A Psijic’s Measure: Stolen

Spoiler Alert: Vague references to the main storyline and especially Thieves’ Guild quests.

Author: RipuAncestor

Noevak

In my experience, anything can be stolen. Possessions, ideas, lives, anything. One just needs to have enough skills, ingenuity, patience, and dedication – though sometimes power and luck were enough. Of course, it was a specific type of each. It required skills like walking very quietly, planning every little detail and still having enough room in one’s head to think up a new plan if everything goes to Oblivion. Maybe that last part was also the ingenuity. The patience needed was the kind of patience that enabled one to wait for hours, sometimes during several days, to find the perfect moment to strike. Or in some less glamorous cases, the kind of patience that enabled one to lay low long enough for it become embarrassing when things went wrong. Like they had gone in my case, sadly enough. And dedication was the kind of dedication that meant pretending to be very interested in building an embassy just so one could get into another embassy without anyone asking questions… and then actually helping to build that embassy just so no one would ask any follow-up questions.

I… have a rather long list of odd jobs I’ve done over the years.

Most of them involve something disappearing, and me disappearing soon after.

I’m honestly surprised so few have made the connection.

Maybe it’s partly because I can be inconspicuous when I want to. Maybe partly because those who do make the connection suspect anyone who happens to be Bosmer of being a thief, which in some cases actually makes it more difficult for them to point out those who really are living up to that prejudice. And yes, being labelled a thief merely because of race is incredibly insulting, but even insults can be taken advantage of.

I’d been hearing relatively few insults lately, though, if one didn’t count the barbs that Velsa had for everyone around her. Before I found myself somewhere in the forests of whatever-province-I-happened-to-be-in or in the bowels of Daedric realms, I had been laying low in Hew’s Bane, actually spending time with the Thieves’ Guild, the only group I felt even a little bit at ease around. Oh, sure, I had joined many guilds during my life, and most of them still had my name (or a name they connected to my face) in their ledgers. Most were even quite friendly and always had assignments for me whenever I stopped by. The Mages’ Guild, the Fighers’ Guild, even the Psijic Order… they were all ready to offer me a place and work. None of them seemed to notice that things disappeared sometimes during my visits, considering they were all still very friendly with me. But they weren’t… my people, if that kind of term could be thrown around. Not that there really were any my people, really. There was just me and people who might find me a visitor in their lives for a short while. Sometimes they might even invite me in. Some of the members of the Thieves’ Guild were currently the closest thing to actual friends I had, and even that was stretching it a bit.

There was Quen, who climbed better than spiders and had the endearing, hopeful morals of a novice who was maybe a bit too kind to really do crime.

There was Walks-Softly, who was always the best dressed person in any place he walked in, and who I liked to occasionally get drunk with.

There was Velsa, who, despite the aforementioned insults, was there to make sure we didn’t get ourselves killed.

And there was our leader, Zeira, who was a bit too naïve, but learning. And she was fair, which was more than most thieves could boast to be. And not stupid fair either, just… well, sensible, the kind who knew that inspiring actual loyalty through being a decent person was better than trying to run a guild where everyone distrusted each other.

I had known it would be hard to leave them, especially after we’d had some good times together. Breaking into citadels, taking down a whole organised group of militaristic lawmen, even crashing a wedding (we all looked ridiculous running away from guards in velvet and silk, not that it had felt ridiculous at the moment – worry and panic had been the first feelings that had come to mind back then).

It probably tells a lot about me as a person that I think those things are good times, but at least those times are mine, and they’re times when I could actually rely on someone for a moment. For a comfortable few months, I could cling to that. Then it became too much. It always does. Of course, the real reason I had to go was that something important had been taken from me, but I know I would have put some distance between me and the Guild for some time even if that hadn’t happened.

You see, I had a problem with getting comfortable. I wasn’t used to it. My whole childhood had been comprised of being uncomfortable, sad, or wanting to get away. My mother had fanatically seen to that. Well, no, she had fanatically seen to me growing up into a perfectly traditional, respectable Bosmer, even though some of her traditions were so archaic most of the others didn’t bother with them. It involved a lot of hunting and rigorous training in the woods, which was nothing out of the ordinary, and long periods of time locked in small spaces when I disappointed her, which was a bit more on the unconventional side.

I think it all was because of my father. I don’t know who he was; it always varied depending on the mood mother was in. Sometimes she claimed she had had a tryst with Sanguine himself, but I found that very hard to believe. My guess is that my father was just some stray Bosmer, who didn’t want to stay to raise a child, and mother had never accepted it. And yes, that’s all I’m willing to even think about regarding my childhood. Especially now when I felt like nothing I had learned back then – or even after leaving – were of any use. All of a sudden I had entered a world where Daedric Princes played tug-of-war with live bodies and people’s fates, a world where I was suddenly in the wrong/right place in the right/wrong time uncomfortably often. A world where I had been very much robbed. And yeah, that was very definitely an insult. Not just a professional one, but… an all-around one.

I knew that anything could be stolen. And that anything also included souls. But it was altogether different to know it was possible than to endure it yourself. Especially when said theft involved chains and knives and a whole lot of pain.

I’m not going to lie, I haven’t felt this violated in… ever.

I had known this world was a playground to bastard gods and dangerous monsters. One couldn’t live on Nirn and not know that, unless one spent all their time in a cupboard, sticking their fingers in their ears. But for the most part the gods and the Daedra had left me alone, or then I had just managed to slip their notice by not being interesting enough. And by being lucky, because who knows what made those bastards tick? But now, all of a sudden, I had seen more Daedric Princes in a few months than I would have cared to see in my entire life.

I hadn’t liked gods much before now. But now I was really starting to hate every being who had enough power to completely mess up mortals’ lives.

And you know what? I think even those gods should be sometimes reminded that anything can be stolen.

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Spectrum: What is (dis)Ability?

“I like your ‘can-do’ attitude,” my supervisor told me at my annual review, my first with her, as she’s a new boss.

I grew up in a family that approached everything with a “can-do” attitude. The idea that there was anything at all that we couldn’t do never entered into consideration.

As I examine this, I see it as both an enabling and an ableist attitude.

It has enabled me by instilling the confidence to approach any task, any learning activity, any project, and any dream.

I have learned that it’s an ableist view when I come face-to-face with activities I can’t do, or with those that cost me, in comfort, energy-level, and processing-power, so much that I will need to allot time for recovery. These are areas where I need accommodation to be on a level playing field with neuro-typicals.

What is an ability? What is a disability?

The ADA defines disability in this way:

“…in the context of the ADA, ‘disability’ is a legal term rather than a medical one. Because it has a legal definition, the ADA’s definition of disability is different from how disability is defined under some other laws, such as for Social Security Disability related benefits.

“The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person’s association with a person with a disability.”

“What is Disability?” adata.org

The simple definition I have come to adopt is that my abilities are those things I do well, without extra accommodation, without excessive challenge, and without requiring help, assistance, or accommodation. In some areas of ability, I’m able to excel.

My disabilities are those areas where I require assistance, accommodation, or modifications, or where I face challenge in a way that is significantly greater or more demanding than faced by neurotypicals. In some areas of disability, I am not able to perform acceptably without significant accommodation. In other areas, especially those requiring executive functioning, activities like paying the bills, cleaning house, hiring and scheduling with repair people, buying a new car or appliances, attending meetings or functions with more than five people, I need to adopt specific strategies, apply coping skills, and realize that I will need to allow for recovery and balancing time afterwards.

A good example of both ability and disability, for me, is online communication. I process and communicate through written text well, so, for me, communicating through online text chats works extremely well. When I first began playing Elder Scrolls Online, I felt an ease in communication that I seldom experience in face-to-face situations. As a result, it didn’t take long for me to fill my in-game friend-list or to create a fun and collaborative guild with other players. However, once most online gamers reach a certain point in their online friendships or teamwork, they move to discord, which has voice chat. This is an area where I face challenges. My mind cannot easily process spoken word, especially when I am doing another activity that requires concentration, like playing a video game. For my online friends, speaking and listening is easier than typing and reading, so they prefer to chat through discord rather than use the in-game text chat. It’s the other way around for me, where in-game text chat plays into my strengths and helps my brain feel good, while voice chat causes extreme disorientation and a great deal of discomfort. I recognize that for end-game content, I will need to use voice-chat, and I have recently begun to stretch my comfort level in giving it a try, but it is not pleasant, comfortable, or enjoyable for me. In fact, it scrambles my neurology and leaves me feeling overwhelmed and a little bit stunned. I feel my intelligence and focus drop, and my game-play suffers tremendously. I really need the accommodation of text-chat in order to be on a level playing field when it comes to in-game communication.

As another example, the way my neurology works, I cannot spend hours in rooms with fluorescent lighting–this jars my nervous system and causes discomfort and anxiety. I need a modified work environment that includes natural lighting.

Probably the most prominent area where my challenges show up is in friendship and social interactions, specifically social communication processing.

When I first began this series, I wrote about a friend who was in the process of deciding not to be my friend. She has since made the decision, and we haven’t been in touch for about six months. The friendship feels over. In some of our last communications, both in person and through email, I tried to express to her that I was beginning to suspect that I was autistic, and that I recognized that I lacked the capacity to meet her expectations and requirements. Her expectations are not out-of-line for a normal friendship, and, in fact, in one of her last conversations with me, she told me that “in a normal friendship” she would have expected the friendship to have progressed in a certain way by this time, with her meeting my boyfriend, being invited over to see my garden, going out with me to movies and weekend activities. I realize these expectations are not out-of-the-ordinary. I also shared with her, from the beginning, that these types of activities are, at present, a bit out of my capacity. She felt that when we were together, we should always be “100% there.” Of all her expectations, this was the one I felt I could consistently commit to; however, my experience of being “100% there” is very different from hers, for when I am completely present, I am often not verbal. I am present, feeling, seeing, and hearing the flow of energy around me and, if I’m with someone, around that person and between us, too.

It became clear to me that for our friendship to continue, I would need to have accommodations, basically, a relaxation of expectations. And it was clear to her that for the friendship to continue, I would need to meet her expectations. And I simply don’t have the capacity for that.

Social communication is another area where I don’t have the capacity to process in a neuro-typical way.

I left the annual review with my boss, which had lasted over an hour, feeling confused, overwhelmed, and uncomfortable. The written evaluation, which I’d read before my in-person review, was excellent without qualification, in every performance area. Yet I could not reconcile that positive review with the experience of sitting across from my boss while she delivered her oral review. She brought up different points than she mentioned in writing. I couldn’t read her face. We talked about current and future work projects, and I found myself going into detail, then trying to reel myself in so as not to bore her with too much detail. It sounded like she was making an effort to speak softly–which I appreciate–but it also sounded like this caused energy to be pent up inside of her, which seemed to feel uncomfortable for both of us. The air around her and the energy shooting out from her was spiky–it felt sharp, like jabs. Does she not like me? How do I make sense of the disparity between what she wrote and this spiky feeling? What is she saying? I can’t remember what she said now, and I couldn’t process it then. What causes the words she speaks to be different from what she wrote? Is this a positive review, or am I in trouble somehow?

I left feeling that I was in trouble, but not because of what was said or what was written, simply because of the feelings and because I was not able to process her spoken words or the other signals that I perceived.

This type of disjuncture between content and context, between explicit meaning and implicit signals, between facial expression and feelings or energy, is a common experience for me, and one I lack the ability to process. I have read that neuro-typical people know how to tell when someone is lying and that they’re able to read hidden meanings and to pick up on social cues and agendas. I lack this ability, and this is where I most often become aware of my disability in social communication processing. I pick up on the things that don’t fit together, but I don’t know what it means.

I think this is why I find the phone and voice chat so very confusing, in addition to my challenges in processing spoken word. I hear the emotions and energy, but I can’t see the face or see the energy around the person. I know even less what they mean, how they feel, and I don’t know when to talk or what I can say, so I am mostly silent, which doesn’t make for a very effective phone conversation.

I was raised by a mother who had been popular in high school, and my sister was popular among her crowd, as was my brother. My older siblings always had at least one friend over after school and on weekends. Making friends was presented as being the most natural part of being human. It was seen as something that was easy and effortless.

Until junior high school, I could not make friends–or if I stumbled into a friendship, I was unable to maintain it. Because of my family members’ experience of ease in friendship, and because of our family’s “can-do” attitude, I was told that if I tried hard enough, or if I really wanted to, I would be able to make, and maintain, friends.

I wanted to. I tried. I failed. This is still the case. This is a disability.

Throughout my adult life, I’ve gone through periods where I’ve attempted to put on my best “can-do” face, and go out there and make some friends. Surely, if I tried hard enough, I could do it! These times have, without doubt, been my unhappiest. I must not be trying hard enough. I must be missing some important secret. There must be something terribly wrong with me. Why am I the weirdest person on earth? I think I’m pretty wonderful, full of love, and that I would make an amazing friend. What is not working? What am I not getting?

In friendship, I need accommodation. I need friends who are willing to email, rather than talk on the phone. I need friends who are willing, at least for a few minutes, to listen to me share a special interest. I need friends whose words match their faces, or when they don’t, will at least explain to me what is behind the mismatch. I need friends who will let me be there “100%” when that means that my 100% might be in silence, perceiving in the different way that I do, feeling the air, feeling the energy, watching the play of light, sharing our being through a non-typical perception.

In “Is Autism a Disability or a Difference?“, Judy Endow writes:

“Being out and about in the community poses significant challenges. The sensory overload and neurological processing differences dictated by our brain along with ever present challenges with communication and conventional social understanding are such significant differences, even though we can accommodate for them, we are usually exhausted from doing so by the end of the day.

“…we are often expected to look and act like typical people regardless of the challenges imposed by the neurological difference of our autism. Because we appear to be like others, our difficulties and needs are thought to be our own personal problems… Others often look at us and ascribe negative intentionality and character flaws to us. “

Is Autism a Disability or a Difference?“, Judy Endow, ollibean.com

That last statement, that others “ascribe negative intentionality or character flaws to us”, rings especially true. My former friend felt our friendship withered because I “didn’t care.” Not having capacity is different from not caring. Some of my limitations with social communication processing have been seen as by others as dishonesty or lack of transparency. Being confused is different than being opaque. Some of my challenges with executive functioning have been seen by others as signs of laziness or carelessness.

For those of us who are what Endow calls “the walking, talking autistics,” those of us who can go into our communities without assistance, our experience of “disability” happens because our styles, our ways of processing and our neurology, are different from the norm. The societal world around us has not been set up for us or to meet our needs.

Sometimes, as a thought practice, I like to flip the situation: What if our way were the more common? What if it the neuro-typical brain were the abundantly synaptic brain? If that were the case, would we approach those whose brains have trimmed synapses as if they were disabled?

“Oh, you can’t see colors when you listen to music? What a loss! Oh, you don’t see energy swirling around other people? You can’t see those light molecules, those sound waves? You don’t feel how everything is connected, and you aren’t in the moment? You can’t feel yourself think?”

The world we would create would be very, very different–much more comfortable for us, and possibly less comfortable for those with brains with trimmed synapses.

I wonder if then, rather than having medical researchers examining ways to make autistic brains more like non-autistic by inducing the trimming of synapses, researchers would look for ways to halt autophagy, so that the non-autistic brain would have the abundant synapses of the autistic brain.

“Here! Administer this drug to your child, it will cease the process of autophagy, so that your child’s brain will be abundantly synaptic and your child will be able to perceive so much more!”

I doubt this would happen. I believe that part of the multi-perceptive gift we have with our abundantly synaptic brains results in an appreciation of diversity. We know that humanity gains something by having a wide range of perceptual styles available. I like to think that, if our neurology were typical, we would, as a society, look for ways to accommodate those with trimmed synapses, just as we wish that others would look for ways to accommodate those of us with abundant synapses. It’s when we’re not accommodated that our abilities lead to disabilities.

Works Cited

Endow, Judy. “Is Autism a Disability or a Difference?” olliebean.com. Accessed 5 Aug. 2019.

“What is Disability?” adata.org. Accessed 2 Aug. 2019.

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Spectrum: Bright Shiny Mirrors

This is me: I’m a 40-Year-Old Woman Who Never Had a Best Friend. (Caveat: I actually have had best friends during some periods in my life, and I’m no longer 40–so the title doesn’t fit, but the gist of the article does.)

Much of this describes me, Aspienwomen: Moving towards an adult female profile of Autism/Asperger Syndrome, by Tania Ann Marshall, as does nearly all of this, Samantha Craft’s Females and Aspergers: A Checklist.

This is me: The Autistic Operating System, Seven Awesome Things about Being Autistic, and Seven Challenges of Autism.

This is certainly me: This is Autism.

And this is also me: 

When I read accounts from autistic individuals or watch their videos, I see myself. I talk in such a similar way to Amythest Schaber. Same mannerisms. Same facial expressions. Same use of hands and arms and swaying movements when we speak. Our eyes are almost identical. And our young-sounding voices combined with the vocabulary and sentence structure of a college professor? Same. People tell me I sound like I’m twelve. Amythest is younger and much cuter and prettier than I am, but we are of the same type. 

This is me, too:

Your neurodiverse (Aspie) score: 173 of 200
Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 32 of 200
You are very likely neurodiverse (Aspie)
(These are my results from The Aspie Quiz.)

This does not so much feel like me: Diagnostic Criteria for 299.00 Autism Spectrum Disorder, nor does this: What are the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for autism? The DSM-5 criteria for autism emphasizes pathology: to qualify for a positive diagnosis, one must present symptoms [which] cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning” (“What are“).

I know that I experience challenges socially, in executive functioning, and in other areas of my life, but none of these challenges present “clinically significant impairment.” They just mean that sometimes I need to prepare differently or in advance; sometimes, I will need more recovery time; and some things, like establishing and maintaining friendships, I just don’t really seem to be able to do. Is that a significant impairment? (Actually, yes. Upon reflection, I do feel I have “significant impairment” in the social area.)

The diagnostic criteria seem to imply that someone who is autistic cannot function, cannot manage a career, and cannot communicate with others.

I can do all of these things–some I’ve learned to do relatively easily, and some take a little more effort, but with the right combination of self-care and labor, I succeed in these areas at a high level. (Well, I don’t succeed in making and maintaining face-to-face friendships–I haven’t figured that out and it seems beyond me–but I generally succeed in communication.)

For the past six months or so, I’ve been considering whether to pursue an official diagnosis. My health care plan covers the costs. The city where I live has skilled neuropsychologists and a supportive network for autistic people. On the one hand, receiving a positive diagnosis would feel like being recognized and becoming visible after a lifetime of coping and masking. On the other hand, I don’t want to buy into the pathological perspective.

I recognize that the DSM-5 criteria was developed, in part, to help individuals receive the support they need, including qualifying for federal disabilities benefits. Given the strictures of our society and government, the criteria needs to be written in such a way that disabilities are recognized and identified: this is how people qualify for disability benefits and supports.

But for those of us who don’t need federal benefits (but may want accommodation and acceptance), the definition feels excluding. Or at least, it feels that the qualities I recognize as being specific to me are somehow flawed: an impairment.

I feel that my abundantly synaptic brain is a gift, opening me to new ways of seeing and being. By seeking diagnosis within the current medical model, I feel, in some ways, that I would deny this view in acceptance of the pathological perspective. In not pursuing a diagnosis, I feel like a rebel, true to myself–like I’m saying to the American Psychiatric Association, let me define this, please, not you.

And yet… the women whose faces I see in the bright shiny mirrors I shared at the beginning of this post are amazing, gifted, brilliant people who, in their lives and words, demonstrate the gifts of being autistic. They live and express themselves in ways that expand the clinical and pathological view. Their very lives are rebellious.

So, maybe I will join their rebellion. Or maybe I’ll stay outside the official diagnosis and rebel that way. Either way, I will embrace this definition of autism:

“Autism is a genetically-based human neurological variant. The complex set of interrelated characteristics that distinguish autistic neurology from non-autistic neurology is not yet fully understood, but current evidence indicates that the central distinction is that autistic brains are characterized by particularly high levels of synaptic connectivity and responsiveness. This tends to make the autistic individual’s subjective experience more intense and chaotic than that of non-autistic individuals: on both the sensorimotor and cognitive levels, the autistic mind tends to register more information, and the impact of each bit of information tends to be both stronger and less predictable.

Nick Walker, “What Is Autism?”

Walker’s affirming definition rightly interprets the autistic person’s experiences as stemming from our abundantly synaptic brains.

Regarding social interactions, he continues:

“The realm of social interaction is one context in which autistic individuals tend to consistently be disabled. An autistic child’s sensory experience of the world is more intense and chaotic than that of a non-autistic child, and the ongoing task of navigating and integrating that experience thus occupies more of the autistic child’s attention and energy. This means the autistic child has less attention and energy available to focus on the subtleties of social interaction. Difficulty meeting the social expectations of non-autistics often results in social rejection, which further compounds social difficulties and impedes social development. For this reason, autism has been frequently misconstrued as being essentially a set of “social and communication deficits,” by those who are unaware that the social challenges faced by autistic individuals are just by-products of the intense and chaotic nature of autistic sensory and cognitive experience.”

Nick Walker, “What is Autism?”

It’s been about six weeks since I last worked on this post–and much longer since I first began writing it. In the intervening time, sparked by conversation with an autistic friend, I’ve begun to identify and explore some of my own ableism and the ways that this predisposes me to resist considering that I have disabilities. I’ve also begun looking more closely at my responses and interactions with others and how hard I work every day simply to keep things afloat. I’m on vacation this week, so I have a break from the steady social demands of the office, demands which, consistently, exceed my social capacity. I’ll write more about this in a future post.

At this point, I want to conclude by mentioning that the best pictures of what it means to be autistic come from autistic people. The “Nothing About Us Without Us” movement expresses this well. Do I want to know more, as an autistic woman and adult, what it means to be autistic? Let me look to the bright shiny mirrors of others whose neurology is more similar to mine for reflections of our shared experiences, rather than turning to pathological descriptions that seek to limit and define.

Works Cited

Aspie-Quiz.” Rdos-net. Accessed 30 May 2019.

Craft, Samantha. “Females And Aspergers: A Checklist.” The Art of Autism. 10 June 2019. Accessed 3 July 2019.

Diagnostic Criteria for 299.00 Autism Spectrum Disorder.” CDC. 26 Apr. 2018. Accessed 30 May 2019.

kristinabean. “The Autistic Operating System.” Little Thoughts: Meditations on Life. 3 Apr 2019. Accessed 29 May 2019.

–. “Seven Awesome Things About Being Autistic.” Little Thoughts: Meditations on Life. 4 Apr 2019. Accessed 29 May 2019.

–. “Seven Challenges of Autism.” Little Thoughts: Meditations on Life. 6 Apr 2019. Accessed 29 May 2019.

Malia, Jennifer. “I’m a 40-Year-Old Woman Who’s Never Had a Best Friend.” Woman’s Day. 12 May 2017. Accessed 25 May 2019.

Marshall, Tania A. “Aspienwomen: Moving towards an adult female profile of Autism/Asperger Syndrome.” 15 July 2018. Accessed 25 May 2019.

Schaber, Amythest. “Ask an Autistic #19: What is Neurodiversity?” Neuro Wonderful: Ask an Autistic. 13 Nov. 2014. Accessed 30 May 2019.

Walker, Nick. “This Is Autism.” Neurocosmopolitanism. 18 Nov. 2013. Accessed 10 June 2019.

Walker, Nick. “What Is Autism?” Neurocosmopolitanism. 1 Mar. 2014. Accessed 10 June 2019.

What are the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for autism?” Autism Speaks. Accessed 30 May 2019.

Wolff, Eli A. and Mary Hums. “‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ — Mantra for a Movement.” HuffPost. 5 Sep. 2017. Accessed 3 July 2019.

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Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge – June 2019

This short story was written as part of the Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge, organized by LisaBee at the Sims Forums. Readers are invited to read all the entries, and vote for their top three choices in both categories (novice and veteran), for a total of six votes. Any vote that doesn’t contain three for each category (six total) will not be counted–so if you want to vote, please be sure to read all the stories and vote for three Novice and three Veteran stories! This month’s theme is “A June Wedding.”

June 26th: Home Is, Love Is

At that time, we were technically homeless, though we lived in a tent at a campsite in the state park where nobody bothered us. I knew the ranger.

I’d lost my job, we’d burned through Maddy’s financial aid months before, and we had no prospects of money coming in until fall. We were broke: nothing for rent.

Maddy’s mom and dad would’ve taken her in, though not me, even though we were engaged. It was to be a June wedding, June 26th, to be exact, both a political and a personal statement. We can do this, it’s our right, and so we will.

But her folks weren’t pleased.

“Don’t worry, honey,” Maddy said. “They wouldn’t like you even if you were a guy. You’re an artist! A rebel! They only like business people and realtors.”

Maddy sold her wedding dress to buy the tent.

“We can’t live in a dress,” she said. “Well, we could. It’s big enough. But I can’t see you surrounded in lace.”

I could–the lace of her skirt wrapped around my face, my arms wrapped around her waist.

We forgot about being homeless, for the sun rose every morning and sparkled through the trees, and hermit thrushes sang, and dragonflies darted with wings lit up by the morning sun. I lost track of what day it was, what month, though I knew it was early summer and I could tell you the phase of the moon.

“I love the full moon,” Maddy said.

“You are the moon,” I replied.

As we returned to camp one day, after gleaning the neighboring farmer’s fields, our arms full of squash, tomatoes, and onions to roast over the fire, Maddy said, “Tomorrow is June 26th.”

I woke up early, while Maddy still nestled in our sleeping bag with her burnt-sugar hair tousled around her full moon face, and snuck into the meadows where I gathered all her favorite flowers: daisies, columbines, lupins. I wove them into a crown.

When I returned to camp, she stood at the grill, flipping pancakes. You’ve never had pancakes until you’ve had campfire pancakes. They either come out tasting like scrambled ash or like wood-roasted heaven. After the first few disastrous batches, Maddy’s were heaven, every time.

“Happy wedding day,” she said.

“I’m not supposed to see the bride,” I joked back, covering my eyes.

“I’m serious,” she said. “I want to marry you, and I want to marry you today.”

“But your parents–“

“–can’t control me anymore.”

“But our friends–“

“will be happy for us.”

“But our home–“

“–is wherever we are.”

“But our political statement–“

“–means nothing if we’re not happy, doing what we want, in spite of circumstances.”

After we ate, she led me through the field, up the hill, to a natural archway in the rocks.

“This is our place,” she said. She slid a ring of pine needles she’d woven around my finger. I cut a lock of my hair and braided it into a tiny braid and tied it around her finger. She wore her crown.

“You should be wearing our tent,” I said.

After we kissed, she said, “I marry you, Sylvie, because you are, to me, what a spouse is meant to be, the partner who is with me, through it all.”

It wasn’t the wedding we’d intended, but it was the wedding we had. Later that winter, when we lived in a proper house again, after I’d found work crafting artisan furniture and Maddy was back in school getting her counseling degree, we went to a justice of the court and made it legal, because we could.

“I like our first wedding best,” Maddy said.

“I like the wedding of our imagination,” I replied, “the one we’d planned with your dress that you sold, and your parents all upset in the parlor, and our friends cheering, and our big bold statement. But our first wedding was good. And this legal one is good, too. Because marrying you is what counts, really. Happy?”

Maddy nodded. “I don’t care if we’re living in a tent, or on the beach, or in a house–as long as we’re not living with my folks–as long as we’re together. Because, honey, home’s wherever I can be with you, my wife.”

CathyTea’s Bonus Shorts

A Note to Readers of A Psijic’s Measure

Hello, lovely readers!

A few days ago, we posted Michael’s latest chapter in A Psijic’s Measure, and, because initially we posted it as password-protected so that Michael could review it prior to publication, it’s possible that some of you missed it when we published it.

I want to be sure to bring it to your attention, for it’s so well-written and so integral to the story. We hope you enjoy it!

Here is the link to Chapter Nine – The Power of Love, written by Michael/Shishwik.

Happy reading!

A Psijic’s Measure: The Power of Love

Author: Michael/@Shishwik

Aliasandrya

Power.

So much power.

The kind to kill gods. As I have recently done to Molag Bal, at least temporarily.

I can always feel it seething and writhing beneath the surface of my consciousness. Feel it burning its way through my blood stream. Feel it cloud my vision and darken my way of thinking until I want to melt the entire world. This power is consuming me, and I don’t mind.

I may have to turn this power against myself to avert the consequences of its growth unchecked and unbalanced.

Hmm, perhaps that is the better outcome, use all I have in one great rush of cataclysmic energy and remove a possible threat to the innocent.

You see, I am still searching for my sisters. I know I WILL find them. I do not know WHEN. I feel that if we do not come together soon, I will lose myself in what I am afraid of becoming. A monster myself. Uncaring. Pitiless. Addicted to the screams and blood. What in the name of the Tribunal is happening to me? I am so alone…

I have spoken to Almalexia, Vivec, and Sotha Sil. I have helped each of them with something they could not do themselves. I have had adulation heaped upon me until I was drunk with the respect… and fear. Yet the Three did not warn me, did not offer advice, did not so much as hint that there was something wrong with my psyche. They did, however, offer empty platitudes and a rather subdued thank you, along with the mention that I have helped save Nirn from some unknown yet terrible threat.

Gods are worse than children sometimes. I hope I will not have to deal with another.

As I battle my way across Tamriel, I have noticed something unsettling. In the more intellectually gifted beings I must battle, I recognize in their eyes exactly what I feel more and more often: an insatiable desire to destroy. Take this giant I am looking at through the gaps in the trees for example. Casually walking around a village it helped destroy, eating cows, smashing barns, stomping like they are kings without a worry or responsibility for their actions.

Oh hell, my blood is starting to boil, the sickeningly sweet power is stirring, I rush forward…

I don’t know how long I was dazed. It cannot have been too long because the brute is standing over me slowly raising its massive foot to turn me into jelly, the whole time sneering down with rage and glee from 20 feet above me. I contemplate not moving.

“Roll!!!!”

I dart my gaze at this unexpected command and see this little woman rushing toward us, some kind of metal skull cap on her head and glowing runes on her face. My eyes shift back to the now descending foot. I roll. The impact is deafening at such close range. My eyes are filled with dirt and grass and snow. I can’t breathe through the mud clogging my mouth. I just start running in random directions, doing all I can to clear my face of the detritus. After what seems an hour, I can see and breathe again. I am now quite far from the little woman and extremely angry behemoth. I will say this, that little lady has spunk! Just look at her dodge and weave, throwing everything she has at him. The giant is loosing his mind! He stops.

Wait… Why is he stopping? He is facing the woman who is standing before a half destroyed and open barn. She is facing the giant squarely, breathing like bellows.

I am running up behind the giant when I notice a giantess emerging from the barn behind the woman. I scream, pouring every ounce of rage, pain, loneliness, and loss into the sound tearing my throat. As the male turns, he is felled with fire and lightning. As he falls sizzling to the ground, the woman is sailing through the air from a hit from the giantess. She lands limply. I immediately change direction to offer what paltry aid I may. The female giant is prodding the smoking husk left by my power. I smile.

I don’t have time to check for signs of life in the woman; I just apply what little restorative magic I have into my would-be battle companion. Blood covers her face, and her arm is bent unnaturally. As soon as the spell is over, I gather my remaining strength and turn to face not one, but two of these powerful beings. I may get my wish after all. I feel life and energy coursing through my veins. Powerful healing has been given to me. I start to turn my head…

“TO THE LEFT!!”

I run left. Laying down a carpet of lightning, I summon my familiar, Mouthie. He immediately charges the giantess. I cast another spell to bolster his damage and turn to the newcomer. The woman and I make short work of him together. She is pumping me full of healing magic as I electrocute and burn the giant down. My familiar has unsuprisingly driven the female giant away. He can be quite thorough in his desire to please. I love that ugly little bastard.

As we approach each other, the woman and I start to slow. We stop some 30 feet apart and seem to each be mesmerized by the other. Her face is covered in blood from a head wound. She is staring with an intensity I have never felt before, given or received. I shake loose of the feeling and start forward again. So does the woman. I retrieve my water skin and a cloth to help clean her up. She closes her eyes as I perform my ministrations. Neither of us saying a word. I finish.

She opens her eyes. Our gazes lock. Time is forgotten. Love is here, right now in this scene of destruction. My doubts are gone. I am no longer alone.

My heart swells, tears streaming down my face. Overcome, I fall to my knees. She moves close, embracing me, and rests her head on mine. I wrap my arms around her legs and utter a single word through my sobbing…

Kitty.

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A Psijic’s Measure: Moon Hallowed, Another Name

Author: Cathy Tea

Cat Littlebird

Nerraba, outlander, n’wah. Filthy elf, thief, cannibal. Milk-drinker, limp staff, coward. Soul-shriven. Vestige. I have been called these names.

And also: Brave-toothed, steel sword, Bosmer. Beeko, cerum, champion. Mystic, mage, hero.

The names roll easily off my back. I am as much one as the other.

But one title tempted me to claim it as my own, though I knew well by then that no words can name us once we slip through the rifts of time to become Unnamed. Yet this term played a chord that chimes the inner cathedral, where my soul resides–that same soul they claim was stripped from me. Something in me responded to the sound, and I knew then that not even Molag Bal could steal a soul, no matter what they say. Something in me awoke. And in walking the path laid out by this name, I remembered myself. My sister. I remembered that change brings us back to ourselves.

Moon Hallowed.

My father and I followed moonlight as it traveled up the stream through the meadows outside Haven.

“Look, Cat,” he said. “Our path is laid down for us.”

“Why do we follow the moons, Ata?” I asked.

“For wonder,” he said.

We came to a clearing where a dozen thunderbugs sparkled, lightning shooting between them.

“What are they doing, Ata?”

“The moon dance. It is for light! Look! They change!”

They shone white, silver, pure light. And with a crack, the charge between them lit the clearing. The flash shot us back, twenty-eight meters!

“Are you all right, kyne?” my father asked as we scrambled to our feet.

“I’m fine, Ata.” Every hair on my father’s head stretched out, crackling with electricity, pulling the follicle so his scalp looked boiled.

We laughed when our breath returned. “Well, we are alive then! Even if we are changed! The Moons will do that!”

We sat on the bluff while our hearts settled into a steady beat.

“Do you see how the moons always change?” my father asked. “They grow full and fat until they spark! And then they grow lean, and the sky is black.”

“But they always come back,” I said.

“They do. But are they the same?”

They were and they weren’t.

“There is another moon, kyne,” my father said, “the dark moon.”

“I can’t see it.”

“No, because it’s dark. But it is there. It’s there to bring the two moons together. Without it, they would wander the sky, always straying further and further apart.”

Moon Hallowed: I yearned to cling to this title, the same worn by all before and after me who walked alongside the Champions down the Two Moon Path. That was one name that meant something to me.

I walked with two sisters, Shazah and Khali, twins born during the rare alignment of Jone and Jode that allows the third moon, the dark moon, to appear. That is the alignment in which the Mane is born, and of the twins, only one could go on to assume that role. It fell to me to choose which one.

“This one was a father’s kit, too,” Shazah told me. “Khali stuck by our mother’s side. But for Shazah, it was to please Father, always.”

“Was your father a warrior?” I asked.

“No, that was our mother. And so my sister grew to love battle. Our father was a healer, a wise one, and so this one grew to love wholeness, peace.”

I thought of my father, wandering with me at his side, and his words of moons and change, to follow shadow and light, and our mother, who roamed the forests with Twig, bow in hand, to hunt the senche tiger.

Shazah walked with me through her childhood, the streets littered with sick and dying as the Knahaten flu festered in gutters and alleys of Orcrest.

“I was so afraid,” she said. “Father’s friends, his team. Each one succumbed. And with each husk, this one feared the rising of Dro-m’Athra.”

In the shadows of her memories, mist figures stirred. “I feel what you feel,” I said to her, my breath catching, my heart an ice block, my gut of empty iron. “Should we leave?”

“Leave, no. We must press on. These are but my fears, when I was a little cub. So many bodies. So much death. My father died. Our friends, his team. But he said that I should move forward. This one needs to look ahead. There is so much waiting to be done.”

At every step, Shazah would pause, to look about, to face the spectres of corpses, sick and dying, to remember her father. “He never gave up,” she said. “Even when he was sick himself. He said the Mane asked it of him, to help the others, to use his skill. What else is life for? And so he gave up his life in answering his call.”

“But maybe we can find a way to do what we’re here to do without such sacrifice,” I suggested.

“No,” said Shazah, “that is not what this path is for.”

She told me, when the time would come, that I would know who to choose, among her and her sister, which should go on to become the new Mane, and which should stay below, in the realm of Dro-m’Athra, to contain the Dark Mane.

“It must be me,” she said. “This one knows the darkness. My sister, she is strong, a warrior, and she is also full of anger. Such anger will serve her well, when she is leading our people. She will transform it into power, into strength. But here, below? No. Anger cannot diffuse hate. Only love can do that, Hallowed.”

I knew the truth of her words. I thought of my sister. She would have been grown by then–did she pour the hunter’s sharp focus into anger? How did she respond to cruelty, to murder, to slavery, to our fate?

I did not respond with anger, but I suspected, even then, that Twig did.

In Shazah’s eyes, I saw my mirror. It was not a hard choice: Only one who meets adversity with love can contain, and then dissolve, hate. The love that shone in her eyes, for it, darkness was no match.

Khali would go on to become a strong leader, this I knew. Containing the Dark Mane would have destroyed her, but guiding her people through battle and into peace? That would make her.

When I left Shazah below, in the dark realm, her eyes shown brighter than two moons, and she thanked me, Moon Hallowed.

That is why that is one name that I claim, because it was spoken with love. Only one other name has been spoken to me, by one other person, that resonates, also, in the key of love: Kitty.

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