Sunday, April 21, 2013

Contradance: A First Impression

Having just returned from my very first contra, I feel like getting my impressions of it down before sleep distorts my memories.

For those of you who don't know, all one of you (yes I did see I have gained one follower, and for what it's worth thanks Ariadne), Contradance is a national organization that hosts dance events consisting mostly of called line dances in nearly every city or closely grouped collection of cities in the country. Think square dancing, but with English/Irish country music instead of American country music, also better dances.

Previously my experience of the Portland dance scene had been disappointing. The tango scene only wanted people with several years of experience dancing tango behind them, and was less than kind to newcomers stepping in to the actual dance events. So as someone who had only been dancing tango six months I wasn't exactly welcome. On the other hand the swing scene loved any and all blood no matter how new, but kept odd hours in sketchy locales, which seemed dangerous for a college student with no car and barely enough money to pay bus fare depending on the month. And finally the waltz scene, where I hoped I would find some dedicated folks supporting my absolute favorite dance, was dominated by the elderly. Don't get me wrong, some of the best leads and follows I've ever seen are in that community, but as the only young person there I felt as if every person I danced with was trying to absorb my youth through osmosis. It was disconcerting to say the least. Contra blew all the expectations I had gained through my experience in those communities out of the water.

The veterans could care less that it was my first time doing any of the line dances. In fact, many of them offered to help me through my first few dances and to teach me the basic moves of most contras in between songs; the location was a quaint little community center just outside Portland proper where what we considered the dance floor was a basketball court most of the week; and the group was larger than any I'd ever seen in the Portland dance scene, with people running the age gambit from early seventies to only a few years older than myself (20 years of age for frame of reference). Even better, the young and the old meshed seamlessly together, as each contra dance required one to change partners every minute or so. They had a live band too, three people on a banjo, accordion, and violin respectively that shouldn't have meshed together to create such lively, harmonious music but did.

As the night wore on I felt like I had gone back in time to a country dance in Ireland. Old widows and young maidens, apprentices and master craftsman, all gathered together on the village green to dance the day away until they collapsed in contentment as the endorphins became unable to sustain them any further. In short, it was a good evening.

I'm sure not every contra is like what I just described, but knowing that they do exist pretty much everywhere in the US does make me happy. It's a comforting thought to know that no matter where I go in life I'll still be able to go out one lazy Saturday evening and dance until my legs give out. It's good cardio, and a very good feeling.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Worldpost: Shadow World- of Gods and Men

Another thing I imagine this blog will be useful for, posting setting ideas for future stories. I tend to hold on to worlds for a while before I find the right story for them, and hopefully this will help me keep track of the ones I make. Starting with...

Shadow World

I know, not the most creative name, naming the worlds and the locations within them has never been my strongest point.

Anyway without further ado:

Shadow World, otherwise known as the Godless Lands or the Land of Night and Day is a world with only three gods. One is the Allfather (The General, Lord of Radiance, King of War, Keeper of the Sun, The Watcher, etc.) and he presides over quite literally everything under the sun. He is the god of more things than anyone but his priests can count and is usually referred to as the "Holy Father" by his followers. One is the Night Mother (The Weaver, The Dreamer, Moon Mother, Forest Walker, etc.) she is also the god of many (non-overlapping) things, but most notably the god of life. She is often called "The Lifegiver" by the majority of her followers, though names are different in different locations. The last is The Farmer, the name he is referred to when anyone dares speak of him at all. He only has one domain: death, and his is the only appearance that can be agreed upon of the three (rough spun cloak, scythee in one hand, bag of harvested souls over one shoulder, appears as the person most recently dead).

Both the Allfather and Night Mother own roughly half the world, in the sense that each of their religions is practiced in roughly half the space (excluding some valiant small countries and small island nations) on the planet they inhabit, with The Farmer being worshiped (or in most cases warded away) nearly everywhere in the world.

Now for the history portion, after which will come a rough sketch of the respective "factions" economies and city layouts.

A whole world is a lot of space for three gods, so the most important question is "How did there get to be only three?" Well, once upon a time hundreds of years ago there were many gods. All around the Shadow World there were nations praying to their own pantheon of gods. Those prayers in turn became energy which, when released out into the world, entered into repositories which would eventually become sentient and fulfill the roles of the gods the people prayed to. To do so they would be constricted towards acting in a manner according to how the people believed their gods would act, but in return they gained a nearly limitless supply of energy to do with as they wished.

 Though with so many religions, there were also many religious wars. Countless men, women, and children died as countries battle to bring their religion to other, "heretic" countries or city-states. And in those days the power of gods was spread out enough that they too could participate in battles in the earthly realm, fighting for their existence. The results were catastrophic, entire cities wiped out in an instant, entire land masses shifting as the earth trembled and the sea flowed into crevices newly formed by the destruction.

In this time there lived three gods, their names lost to time. One was the god of the forge, another the god of dreams, and the last was the god of farming. They watched as the number of humans dwindled bit by bit to the petty infighting of their countries gods and goddesses and, being relatively minor gods with few worshipers they felt there was nothing they could do to stop it, no matter how much they may have wanted to.

But then one day, the gods of dreaming and forges came up with an idea. The farmer was a god worshiped for his sickle, which was said to be able to reap a good bounty anything in this world. The two gods knew they couldn't change anything on their own, but maybe, when combined with that of the farmer, they could change the world.

And so, after discussing it with the farmer, the trio of minor gods put their plan into motion. During one of the many godly banquets , where the entire pantheon would gather to make merry, the two gods poured all but a wisp of their energy into the farmers sickle.

That night, as the gods made marry, the farmer stole through all the villages where they were worshiped and, one village at a time, reaped the very idea of gods other than the three from the minds of their citizens. That night the farmer brought back a harvest unlike any he had ever collected, the future prayers of every man women and child who prayed to their pantheon. It was only at this time that the farmer would ask "Now that we have power enough to change this world, what will I have dominion over when the time comes."

"Everything in the world dear farmer," his colleagues would reply, and as the farmer did not understand the concept of a half-truth the answer satisfied him.

As gods grew wise to the farmer's abilities they would watch over the villages that prayed to them with unending vigilance, but to no avail. The prayers given to only three gods by so many people made them too powerful, and the more gods they conquered, the more powerful they became.

It would take more than a century to see their task completed, yet in the end the three of them would come to rule all the world. Now, up until this point the three had held the power of the people's prayers in trust, all drawing from it as needed without any claiming true ownership of it. But their journey of conquest had come to an end, and it was time to divvy the spoils between the three gods. The forge god took a portion of the power and said, "With this power I proclaim myself god of all under the sun. War and metalcraft and so much more I take under my province, so that the world itself will weep when it sees my visage."

Next the god of dreams would come, take another portion, and say, "With this power I proclaim myself god of everything under the stars, I will walk in the stitches of blankets, the glens and forests, and in the heartbeat of all that lives. The secret places of this world will be at  my beck and call and I shall revel in them."

Finally the god of farming would take the last portion, but his was different from theirs. As he took the power into himself his body began to wither and decay. It was an agony, through which the farmer screamed "You said I would have everything! You lied to me!"

"You will have everything," the Allfather sneered as his eye took on the glow of suns and his body became fit and lean, "At the moment of its death."

The Night Mother looked sorrowfully down at the farming god as shadows moved to become her clothing and her hair turned blacker than night. When it was done The Farmer rose to face his brethren, seeing in his eye sockets the moment of their deaths. He would leave then to some unknown realm and not be heard from again for some centuries.

In those years the two gods, and the people they protected prospered. Humanity grew from small collections of wooden buildings to cities of stone and glass. And as they grew, so too did their ambitions, especially those of the priests of the two gods, who saw each other god as an impediment to their power. It would take time, as things often do, but soon the religious wars would begin again, humans squabbling over which god was the true god.

The Night Mother and Allfather ignored this for a time, enjoying the depth and breadth of their power, but eventually they grew afraid that one of them would seek to usurp the other, as they had done to the rest of the gods centuries before.

Each of them hoped to use their power to end the war before it began, but found themselves evenly matched. For each city the Allfather could strike with beams of light hotter than the sun, the Night Mother could bury another in shadows. It was during these turbulent times that the Farmer chose to intervene, telling the two warring gods to recuse themselves from the fighting should they wish to avoid the destruction of the past. Let their followers decide who would be the true god.

Out of shame and fear of the third member of their pantheon the gods agreed, creating dimensions for themselves to reside in while they sought less destructive ways to give their followers and edge over those of their enemy's.

 Now I've noticed this post has gotten as little long (and I'm running out of steam), as well it should have when I've spent about 3 years touching up this place. So I think I'll spread it out over several posts, break it up into parts between other miscellaneous items I put on here.

Next I'll probably cover the magic systems and (if I feel up to it) the catalyst which would drive elements of plot development in this setting. Look forward to it, I know I will.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Random Rant: Alcohol and Other Such Habitual Drug Use as an Activity Unto Itself

Being a college student living on campus I overhear snippets from many conversations between people roughly my age as I walk (or in many cases run) from class to class, or go to one of the local cafe's to catch a lite lunch. Most of these conversations take me back to the days of middle school, where every slight was a death threat and every relationship was prophesied to last forever right up until the moment it imploded. But there are some parts of conversations I've heard that disturb me, and I will be writing about one of them in this post.

 Several times over the course of my college experience I have heard friends talking and one friend say to the other "What did you do yesterday?"

And their friend would reply,  "I drank at Steve So-and-so's house, it was a blast." When I heard that the first time it deeply disturbed me. Not because of the alcohol use, I may go into my opinions on that subject when something in the world has suitably drawn my ire. The part that disturbed me was that drinking was the activity this person engaged in. They didn't drink and watch sports, or drink and hit clubs, they drank, period.

As I'm given to understand, drinking is often done to make other activities seem more enjoyable, but if that's the case, then why does it seem like more and more people see what comes after drinking as a secondary activity and the consumption of alcohol as the main activity? It unnerved me to think that some people would devote entire days solely to the pursuit of alcohol, and that the culture that surrounded them would not only condone it, but encourage it.

It's 2013, by this point in human history it's no secret that alcohol is a substance that can be overused and exactly what consequences that overuse will bring, yet it remains something of an open secret, that everybody knows but no one is willing to say out loud. After all, it would be quite the faux pas to lecture people at a party about the dangers of overindulging their alcohol habit, one severe enough to get a person thrown out on their ass if they aren't careful. Still, this culture of silence, especially in youth settings, can lead to a lot of wild nights, and a lot of loud and painful mornings.

Granted, I do not claim to be the sole authority on moral values or what can and cannot be placed into the bodies of others. Still, I often find myself thinking things like, "How much longer will this type of culture be able to sustain itself?" Or "There but for the grace of my uncommon sense go I." And if that comes off as a little judgmental, that's probably because it is. I may have no right to interfere in the lives of strangers, but that doesn't mean I can't judge them for their actions.

For those invisible people or perhaps myself in the future who may one day be reading this post, I pose this question: How would your world change if alcohol had never existed?


Hello internet, or whomever is in this small corner of the internet. For the purposes of this blog you can call me Sidereal, or Sid for short if anyone thinks my monicker too long. I do not speak to any one person, because my goal in creating this blog has little to do with people. "But Sidereal," you ask, "Why would you go to the trouble of creating a blog on some blogging site if you didn't want people to be following your every random thought and emotion with a near religious fervor?"

I'm glad you asked. For one thing there are plenty of other social networking sites that are much more social where I can find the validation most humans crave, that and the mystical land of Outside which I've heard is nice this time of year. The other reason is that I will mostly be using this as an infodump for my various musings on the world around me. Some will be abstract philosophical musings, some will be of a sociocultural nature, and others may resemble reviews of books, movies, and games.

The one thing they will all have in common is that I won't remember them in several days.

Therefore I will use this as a data storage system. Because hard drives can broken, flash drives can be lost, and computers can be destroyed by viruses, but the internet will last at least long enough for me to write down whatever I feel I should have record of for however long I decide to keep this endeavor in my favor.