of attempting to prevent the apocalypse.  Defeat was never so fun.

Arkham Horror Card GameArkham Horror: The Card Game (1-4 players, 1-2 hour gameplay)
If you’re not a fan of board games that require hundreds of game pieces, switch over to Arkham Horror: the Card Game, which adds role-play to the original concept of partners uniting to defeat otherworldly horrors before you lose all health and sanity.  The card setup is unique, and the scenarios allow you to fail but continue moving forward so long as you note your “two mental traumas” in the gameplay notebook.  Again, this is a game designed to be almost impossible, which should be obvious by the rule that states, “If you are unsure how to apply a rule, choose the option that causes the most pain to your characters.”  So hard!  So fun!

Terraforming MarsTerraforming Mars (1-5 players, 1-2 hour gameplay)
Terraforming Mars a perfect game for one or two people who want to strategize and create a long term plan, stacking resources and implementing opportunities at just the right moment.  This game wins extra points for feeling like you’re really terraforming Mars.  Points are earned as you raise the temperature and oxygen levels, and you have access to developing microbes and searching for life before opportunities to plan grass ever come along.  An incredibly nerdy and delightful game.

Twilight ImperiumTwilight Imperium (3-6 players, 4-8 hour playtime)
The game of all games.  I first played Twilight Imperium in a group of six, and we played for thirteen hours.  It is a testament to this game that we played again within a month, and the second time breezed by in a quick seven hours.  This complex game somehow manages to never feel QUITE too complicated, though I cannot imagine trying to play without at least one player who has experience.  In this race to conquer the galaxy (which you create with tiles, guaranteeing a new game every time), you can lean into technology, war, trade, or diplomacy to earn victory points and become undisputed champion of table top gaming.

How to Survive Being Unemployed

When I was laid off, I thought it would be a month before my application to be a permanent resident of Canada would be approved.  It was easier, in that context, to think of the time away from work as a vacation.  I later found out that the time had been extended to an additional five months, with the expectation that my application will finish processing by the end of June.  Suddenly, the first half of the new year found me unemployed and purposeless.

That’s the thing, isn’t it?  I associate my purpose with my work.  This setback wasn’t primarily financial, though this was a huge concern; it was personal.  Who am I without a job?  How do I create meaning when the socially acceptable route isn’t available to me?  I’m still wading through this emotional and practical quagmire, but here are some things that I have found helpful so far:

  • Feel the feelings.  This is my rule for everything, and this situation is no exception.  Over the past month, I have felt shocked, angry, frustrated, hopeless, hopeful, energized, depressed, disappointed, and overwhelmed.  When I repress those emotions and pretend they aren’t there, they become more powerful.  They last longer and pop up in other areas of my life where they don’t belong.  To avoid this, I try to feel the feelings.  For me, that means naming them as they arrive.  Simply saying, “I’m sad today,” goes a long way toward accepting and moving through the emotion.  Have a good cry or a good rant, and let that feeling go.
  • Set boundaries on feeling the feelings.  There comes a time when feeling the feelings turns into saturating yourself in the feelings.  Instead of letting your emotions be signposts to show you what you need, they become quicksand, eager to pull you under completely.  I have a rule for this as well:

    Have your pity party, but only for one day, and only if you invite someone else.

    I have found that this validates my emotions without empowering them.  It also has the fortunate side effect of infusing humor into the darkest emotions.  When I’m in an especially bad mood, my conversation with my girlfriend looks something like this:

    “What kind of balloons are at your pity party?”
    “Black ones.  No, black is too good for my party.  They’re like, watery grey.  And only half inflated.”
    “Where are they?  Hanging on the walls?”
    “No, they’re just…on the floor.  And I’m on the floor.  Laying face down, making the world’s saddest balloon angel.”
    “I’m going to try to sit on some to pop them.  But they’re so uninflated that they won’t pop.”
    By now, I’m trying not to smile at absurd mental images.  “You look ridiculous,” I insist, before bursting into laughter.

  • Be careful who you share your story with.  There are all kinds of people who are not going to help you.  Some unsuccessfully hide the fact that they are happy about your misfortune, because it makes them feel more secure in their not-that-bad situation.  Others seem helpful, but their commitment to being with you in your experience can actually keep you mired in the worst emotions without allowing you to move on.  If you find that you’ve opened up to someone who is making things worse, you can always back away from the information updates and give less intimate reports when they ask how you’re doing.
  • Balance productivity with laziness.  This has been my biggest struggle.  When I was first confronted with so much time off, I had a list of projects I wanted to complete, from decluttering my closet to designing podcast logos.  As I checked off the projects that excited me most, I started to falter.  I watched more Netflix, played more video games, and wasted more of my time.  The shame increased, which made escaping into tv shows even more appealing.

    It’s the shame that is the problem here.  Once I told myself that I was allowed to be a lump on the couch as much as I wanted, it didn’t feel quite so appealing for quite so long.  Am I playing video games more often than usual?  Yes.  Once I chose to see that as a perk of being unemployed, I could enjoy it without getting sucked into it forever and always.  I could work on projects when necessary, and be lazy when necessary.  Always keeping my eyes open for new shame attacks, of course.  Those things aren’t a one-and-done deal.

Being unemployed is a struggle, and following the four pieces of advice laid out here will not make it a magical experience.  But this time doesn’t have to be seen as a waste.  It can be a period of self-growth as you explore and strengthen your emotional intelligence.  You can discover new hobbies, or pick up old ones that fell by the wayside when you were too busy with work.  It is going to be uncomfortable, but it is survivable.

The Terrible Thing is Coming, So Be Here Now

One of the reasons I was happy being single was that I did not have to worry about future heartbreak.  Someone once told me that the best case scenario for romantic relationships is staying together until one of you dies, and my risk-avoidant brain immediately decided it would be preferable to just stay by myself, thanks.  How annoying to find myself dating someone five years older than me, so that even if we hit upon the best case scenario, odds are I’ll be the one burying her.

Yes, I am aware of my morbidity!  I regularly kiss my cat’s head and tell him how sad I will be when he dies.  I once sat outside and enjoyed the brisk autumn breeze by wondering how it would feel if I were a corpse and it could get to my bones.

Best case scenarios are not the only option, however.  Opening myself up to loving someone and being loved in return means also opening myself up to the possibility of that love disappearing.  Here I find it very unhelpful to have a counseling background.  I don’t have the luxury of blind belief in our relationship being special.  I know we will lose the honeymoon desperation and affection.  I know that if we replace that with a deeper, committed love, we are likely to fall into the ten year pit that sinks a huge proportion of relationships.  And I know that if we choose to stay together through that, there’s still a chance we will be physically together but emotionally separate.

Is now a good time to mention that we have been together for less than six months?  In addition to my morbidity, I am also aware of my anxious overthinking.  My tendency to plan and sub-plan will always be with me, and honestly, I’m grateful for it.  My knowledge of potential future outcomes makes me eager to set up our relationship for success by having hard conversations early and establishing habits of communication and affection that will see us through rough patches.  But sometimes I get stuck anticipating and preparing for the terrible thing, and it becomes all I can see.

“The terrible thing is coming, so be here now.”  I heard that in a podcast referring to job failure, and it illuminated my problem.  The terrible thing is coming, whether that terrible thing is breakup now or later, death now or later, dissatisfaction now or later.  But the solution to the terrible thing coming is not to look over my shoulder and around every corner so that I can catch a glimpse of it.  The solution is to be here now.

Something terrible will happen in my relationship with Rachel.  That’s the inevitability of life.  So because of that, I want to be with her, fully and in deep appreciation for what we now have.  I want to laugh with her, dream with her, hold her and listen to her affirm me.  What we have is good.  It’s so good.  When I spend my time anticipating the terrible thing, I miss what’s happening right now.

And that’s a terrible thing in itself.

A Truly Terrible Day of Traveling

When I say I had a terrible day of traveling, I mean it on the level of absolutely rotten, throw it away forever, because this hell had multiple levels.

For starters, I was leaving a reunion in Greece that caused me to realize that I had quite a lot of unresolved grief surrounding the abrupt end of my time living there. This left me randomly weeping as I walked through the Athens airport remembering all the times I’d been through the place and sat there with that person on that trip. Emotionally raw was a set up for added physical agony.

I was also only one day clear of a bout of flu that had knocked me unconscious for two days straight. I wasn’t feverish anymore, but I still had the sort of head cold that made my eyes randomly weep from sinus pressure when not already producing fluid due to aforementioned sadness. That’s not so bad, but liquid also leaked from my nose quite often, and I spent most of my time trying to cover all this up so that the people around me would not worry that I was most definitely spreading the plague.

Added to all this was a total lack of sleep. My flight left Athens at 6:00 am, which meant I was supposed to wake up at 3:00. I went to bed at 10:00 the night previous, then promptly did not sleep as my brain was terrified that I wouldn’t make it to the airport. You see, the flu I had so recently come out of was now happily residing in the people who controlled my transit. They had already downgraded from driving to the airport to driving me to the bus stop out of a fear of not being able to stay awake, and I laid in bed for five hours doing nothing helpful to the situation. I was very tired going into 19 hours of travel.

On the first flight I had the dreaded sinus head implosion that drags all the mucus in your body to the surface of your face, as though gravity wants to pull it from you through each individual pore. It also feels as though your teeth are slowly being peeled from their gums, and I had to keep running my tongue around to ensure they remained in place. As I privately groaned and snotted and contemplated face-removal, the young couple next to me laughed together and kissed noisily in Greek, the monsters.

Knowing how much food is given on transatlantic flights, I had not considered my four hour layover and how hungry it would make me. I spent each hour debating whether it was worth using an ATM to get a few euro for a snack, always choosing no and then regretting it. It was at this point that I realized one final thing: I had started my period early, and in an incredibly uncharacteristic move, I was unprepared. I haven’t been without a spare tampon or pad in my purse in over a decade, and I paced the Amsterdam airport in an anxious fugue, still wheezing and dripping from the nose, but also begging feminine supplies off strangers. One woman looked at me in pity, saying, “Oh honey, I haven’t had to worry about that in years.” Several simply said no or avoided my sick-addled English question, made unhelpfully more awkward when I added gestures to the question. Finally, one heroic soul, after saying she didn’t have a tampon, watched me sadly mouth-breathe at the bathroom door, waiting for a new victim to enter my lair. She paused, then clarified, “I might have a pad.” She properly dug into her carry-on suitcase, opening it fully and rifling through her life possessions in pursuit of the Spare Pad that no responsible adult woman goes without. When she gave it to me, I nearly cried, from relief or from sinuses, or both.

I could tell you how the nine hour flight from Amsterdam to Vancouver slowly turned the experience around, how a very kind stewardess searched both the back and the front storage areas to surreptitiously hand me three more pads that could have been made of gold for how much I valued them. I could tell you how I made eye contact with the man standing beside me as I accepted them and stuck them up my shirt, daring him to comment on my personal hell. I could then mention that the food was truly excellent and the seating comfortable enough that I quadruple checked my ticket and seat out of a fear I’d accidentally upgraded myself to business class. And I could tell you that my sinuses dried up and I spent the majority of the flight sleeping whilst breathing through my nose, deeply satisfied with the simple pleasures of my body finally working properly.

But mostly I will just tell you: I have never wanted so deeply and so desperately to fall through my apartment door, to hug my newly reunited cat, and to be as gross as I needed to be without anyone else around to notice.

The Best Things I Read, Watched, and Listened to in 2018

Best Books I Read in 2018

  1. The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett
    These six books are the most melodramatic historical novels I’ve ever read.  Francis Crawford of Lymond is an arrogant genius with an alarming amount of self-hatred who willingly plays the villain in order to play a long game of justice, so like, he’s my exact favorite kind of character.  These are DENSE books that somehow fly by, and the fourth book (Pawn in Frankincense) had me literally screaming at the pages.  I’ve been avoiding Dunnett’s second series, The House of Niccolo, because I know they will once more overtake my entire life.
  2. Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel
    I haven’t yet read something by Oppel that I don’t like, but Every Hidden Thing tops my list of his books.  It’s a Shakespearean story of star-crossed lovers from competing families of archeologists scrambling to discover new dinosaur fossils in the Badlands in late 1800s.  If that doesn’t immediately grab your attention, then…I don’t understand your brain.
  3. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
    I was entirely surprised to find myself won over by Mitchell’s book, since before this year I only had bad memories of watching the movie in Memphis in a theater full of Yankee-hating Southerners.  But Mitchell is a phenomenal writer!  The story is surprisingly feminist, an unflinching examination of a woman who is willing to flout societal gendered expectations in order to ensure her family’s survival.  It’s messy and inspiring and depressing – three of my favorite things!
  4. Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
    This is satirical fantasy with a heart, where a bunch of over-the-hill champions have to reform their warrior team to save a daughter from an evil bunny-man.  Which is ridiculous, but also the bunny-man is legitimately scary?  And in the very good sequel, Bloody Rose, there is a hero bunny-man who actually made me cry, so…satire with a heart.  At one point they hide from giant trolls who are idly arguing about whether one is using the word “literally” correctly, and I think that sums up the feel of the book quite nicely.
  5. The Power by Naomi Alderman
    How would the world change if women suddenly woke up with the ability to conduct electricity?  This was a depressing and fascinating story that stayed with me for a long time.  There’s a sense of satisfying justice in the beginning, as women who have been abused or belittled for years suddenly have the power to defend themselves.  But it doesn’t end there, ultimately positing that when power comes from physical force, there can never be equality.  The parts that were especially compelling to me were the eerie echoes of women defending their power (“it wasn’t rape, because he liked it”) that throw real life problems into excruciating clarity.
  6. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
    Not nearly as sexy as its title would have you believe, this is both a murder mystery and an empowering story of overlooked women finding camaraderie and joy through sharing, well, erotic stories.  It covers generational immigrants and their conflicting priorities, the inner lives of those whom society labels irrelevant, and the dangers of the patriarchy.  It was entirely unique for me, and I adored it.
  7. Saga (volumes 1-9) by Brian K. Vaughan
    WHAT A SERIES.  These graphic novels had me hooked within a couple pages, and I am so sad to have reached the end of what is currently published, so now I have to wait for the next installment very impatiently.  This very adult story is about two worlds at war, both of which want to kill the child of two pacifists who abandoned the fight.  It is INCREDIBLY creative, with a nation of robots that are just grey people with televisions for heads, and the higher in status they are, the more modern the tv (royalty’s screens are in color).  And, like Kings of the Wyld, this might sound ridiculous, but it’s all played seriously, and yes, I did also cry because of one of the robots.  There’s a lot of crying in this series, because it covers years of this family’s fight to survive, and a lot of people help them and suffer for it throughout the way.  I don’t honestly know how to describe its brilliance, so here’s just this:  It’s my actual first favorite thing I read all year.

Best Things I Watched in 2018

  1. Call Me By Your Name
    This movie is absolutely beautiful!!  It is sumptuous, capturing a lazy summer in Italy with just, an incredible attention to the physicality of a moment, whether that’s the slap of wet feet in sandals or the magnetic embrace of someone newly in love.  I saw this four times this year, and I accidentally cried while describing it to someone.
  2. Stephen Universe
    This cartoon! is! amazing!  I binge-watched all five seasons currently out, and while it started as cute 10-minute adventure segments, the world slowly expanded and got very emotionally compelling!!  It is one of the most good stories out there, by which I mean its hero genuinely wants to help everyone, even his enemies, and his heart is just so big and so beautiful!  This is one of those shows that I think could actually make the world a better place if everyone were forced to watch it.
  3. Queer Eye
    This is another series that could change the world for the better if everyone were forced to watch it!  This is reality tv with massive heart, as five gay men do total life makeovers for straight men.  And I mean total life makeovers.  While there is the requisite hair and clothing changes, the real magic of this show comes from the inside-out transformation of men blossoming under male attention and learning to express their emotions.  I cry a lot while watching this show, and
  4. Terrace House
    For someone who thinks she doesn’t like reality tv, it’s weird to have two on my list this year!  But this Japanese reality show is so sweet!  It’s a classic “six strangers have to live together” scenario, but instead of in-fighting, they generally support each other’s goals and politely discuss any conflict in the house.  And rather than vote people out, a person can stay until they feel they’ve accomplished their goal (which can be anything from ‘launch a ski clothing line’ to ‘fall in love’), they leave and someone new comes in.  It’s all really lovely, non-confrontational, and funny.  Because oh yeah, there’s a panel of Japanese comedians who interrupt the show twice per episode to make jokes about what’s going on.  Genius.
  5. I, Tonya
    I wasn’t around for the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan debacle, but that did not affect my enjoyment of this movie in the slightest.  Okay, “enjoyment” is a strong word.  It’s an excellent movie about abuse, made even more amazing by how it traces her abusers from her mother to her husband…to us, the viewers who judged and opinionated and laughed at her.  It’s also just very cleverly done, intercutting flashbacks with dialogue from the present day.  Inspiring and depressing…hmmm, there’s a trend here.
  6. She-Ra
    Except for these wonderful cartoons with not a bit of depression in them!  The She-Ra remake ALMOST made me want to have kids, because both girls and boys could be so benefitted by its diverse representations of girls and boys.  It’s all about the power of friendship, and it’s also just so healthy.  At one key point, a sidekick begs She-Ra, “You have to fix this!”  Overwhelmed, she admits, “I can’t.”  And instead of forcing or guilting her, the sidekick says, “Okay,” and hugs her, preparing to be destroyed together.  Spoiler, they aren’t, but that moment of grace made me cry actual tears.  Also, there is a princess prom and Catra and Adora have mad chemistry, and I cannot wait for season two!!

Best Podcasts I Listened to in 2018

  1. Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard
    Sometimes he interviews famous friends (or his famous wife, Kristen Bell, whose episodes are always my favorites), and sometimes he interviews mostly unknown experts in various fields (I loved the episode with Dr. Drew about addictions).  It’s a long show, and I don’t listen to every episode if it’s a celeb I don’t care about, but it’s always a fun listen.
  2. Buffering the Vampire Slayer
    Two women review Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes, but they spice up their routine with character jingles, a sexual tension award, and a legit good song about each episode.
  3. Failed Missionary
    Hosted by Corey Pigg, former missionary in Germany, this podcast tackles some very real problems in the missionary world like the white savior complex (fittingly discussed by Ugandan men and women).  It’s updated irregularly, but every episode is amazing.
  4. Hoist the Colours I didn’t stop being obsessed with Black Sails this year, and luckily there are still people creating new content about the world’s best television show.  This podcast focuses on the numerous queer characters in the show, tracking their character arcs through the seasons, and it literally makes my heart spike every time I see a new episode uploaded.
  5. Milleneagram
    An irreverent podcast about the Enneagram that’s for “babes and trolls, kids and queers,” it maintains the complexity and beauty of learning from the personality test while including a lot more cussing and real talk than the enneagram podcasts made by middle-aged men and women (which I also love, but they are not my favorite).
  6. Queerology
    An amazing podcast for LGBTQ+ people to discuss their relationship with Christianity.  It’s…just exactly that simple, and I love it.
  7. The Daily
    I am very bad at keeping up with the news, but this half-hour podcast makes me feel a little less uninformed every day.  I especially like it because the current topic is framed in a historical context that makes it all a lot more interesting and relevant.

What were some of your favorite books, movies, tv shows, and podcasts this year?
Tell me in the comments, and maybe they’ll make my 2019 list.

Luke Skywalker and the Power of Story

While I was listening to Can I Just Say‘s podcast episode about The Last Jedi, I caught some serious Luke Skywalker feels again!  (See my other blog post fangirling about him here.)  What caught me this time was their discussion about his circular arc: how Luke goes from a young man longing to be a hero, to becoming a cynical and bitter man who sees that heroes are just flawed men and women, to finally accepting that despite reality, people need heroes to inspire them toward great things and to believe in the hope of goodness.  The Luke that is disgusted by the idea of people searching the galaxy for him, knowing that he’s committed or allowed atrocities to happen, eventually decides that it is selfish of him to be an authentic hermit.  Instead, he steps into the role of idealistic hero and puts on a show that will continue the legacy of LUKE SKYWALKER THE JEDI MASTER.  What changes things for him?  Leia’s hologram.  And that’s where things get meta!

The newest Star Wars trilogy is, to me, simultaneously an acknowledgment of its past failings AND a love letter to itself.  While it works hard to correct failures of diversity in its casting, it also celebrates the stories that a bunch of white people created.  Luke is the embodiment of that struggle – he is a man who is revealed to be flawed, but he’s still inspirational.  The fact that it is Leia’s hologram, one of the most recognizably Star Wars moments – “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” – that helps him see his simultaneous roles is so beautiful to me.  It connects the character to the story in which he belongs, and there is a catharsis there for those who need help accepting that their fav is problematic.

In this day and age, it seems like we only get one side of this issue addressed at a time.  Some books/movies/television shows diversify and become more culturally thoughtful and like to pretend that past regressive behavior never happened.  Others entrench themselves in their narrow storytelling, insisting that you have to end a story the same way it began.  I really admire Star Wars for taking the middle road, for admitting their failures and working to rectify them while also celebrating the fact that Star Wars is a hugely popular and inspirational story that encourages us to hope that good can ultimately triumph over evil.

As someone who is simultaneously obsessed with authenticity AND idealism, I love Luke Skywalker.  He wants so desperately for ideals to be real.  When he realizes that nothing can ever truly live up to his ideal, he removes himself from everything.  But eventually he realizes that ideals aren’t there to be attained.  Ideals exist as something to aspire to, something that pushes us beyond what we can imagine on our own.  So he completes the circle, becomes the ideal he always wanted to be, fully knowing it was isn’t his authentic self.  But that’s okay.  What the world needs is Luke Skywalker the Jedi Master who will be the hero of little slave children’s stories.  Who just might, in Episode 9, be the impetus for their reaching beyond what society has given them and dreaming of something more.

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The Woman Beneath the Recovery Participant

About a month ago, the place I work for held a fundraising event in which we told the pieced together story of the kind of woman who might find herself sexually exploited, addicted to drugs, and in need of a recovery home.  I was in charge of pressing play for the first part of her story, in which two actresses told the story of how they were sexually abused as children, tricked, doped, raped, sold, etc, and wound up gazing out of windows wondering “Doesn’t anyone see me?”

The people who went through the experience were…overwhelmed.  I forget sometimes that the gruesome reality of the women I work with is not a common thought space for many people.  I spoke with one woman afterward who was struggling to process the fact that these sorts of things happen (and I tried not to scream SOME VERSION OF THIS IS SUPER COMMON, YOU HAVE JUST BEEN PRIVILEGED ENOUGH NOT TO KNOW IT), and I realized she was kind of mentally thinking of our women as martyrs.  Or victims.  As someone Other and Pitiable.

It made me realize that what I really want people to know is that these women are women.  They’re human!  They have personalities that delight and frustrate me.  One participant likes my Harry Potter references, and another will always say, “Oh my God, NERDS,” and then we nod and high-five each other.  That same mocking participant UTTERLY geeks out about Vampire Diaries and can imitate the voice and posture of every character on the show.

Another is incredibly organized, and when we went on a picnic outing, she was the only one who brought something to share.  That something was gorgeous plastic plates, utensils, pita bread with homemade dip and sun-dried tomatoes.  Another woman struggles with depression, but we decided to try to learn Korean together, so whenever I say “An-yong!” to her, she breaks into the cutest giggles.

Another decided she wanted to apply for a job (her first ever), so she researched the hell out of what to wear/say/do, and had me ask her questions from a list of fifty she’d printed out and answered.  She got the job despite laying down very strict time boundaries because her effort was apparent.

Another repeatedly assures us that she knows cannibalism is wrong but “I just want to eat my baby so bad.  HIS CHEEKS.”  Another wanders listlessly around until you meet her eye.  Then she smiles peacefully at you and wanders the other way.  Another is an over-achiever, the only one interested in completing my daily spelling lists because “It feels so good to be good at something.”

They all revolted when they thought someone wasn’t getting paid enough for her sewing work, and they were all going to donate some of theirs to make up for it.  Another participated in a slam poetry reading at a hipster coffee shop, and at every person before her, she got paler and paler.  She performed amazingly, but insisted we immediately leave because she thought she was going to throw up.

Another grows black flowers.  Another over-tans.  Another comments about how good someone looks “when you draw your eyebrows on.”  Another can’t process quickly in a big group.  Another has to wear our Ugly Shirt often because she runs out of the house last minute in ill-fitting shirts.  Another keeps falling in love with construction workers named Shawn.  Another, another, another…

Some of the stories they tell churn even my hardened stomach.  These are women who have been raised by abusive parents, who have had DESPICABLE things done to them over and over by multiple and varied people, who have DONE despicable things to others as well.  They are wracked by guilt and shame and worthlessness, and they cling to the tiniest hope that maybe they can change their lives into something entirely new so that their kid won’t live through what they did.  They fail and they succeed…and they tell jokes, and they welcomed me, and they’re silly and kind and vindictive and self-deprecating and smart as hell.

I really love them.  Not because of what they’ve gone through.  But because they are each of them beautifully unique humans who deserve to be known and loved and appreciated for who they are underneath all their bad decisions and awful circumstances.