Round Peg in a Square Hole

A repository of reference material on a variety of subjects

Monday, November 04, 2013

Two new ScienceGoH Gigs for 2014!

I've been invited to be Science Guest of Honor at TWO conventions next year!  The first is Marscon in Minnesota, March 7-9th.  I know those MN folks know how to throw a con, so I'm looking forward to that.  Their theme is Time is the Key, which lends itself to lots of interpretations.  Definitely packing the Steampunk costume for that.

The second is ConQuesT in Kansas City, Missouri.  I'm very excited, not having been to a con in Missouri before; I'm looking forward to making a lot of new friends!  Suspect there might be a few familiar faces, though...  It's ConQuesT 45, so they must be doing something right!  Their theme is Noir; sounds perfect for a few femme fatale gowns!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Importance of Being Abby

For Halloween this year, despite the fact that I’d been on my new project for less than three months, I dressed up as Abby from NCIS at work. The responses were about evenly split between a short pause when someone first saw me, then an exclamation of, “Abby!” and, after a full explanation of who I was, the comment, “Oh, I don’t watch TV.” With one of these latter folk, I got into a discussion of just who Abby was, and was really caught off-guard by his question, “Is it a comedy?” The comment distressed me, so I’ve been thinking a lot about it ever since, and I have come to the conclusion that Abby’s work here is not done.

When I was a kid, the roles women played on TV were pretty limited: mom/wife, nurse, school teacher, nun…and that’s about it. Maybe bank teller and crime victim, screaming and needing to be rescued. After a while, we made progress: there were women as cops (in an evolutionary spectrum from Charlie’s Angels to Police Woman to Cagney&Lacey to Law&Order), lawyers, doctors; usually a small, but present percentage. SF/F shows have had a little more scope, ranging from Uhura, to Willow and Buffy, to Xena, to Captain Janeway and Belanna Torres from Voyager, and Zoe on Firefly. But in looking at Abby, and why she appeals to me as a technical woman, it occurred to me that she is pushing a boundary I’ve been battering for years: what is a smart, technical woman allowed to look like?

For years, I’ve given technical talks at SF cons in a variety of outfits, from a saloon hall girl to Victorian underwear to a silver lame Star Trek gown to alternate universe Star Trek characters. I’ve heard that it can be very surreal to see one of these talks; one friend likened it to seeing the picture from one TV channel and the sound from another. The important thing is that every time someone saw one of these talks, their idea of what a technical woman looks like was broadened. And that’s not just important for people who deal with technical women—it’s vitally important for the little girls, and not so little girls, who may one day grow up to be those technical women.

If the only role model you saw for a scientific/technically ept woman was Scully or Bones (of the show of the same name), some subset of girls would be very comfortable with that. (I know I would have been, had they been around when I was impressionable.) However, more of them would feel that that sort of career wouldn’t be good for them because that’s not how they see themselves, nor how they want to see themselves. Abby is important, not because I think all little girls with a technical bent should grow up to be goth forensic scientists, but because that should be within the realm of possibility. Because what music you listen to, the color and style of your hair, and what clothes you wear do not affect your abilities in logical/deductive thought and thus should not keep you from a technical career. Because you shouldn’t have to always be serious, always be straitlaced; you should be allowed to have fun, to enjoy your job; to be enthusiastic and perky without having to fetch the coffee.

Being Draco Malfoy

I wrote this post after first wearing my Draco Malfoy costume at Baycon (May 2010), but did not post it then, as I wanted to surprise the Convergence folks with the costume the following July. After that, Life(tm) happened, and I didn't get back to it until now.

Though I’ve been costuming for most of my life, I have never happened to want to portray a specifically male character: gender neutral or “mannish” women, along with a host of femme fatales, but no actual males. Even when going to a con whose theme this year is villains, my first thoughts were of bad girls and witches. And, indeed, I did one: Maleficent, the witch from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Very much in my typical style, if my past costuming-all-over-the-map can be said to have a style.

But then I got a bee in my bonnet to do something from Harry Potter. The obvious choice would have been Bellatrix Lestrange; definitely within my “idiom”, similar to things I’d already done. For some reason, however, I was reluctant to go with it, in part because I hadn’t seen that movie (still haven’t, though I’ve read all the books). But there was something more, something else, that made me keep looking, and somehow I got the idea that I could do Draco Malfoy. I have a pointy nose and chin, and am fairly petite, so I thought I could pull off an adolescent boy role. Was worried about the wig, as I remembered Draco’s hair from the first movie; with it slicked back like that, you need a pretty expensive wig to fake it. A friend suggested I go with Lucius instead, as the hair would be easier, but I didn’t think I could pass convincingly as an adult man. I even considered cutting my hair drastically short again, and bleaching it, just to simplify matters. However, pictures from the later movies show a lovely tousled mop, complete with bangs, that would be MUCH easier to do, so I started really warming to the idea.

The costuming, per se, wasn’t that challenging: shirt and pants from the thrift store; wand, tie, robe and sweater purchased(!) from a specialty store, even the wig was bought online and dressed by a friend. The first time I put it all on, to try it out at a con before the main event, the effect was really striking. Particularly while standing still, the quick first impression of “Draco” was very strong. But when I started to move, it quickly became clear that this would be one of the most challenging parts of the characterization. I believe I am something of a mimic, and my dance training allows me to really see how people move, and copy it better than most. In addition, for all my “sexy” costumes, it took me a long time to self-identify as female, and for many reasons, I still see myself on the tom-boy end of the female spectrum, but I was stunned at how much “girl” was in my body language. I knew that I let the girl in me “come up” more when at a con than I regularly do at work, but I hadn’t realized how different “not-female” movement was from “male” movement. I had chosen clunky boy’s shoes, which were not recreation-ist accurate, but weren’t completely out of character, which helped, but I found myself horribly conscious of my hands and stance, the tilt of my head and my use of personal space and precedence. Very, very strange. I soon became overwhelmed with trying to be Draco, and settled first for the male identity, figuring I could graft on the English accent (the voice was the other hardest thing that I doubt I will ever get right, as that is usually how folks identify me in a new costume; apparently, it’s pretty distinctive) and more of the character later. That helped, and I was able to draw on interesting sources for ideas and inspiration, most notably, the movie “Victor, Victoria” and the passages in Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign where a character returns to a strongly chauvinistic society after female-to-male transgender surgery, and is coached on proper male body language, attitude, movement, stance, etc. Also, Heinlein’s Double Star and Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders were helpful in identifying crucial points in this sort of characterization. (They say that, for a writer, anything you’ve ever done/seen/read becomes research. Didn’t realize this held true for costumers, as well.)

Oddly enough, it was pretty daunting to actually step out in the costume. I was much more anxious than I anticipated, which probably interfered with the characterization, as well. I had actually intended only to wear the costume for the afternoon, but became fascinated by the challenge. I sat on a technical panel where I was the only woman, and tried to project male while keeping up with the flow of the panel. I also found myself, then and afterwards, covertly studying the men around me, noting how they moved, stood, made (or didn’t make) eye contact; I was taking notes, copying, modifying, internalizing what I saw, seeing how I could make use of it.

Then I took an even bigger challenge and went Regency dancing! Messed with my mind a bit; not just having to dance the man’s part, which I had done before, but having to dance it as a man. Here, my dance training was both a help and a hindrance: on the one hand, I can control my body and movement; on the other hand, I had YEARS of experience to undo. I wanted to come off as a man, but not as a klutz, and it was really, really difficult. The worst part was holding hands in the dance, as I could never remember whether my hands should go on top or not (on the bottom, if I was holding a woman’s hands; with a man, it depended on who was the lead man), all while trying to sneer and not “sway so much”, as one of my friends who was critiquing me put it. Interestingly, I had little trouble remembering to bow instead of curtsy; maybe the slacks helped with that, though I’ve never had any trouble curtsying in jeans.

All in all, this has been a fascinating experience. I’m really glad I was able to “test drive” the costume in advance, as I have a childish need to see if I can really shock the folks this summer. This has all been a much bigger step out of my comfort zone than I anticipated, but I’m really glad now that I didn’t go for the easy solution. And I suspect I will be having fun as Draco for some time.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How Fleeting is Fame.....

Just discovered that the video described in this post is no longer available. Sigh. It was fun while it lasted.....

Monday, January 05, 2009

Contingency Planning Rocks!

Being an anal soul comes in handy once in a while! I was so busy putting tonight's dinner into the crock pot this morning (pot roast, yum!) I forgot to pack a lunch. But as the morning wore on I got this sneaking suspicion that I had something at work. Bingo! Last year, during a bad patch, where I didn't want to eat anything I had (I go off my feed for a variety of reasons), I bought several frozen meals and put them in the fridge at work, and I have two left. Score! I even have a choice of meals!

I know. It takes so little to rev me up. I need a life......

Thursday, December 18, 2008

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream.....

Let me just state, up front, that insomnia sucks. I know that there are many worse things, but here, at 3:47 in the morning, it's hard to think of many.

Let me start out by saying the time it took me to realize that I had insomnia is the best example of the damage it can do. I work in a highly technical, detail oriented field, that requires one to perform routine tasks with great attention to minutia. (O.K., my spelling is never good, and lack of sleep isn't helping), while simultaneously being ready to react to emergencies on a moment's notice. Yes, it's high stress, but I do actually love what I do. What I don't love is that, without enough sleep, my ability to do my job is seriously impaired.

The other issue is that, all modesty aside, I'm a pretty smart person. In addition, I'm smart in a lot of different areas, and pretty creative at problem solving. I tended to catch, or be able to mitigate, the errors that I was making. So, it took me a while to realize that I really was making a lot more errors than I ought. Then, my judgment being impaired, it took me even longer to realize what was at fault.

So, being the direct and linear soul that I am, when the penny finally dropped, I attacked the problem head on. I started making sure I was in bed for at least 7 hours a night. That's when I realized that being in bed does not translate automagically into getting sleep. I cruised the internet, looking for suggestions. I meditated. I drank herbal tea. I had already given up caffeine in grad school, at the strong recommendation of my homeopath (I still hold that at least partially responsible for the fact that I never finished). I ate heavy meals right before bed. I ate turkey. I had a glass of wine. I ate light meals before bed. I took warm showers right before bed. I tried yoga positions said to help with insomnia. I went to bed at the same time each night (well, sort of). I tried "good sleep hygiene": using the bed only for sleep or sex, not for reading or knitting or anything else; getting up if I lay awake for more than 20 minutes and trying to do something boring. (Side note: I'm actually finding it difficult to find something boring to do. Even my old standby, my organic chemistry book from undergrad days, failed me. Having only read bits and pieces of it, I decided to "start at the very beginning". Just my luck, the intro was all about the birth of modern organic chemistry, which just happened to have occur ed in the fabric dyeing industry. As an avid knitter who has dabbled in hand-dyeing yarn, I found it fascinating.) Finally, I tried OTC sleep medications; they worked for a while, but then I acclimated to them. Then began an interesting shell game, using various OTC sleep aids alternating with NyQuil and other antihistamines: using one for a night or two, then switching, taking the weekends off. I even tried progesterone cream, just in case this was an early sign of menopause. Few things helped and those that did didn't work for long.

Somewhere in all this, I visited my doctor, trying to get a prescription for something a little more potent. Bless her soul, she's thorough; she asked a zillion questions (even remembering that I work in space and asking about whether I had to do a lot of shift work, which messes up one's circadian rhythm) and wouldn't prescribe anything until she had sent me to a sleep specialist.

I have to admit, I was less than impressed with the sleep specialist; although he did listen to me and was willing to credit my assertion that stress was the major factor, he supported my GP's desire to make sure all the organic causes were ruled out. I have no problem with that; what bugs me is that he casually doled out to me three or four sample packets of prescription medication and told me to save them for nights when I really had to have a good night's sleep. What he didn't take into consideration is that I'm fairly small: 5' 4", between 120 and 130 lbs. Now, when I was younger, I always made sure that I got the lowest dose possible of any medication, at least to start out with. (Ask me sometime about the idiot shrink who had me on a triple dose of Prozac, along with something to counter the anxiety attacks it was causing, and which combination left me sobbing on the lobby floor of a hotel at a professional conference. Yeah, that did a lot of good for my professional image....) But it has seemed to be less of a problem in recent years, so I didn't worry about it.

Come Thanksgiving weekend, and I haven't had a decent night's sleep in a week. I'm scheduled to give a Cassini slide show Sunday at a local science fiction convention, and I'm starting to get a little punchy, so I take one of my "magic bullets" Saturday night.

Huge mistake. The thing is formulated for your average adult male, who probably weighs at least 50% more than I do. I slept like the dead for 9 hours, woke to the alarm (thank goodness for my anal-retentive tendencies!) feeling drunk and disoriented. Knew there was no way I could drive in that state, and wasn't too sure I'd be able to give my talk, even if I got a ride. For the first time in my life, I had to cancel out on that sort of commitment, and it really pissed me off. I remained groggy (not enough to sleep, damn it, but too much to watch football, which is saying something, for me) all freakin' day, only coming out of it late that evening. Of course, by that point, I was leery of taking anything that night; that, combined with the stupor I'd been in all day meant I got virtually no sleep that night, and was unable to go to work for two days, until my cycle settled down a bit.

So, that's where it stands. I need to do a sleep study: go to their facility, and be monitored through a night of sleep (or attempting to sleep) to confirm that I don't have restless leg, or apnea or something, before I can get a prescription. Being close to the holidays, I haven't yet shaken loose the time to do this, so I'm sitting here blogging instead of sleeping, because I couldn't stand laying there any longer. Goddess only knows how I'm going to focus in the all-day class I've got to go to today (last day of a 6-day series). I am reminded of a button I own:

"Sleep deprivation is neat! You see such pretty colors......"

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Nerd Girls! I've Found My Tribe At Last!

Saw this article in the online Newsweek, and was absolutely thrilled with their attitude! Can't wait until they get their website up and working, since I'm not on MySpace or FaceBook.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bridget Egg-splains

Did you know that the yolk of an almost-hard-boiled egg will explode in the microwave?

Ask me how I know.

On the upside, I finally got around to cleaning said microwave.....