Of LibertyCon

So this past weekend, I enjoyed the sights and wonders that are LibertyCon, a science fiction and fantasy convention in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In a word, amazing. In several more words, it was– as it has been every time I’ve gone in the past few years– a lot of fun and quite informative, to boot.

If you’ve never been to a convention like this one (and even remotely enjoy science fiction and/or fantasy), you really ought to try to find one. There are panels on every possible subject from the messiest ways to kill zombies to how close scientists are to designing actual Star Wars technology. That’s not to mention roundtables on what’s new in military sci-fi, if you still need an agent in the publishing world, and various goods or objects that effectively crippled civilizations throughout history. Top that off with an art show and a dealers’ room filled with more weapons, books, jewelry, and apparel than you know what to do with, and you’ve got yourself a real LibertyCon. Oh, and did I mention that such writing giants as John Ringo and David Drake (and so many others) came to this year’s festivities?

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While all of that is remarkably fun, I also enjoy meeting new people there, many of whom come from out of town but just as many of whom live locally. I even met a local artist, Anita Moore, who creates 3D environments for table-top strategy games, got to take a look at some of her work, and was able to chat with her about how in the world she creates such beautiful and lifelike environments.

I also went to a panel on space opera fiction, where an excellent point was made that I wanted to share here. It’s an old adage that you should “write what you know.” While there is a lot of truth to this saying, it should be taken with a healthy dose of salt in certain circumstances. After all, if we only ever wrote what we know, how vastly limiting that would be– let’s face it, entire genres of literature would vanish. While it’s helpful to have a lot of life experiences when you set out to write, I hardly think you have to have experienced everything about which you’d like to write.

Space Opera, courtesy of http://kelpiewinterfall.blogspot.com

Space Opera, courtesy of http://kelpiewinterfall.blogspot.com

I think “write what you know” refers far more to the representation of human emotion. I’d say for the most part, we’ve all experienced fear, betrayal, heartbreak, rage, joy, giddiness– perhaps in varying degrees and all obviously prompted by different circumstances. I think it is the ability to portray these emotions, these things that make us so very human, that is part of what makes good fiction. Now, does there need to be a kick-ass plot as well? Of course. But without good characters who we’re invested in, who feel things as we feel them, the best plot in the world can become largely worthless. At least in the humble opinion of yours truly.

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Of Mid-Week Rantings

Last week, a man accidentally shot himself while driving and died as result. The story consequently popped up on Facebook in a number of people’s posts, as well as I’m sure on a number of other social media sites to which I do not belong. The majority of them were cruel and derogatory, with the following excerpts being actual things people posted:

“I love this. The more people accidentally shooting themselves, the less people accidentally being shot by idiots.”

“Bye bye to another idiot!”

“I’m just glad he didn’t hit anyone with his car (or, let’s be real here, his truck).”

Well. I couldn’t care less which side of the aisle your politics fall on; the fact is, a man is dead. While I don’t know the full circumstances of what happened– other than it appeared to have been an accident– someone’s son, someone’s friend, maybe even someone’s father, is dead.

I also do not care if any of these posts were intended as humor or not, because it doesn’t matter. Although it’s important for everyone to be able to take a joke (which incidentally, is part of what makes South Park so amazing, because it pokes fun at everyone and everything pretty equally), there’s a line when it comes to real tragedy. Lately, that line seems to be one people feel no shame in crossing.

It shouldn’t matter if you love guns or hate them, a man is dead. To use him either to advance your own political agenda or to make yourself feel superior to someone you regard as “less-than” or an “idiot,” is unacceptable. When people call a man like this an idiot and say good riddance, whether they’re serious or not, they dehumanize him. Furthermore, it sets up a dangerous us-them dichotomy, where “they” are the enemy, so it’s okay to dehumanize them.

Human life is valuable, is sacred, and the loss of it should never be taken lightly, whatever the circumstances. The callousness of this dehumanization should never be acceptable. For that matter, that us-them mentality is largely where this two-party system has landed us in the States, and I think it’s safe to say it’s getting us nowhere, and fast.

End rant.

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Of Tourist Traps and Sacred Spaces

The last week has been full of moving and apartment-cleaning and subleasing for the summer (oh how many are the joys), and my mind has fled back many times to my recent trip to the UK and Paris, and how I can’t quite figure out why I got on the plane to come back.

So, today’s post is about some of the numerous churches and cathedrals I saw during my brief sojourn abroad, starting with the one I saw on my first day over there, in Edinburgh. That would be St. Giles’ Cathedral:
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The Sunday morning service had just ended, so I was able to go in and see the cathedral up close (though no interior pictures were allowed). Suffice it to say, it was beautiful, reverent, and haunting in its silence. More to come on that, but let me mention briefly some of the other churches I visited.

In London, there was (of course) Westminster Cathedral and St. Paul’s Cathedral, both of which had lines out the door of people waiting to get in. There was also an admission fee (not cheap, considering the less-than-stellar exchange rate when I was over there) for both of these London churches, though there was only a suggested donation for St. Giles’.

St. Paul's

St. Paul’s

Note the ridiculous discrepancy between the 5'4" person and the massive doors. Amazing.

Note the ridiculous discrepancy between the 5’4″ person and the massive doors. Amazing.

In Paris, I only had time to visit the two I desperately wanted to see, and those were La Basilique du Sacré Coeur and Notre Dame. Both were utterly swamped with visitors, but because the path/stairs up to Sacré Coeur is significantly longer, there seemed to be fewer people actually inside the basilica at one time, whereas Notre Dame was simply flooded with tourists both inside and outside.

Sacré Coeur

Sacré Coeur

Sacré Coeur sits atop the Mount of Mars, or the Mount of Mercury, which has been revered as a sacred site by druids, Romans, and eventually Christians. When Saint Denis was martyred here, the hill became known as the Mount of Martyrs, which ultimately gave its name to the neighborhood in which the basilica now sits: Montmartre.

Sacré Coeur sits atop the Mount of Mars, or the Mount of Mercury, which has been revered as a sacred site by druids, Romans, and eventually Christians. When Saint Denis was martyred here, the hill became known as the Mount of Martyrs, which ultimately gave its name to the neighborhood in which the basilica now sits: Montmartre.

Sacré Coeur has also been the site of a perpetual eucharistic adoration for over 100 years– I believe the date was since 1885. Even with the influx of people inside, then, there was very much a reverent feeling within the basilica because of this perpetual adoration.

a view of Paris from Sacré Coeur

a view of Paris from Sacré Coeur

Notre Dame, on the other hand, was so congested that it felt like only a historic site (which obviously, it is) but not like a cathedral at all. This was not helped by the fact that there was some sort of bread festival taking place on what is essentially the front lawn of the cathedral. And by bread festival, I mean a massive tent pavilion with vendors and a sound system, music blaring behind me, as I filed into the cathedral along with all the other tourists.

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Inside Notre Dame

Inside Notre Dame

Finally, there was the Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling, Scotland. There were maybe two or three other people in this stunning church while I visited it, so I was able to spend all the time I wanted there and even got to speak with the rector about the history of the church, his own history, etc. Amazing time, especially considering I thought it would be more crowded since the Church of the Holy Rude was the site of King James VI’s coronation over the Scots (and he would eventually become James I of England and would also be responsible for the King James Version of the Bible); furthermore, at his coronation in Stirling, John Knox actually preached the sermon, which I found fascinating.

Church of the Holy Rude

Church of the Holy Rude

It was so odd to visit so many churches and yet have such different feelings in all of them. Of course, I understand the reason places like Westminster and St. Paul’s charge a fee to tour the interior. Historical sites do need to be maintained, especially when flooded by visitors every day. But other churches, some arguably as-visited as these two London sites, only had suggested donations if you wanted to light a candle or just help support the church. Part of me still pulls back from the idea of charging admission to a church, even if it is a historical site, because it seems so in contrast to the sacredness of what it is supposed to be.

Of course, this depends on how you view the idea of the sacred, or if you even think it exists. To some people, a wide open meadow is far more sacred than a basilica, and the reverse is true as well. I don’t really cling to either, because I think there are as many places that may be sacred as there are people in the world. But at what point does a site such as Notre Dame become so “historical” and so “touristy” that all sacredness seems to have fled it?

But that’s only my opinion, and only my feeling that Sacré Coeur and St. Giles’ retained their function as churches while Notre Dame did not, and there’s for sure as many as would disagree with me as not.

Toodles.