Well, It’s About Time.

So, the United States Supreme Court finally decided in favor of same-sex marriage. It’s not surprising, really; it’s been a foregone conclusion for a couple of years now. It was like a poorly-paced novel or show; the outcome is inevitable, but it drags on for so long that you almost don’t expect it to happen. But when it finally does, it feels like the most satisfying thing ever. That kind of statement probably warrants the assumption that I’m neck-deep in the politics at hand, but I’m utterly apolitical; if you’re looking for a debate, don’t bother posting. I lack the time, patience, and energy for that kind of thing. I doubt I’d change your mind regardless.

For me, it’s not a question of parties or other inherently limiting affiliations. Anyone can make promises and tell you what you want to hear. People can change sides and make concessions whenever it’s convenient. All that matters to me is if it works. I consider myself a student of all subjects, though history is among my favorites. I find traditions fascinating, but I’d be foolish to ignore how society changes with times. Knowledge, technology, expectations, roles, beliefs, goals, prejudices, businesses, friends, enemies…It’s all connected in one huge, ever-shifting reality. All we have are the memories from which we can hopefully learn.

If I traveled back in time 20 years and told 1995-Me that same-sex marriage would be made legal, he’d…Well, he’d probably grab a kitchen knife and chase me – the 30-year-old stranger that suddenly appeared – out of the house. That aside, he’d likely be confused and uncomfortable. At that point, my only exposure to anything remotely homosexual were Uranus and Neptune, the lesbian couple from the Sailor Moon anime who were infamously dubbed as “cousins” in the American broadcast. I’ve always been amused by younger viewers saying how “groundbreaking” recent shows like Adventure Time, MLP: FIM, and The Legend of Korra have been with regards to their implied same-sex romances. Japan has had that market cornered for decades; there are whole genres devoted to them! It’s just that mainstream American media – until quite recently – has had a huge, often hypocritical hang-up when it comes to portraying sexuality. What we have now is not so much a leap forward as it is slowly playing catch-up.

Sorry, went on a tangent. Point is, back in 1995 I was just a child a San Francisco Bay Area suburb. I was a classic latchkey kid, the kind who’d spend afternoons watching TV, finishing homework, reading, and doing chores before (hopefully) seeing a parent at dinnertime. I still get surprised reactions when people – mostly women – find out I know how to run a household. Not exactly quantum mechanics, folks. Being isolated so much never struck me as odd. What did, however, was how the other kids were treating me. I’ve mentioned how much of a bookworm I am; even as a child, I was intelligent, short, effeminate, shy, awkward, lacked confidence, skipped a grade, wore glasses, and was a late bloomer. That’s some prime bullying material, and everyone seemed to know it. But it went beyond that, and I didn’t understand what it was until much later:

I was different.

It wasn’t something that could be pinned down to just intelligence and whatnot; the others could sense that something was “off” – and therefore wrong – about me. I think it had mostly to do with my appearance; I still get mistaken for a woman sometimes. I’m now awesome and confident enough to roll with it. But in 1995, I was a nervous, quivering, prone-to-crying wreck who was bullied all the way through freshman year of high school. California might have a reputation for being progressive, but that doesn’t work so well in real life. I got crude jibes about shaving my legs, putting on makeup, my time of the month, you name it, they said it. I’ve been called every homophobic epithet you can possibly think of, usually from kids on bikes or passing cars as I walked home every day. I’ve had stuff thrown at me, been beaten up, all of it. Unlike the supposed politically-correct era we live in today, nobody – adult, kid, or otherwise – stepped in to help me. There was no “It Gets Better” for me. People only cared when I started fighting back; a ruthless temper can end a fight very quickly. It can also isolate you, and not in a good way. I was respected as a potential valedictorian for the rest my high school days – I was even nominated for the Every 15 Minutes Program and to give a speech at graduation – but I didn’t make any friends.

The problem wasn’t limited to school, though. Much of my family are devoutly religious; my grandfather was a minister, and his emigration here to preach was the reason I was born in America. I went to Sunday school, attended church twice a week, the whole bit. I’m still pretty good when it comes to Biblical topics on Jeopardy.  Growing up like that isn’t too bad; there’s a sense of family, community, and purpose. It’s all fine…as long as you follow whatever you’re told. That’s a real problem when it comes to someone like me, who constantly searches for answers, questions explanations, and strives to see the bigger picture. Or someone who so blatantly doesn’t conform to gender roles and sexuality, for that matter. There’s a lot of guilt involved with that kind of upbringing: the constant fear of disappointing your elders, the paranoia of being caught and judged, the logic that God doesn’t answer your prayers to stop the bullying because you’re a sinner, hating yourself for not wanting to be masculine etc. Never mind being smart, responsible, and having perfect grades; if you don’t conform, you’re a rebellious outcast. Needless to say, I wasn’t popular with the kids my age, either.

I’m not going to deny the importance of religion – people need to believe in something to survive, be it spiritual, philosophical, technological, whatever – but I can’t abide by it. The human mind is far more stubborn and creative than any religion can fully encompass, and we’re just starting to understand how it works on a psychological level. The centuries of violence, bloodshed, and oppression, all for what? They’re all the same stories, told in different ways. It’s like the human race; many branches, one tree. We should be learning from and helping each other survive. Yeah, I know it’s naive and it’ll probably never work; we as a society are still too foolish to make it happen. We’ll probably never find whichever beliefs – if any – are accurate. That’s a two-way street, by the way. Extremism is bad regardless of what side it’s on, and the messages from some well-meaning social media groups outright terrify me. I’m celebrating the same-sex marriage victory with the rest of you, but remember, popular beliefs and morals change over time. In another 40 years, we’ll be the ones considered old-fashioned and mocked accordingly.

Think about it.

So, where does the legalization of same-sex marriage leave me? Pretty much where I was yesterday, honestly. Despite numerous assumptions to the contrary over the years, I’m not gay. I’m 1.5 at most on the Kinsey Scale. I’m not too keen on the whole categorizing thing, though. I’m far more interested in gender fluidity; biological sex and gender are now considered separate, and the latter has its own spectrum. That explains a lot for me, even if the concept is still being developed. 1995-Me could’ve really used that term and had a better childhood. The human mind is too complex to be limited to society’s expected gender roles, which is something that our culture is only beginning to understand. As for all those lost, bitter years? I’ll never get them back. But I can take solace in the fact that while I may be different, the times have (temporarily, at least) shifted in my favor.

As for the rest of you, congratulations. You’ve earned this victory.

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Daily Prompt: LEGOs For Life

Hey, folks. Yesterday’s Daily Prompt was all about toys. Specifically, the ones you played with as a child, and the ways they affected your adult life. I could spend all day writing about how video games have shaped me; I learned how to use an Atari 2600 joystick around the same time I learned to walk, I could speed run through Mega Man X like a record-setting pro, and I’ve played just about every Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and major fighting game released in America. I don’t play as religiously as before – though I have a tendency to play Tetris as I’m watching Jeopardy – but the 90s gamer geek culture is thoroughly engrained in my personality. However, it’s not all that I am, nor is it my only influence. Besides, video games aren’t actually toys; they’re part of an emerging medium, much like films were in the last century. When it comes to toys, I can think of only one thing:

LEGOs.

I don’t think I need to expound of the virtues of those amazing building blocks; it seems like common knowledge. It even got its own feature length, award-winning movie in 2014! It makes you think and create, limited only by the extent of your imagination and patience. Unlike video games, it allows you to play and build with something tangible; you can see and physically touch the fruits of your labor, and thus feel accomplished for it. On my fifth birthday, I was given the Black Seas Barracuda. Even by modern LEGO standards, it’s an amazing, massive piece of work: 865 pieces, eight characters, cannons that actually fire, the folding stern that lets you see inside…So good. The adults apparently didn’t care that it was supposed to be for kids aged 9-12; they just set up a table, opened the box, handed me the instructions, and let me work. It took a couple of weekends – my parents were divorced – but I built that ship myself before I started first grade. It’s still sitting in storage somewhere, a remnant of a childhood long past.

Needless to say, building it (and many others to follow) played an important role in how I turned out. For me, it was another puzzle to solve; I grew up noticing the little pieces that made up life. When I read, I could understand things like characterization and theming long before I knew those were even words. When I drew with crayons, I didn’t just choose random colors; I asked how we knew that the colors we saw were the real ones. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I freaked out a few adults with that. The more I learned, the more pieces I found, the more I could understand reality and how it all tied together. As an adult, I have so many interests in both nature and the sciences; I love a great sunset, and even more because I understand the physics and astronomy behind it. I can walk on the beach and feel the sand between my toes, and imagine the time it took for the waves and wind to grind the particles down. There’s so much out there, and so few see it…

By the way, I never outgrew LEGOs. No one should. I have a few vats of assorted pieces at home, and I’ve made a tradition of getting one of the Architecture sets every Christmas. A shelf in my room has the Empire State Building, John Hancock Center, Seattle Space Needle, Burj Khalifa, Sydney Opera House, Big Ben, and Leaning Tower of Pisa. They’re not quite as grand as the old sets, but they’re a nice reminder of my travels and places I’ve yet to see. In that sense, LEGOs are inspiring me in a completely different way now. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Donkey Kong Country 2 – Stickerbrush Symphony

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest had a lot to live up to. With only a year since the release of the original DKC – one of the finest and visually stunning games on the SNES – it was a ridiculously tough act to follow. Rare stepped up to the challenge by introducing even more collectible items, tons of hidden rooms and secrets, more allies and enemies, even better graphics, more varied platforming and level designs, and a new character with a more unique abilities and jump physics.

It also boasted one of the finest soundtracks on the SNES, if not any console of that generation. David Wise put a lot of effort into the composition, and it shows. Other 16-bit games could only dream of having its intricate layering and epic tone. “Stickerbrush Symphony” is arguably the most famous track in DKC’s already impressive musical library. It’s strangely fitting that such a relaxing song plays during one of the toughest levels in the entire game.

If you want more DKC2, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Donkey Kong Country – Ice Cave Chant

With Christmas just around the corner, I wanted to find a video game song to fit the season. Last year, I went with the iconic “Phendrana Drifts” from Metroid Prime. Many games have snow-themed levels, but finding one with a good song is a little trickier. The Flanoir theme from Tales of Symphonia was a close choice this time, but I decided to go with Donkey Kong Country again. There are actually two winter themes; the “Northern Hemispheres” track is much better known and more atmospheric, but the “Ice Cave Chant” is far more upbeat. The brief melody in the middle only hints at the underlying danger and difficulty of its stage.

If you want more Donkey Kong Country, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Jet Force Gemini – Eschebone

Jet Force Gemini is one of the great unsung gems of the Nintendo 64 library. Oh sure, everyone talks about Goldeneye, Ocarina of Time, and Star Fox 64. But anyone who’s played this game knows better. It’s an epic space saga involving twin space soldiers, their trusty robot dog, and an evil empire of mutant ants. There are tons of flashy weapons, relatively intelligent AI, and special effects that push the N64’s graphics to their limits. The levels are huge, varied, and creatively designed. The sheer scope of it all is rather stunning for such an old game. It’s hurt by its late endgame developments, though; like any other title made by Rare, it requires a ridiculous amount of item collecting in order to beat. In this case, it involves rescuing every member of a race of sentient teddy bears hidden throughout the galaxy.

Yeah, it’s about as fun as it sounds.

However, the any potential tedium is drowned out by the game’s incredible soundtrack. Just listen to that track. Can you believe that came out a Nintendo cartridge? It’s so atmospheric. The composer took cues from major film scores; this particular track is based on the works of Danny Elfman. It’s one of many, many amazing songs in an equally amazing game.

If you want more Jet Force Gemini, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Donkey Kong Country – Fear Factory

Pretty sure I’ve mentioned Donkey Kong Country before. It was one of the finest games of its time; it had challenging platforming mechanics, intricate level designs, and graphics that pushed the Super Nintendo to its limits. However, it’s the soundtrack that everyone remembers. Fear Factory captured the pacing and tone of its levels perfectly. Not only did you have to outmaneuver all kinds of hazards, but you had to do it quick reflexes and the utmost precision. Listening to this now, the fact that Rare managed to get this performance on a cartridge – not a CD – is still absolutely mind-blowing. After 20 years of sequels and spinoffs, the original soundtrack has yet to be topped.

If you want more Donkey Kong Country, you can find the OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Weekly Writing Challenge: We Still Didn’t Start The Fire

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/to-the-tune-of/

Inspired by: We Didn’t Start The Fire

San Francisco, Kosovo, Greta Garbo
Tiananmen, Simpsons, Hubble Telescope, Human Genome
Jim Henson, Noriega, Nelson Mandela, Imelda Marcos
WrestleMania, Iran-Contra, Ninja Turtles, McDonald’s in Moscow
Worldwide Web, Chunnel, Home Alone, Super Famicom
Gulf War, Cold War, Gorbachev, Roald Dahl
Desert Storm, Rodney King, TNG, Japanese economy
Starbucks on the go, Street Fighter II, Mount Pinatubo

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Apartheid, Yeltsin, Clarence Thomas, Otzi the Iceman
Mike Tyson, St. Petersberg, Soviet Union’s gone
Oakland Hills, Perfect Storm, Robert Gates, Bill Clinton
Tom Clancy, Sophie’s World, Freddie Mercury, Terminator 2
Hannibal Lecter, Beauty and the Beast, American Psycho
Full House, Nicktoons, Black Or White, Clarissa
Jerry Springer, Graham Greene, Dr. Seuss
Twin Peaks, Mario World, Miles Davis, Nadine Gordimer

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Johnny Carson, Cosby, and O’Connor
Bosnia, Aladdin, Gotti, A Few Good Men
Sister Act, Endeavour, Goosebumps
Ross Perot, Alex Haley, Unforgiven
Pentium, Boutros, John Paul II’s apology
Asimov, Raymond Burr, Michael Jackson, Janet Reno
Got Milk, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Stephen Hawking
Band of Brothers, Baghdad, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Siege At Waco

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Windows, Magic, Buckingham, Arafat
Audrey Hepburn, Sleepless In Seattle, The Giver
Lion King, Jordan in Chicago, Madonna on Letterman
Green Day, Shipping News, Rwanda, OJ on the run
Kurt Cobain, Northridge, Tokyo and Sarin
AOL, Whitewater, Goodbye Jackie, Dahmer’s gone
Toy Story, Not Guilty, GoldenEye, Apollo 13
Atlantis Mir, DVDs, Mr. Burns, Oklahoma City

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Game of Thrones, Green Mile, Independence Day
Dexter’s Lab, Pokemon, Deep Blue and Kasparov
Ozone Disco, Dolly Clone, 3D Mario
Chechnya, Atlanta, Esperanto Manifesto
Tupac, Beast Wars, Kabul Taliban
Info Free, Survey Mars, Gene and Ella
Princess Di, Everest, Harry Potter, Shots in Hollywood
Heaven’s Gate, Pol Pot, Mother Teresa

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Jack and Rose, Jimmy, Ginsberg and Cousteau
Mason Dixon, South Park, Toonami, Denver
Seinfeld, Nagano, Wind-Up Bird, Truman Show
Google, Ellen, Sinatra, Matt and Alan Shepard
Star Wars, Euros, Matrix, The Sopranos
King is hit, Dalai Lama, Gretzky on the way
Columbine, Napster, Cowboy Bebop, Woodstock ‘99
Bones, Q, Milosevic, Macau, Y2K

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Time Warner merge, Good Grief, PS2
Putin, Elian in Cuba, e-books, ISS and Mir
House of Leaves, Millionaire, Gladiator
Wikipedia, Bush, Enron, 9/11, War On Terror
One Ring, Shaved Trebek, Afghanistan
Douglas Adams, Buffy, Queen Mother, ICC
Columbia, SARS, Deep Field, Da Vinci Code
Nemo, Sparrow, Governator, DBZ

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Facebook, Burj Khalifa, Massachusetts marriages
Indian Tsunami, Bolaño, Dark Tower, Alice Munro
Halftime show, Friends, Ken Jennings wins
Reagan, Reeve, Ray, and Brando
Northern nukes, Dan Rather, John Paul’s gone
YouTube, Deep Throat, Rosa Parks, and Pat no more
Hunter S Thompson, Hurricane Katrina, Vader, Evangelion
Saddam, Twitter, Doctor Who, McCartney’s 64

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Stingray Steve, iPhone, Virginia Tech, Bhutto
Benoit, Marcel Marceau, Pratchett’s ill, Barker’s time to go
Vonnegut, Writer’s Strike, Hulu, Dark Knight
Hope and change, Castro, Breaking Bad, Georgia in a fight
Crashed economy, Failing banks, Politics in Thailand
Heath Ledger, Edmund Hillary, Arthur Clarke, WALL-E
Jackson off to Neverland, Reading Rainbow, CERN, Cronkite
Inception, WikiLeaks, Deepwater, Quake in Haiti

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it

Watson, Arab Spring, Goon Squad, Pale King
Gaddafi, Bin Laden’s gone, Curiosity, Japan crisis, LHC
Kim Jong-il, Fifty Shades, Steve Jobs, Wall Street occupied
Skyfall, Snowden, Munro’s prize, Neil Armstrong flies
New Pope, Nothing written, Ebert, Let It Go
Marquez, Blood Moon, Kasem, Iraq with new foes
Health care, Student debt, marriage rights, dying vets
Russia and Crimea, Girls in Nigeria, Worldwide FIFA

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
But when we’re gone
It will still burn on and on and on and on
And on and on and on and on

We still didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We still didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we’re trying to fight it