Hang On St. Christopher

A couple of years ago my buddy CP and I were walking down to the liquor store to grab some beer. As we walked- doubtless discussing something important like the boobs of our wifes or what gun would be best in a ZomPoc situation- we passed a little old lady who put her foot where there wasn’t sidewalk. The LOL starting to pitch to the side and probably would have careened into traffic or crashed down to a nasty hip injury, but one of us stepped foreward and caught her by the arm.

I think I actually said something like “First step is a doozy” or “careful there miss!” as I aided the LOL back to her feet, but I don’t recall. CP and I like to tease each other somewhat mercilessly, so “Lifesaver Klein” was bandied about a bit, and when I intervened in a domestic altercation taking place in my garage a few months later, rousing cries of “Did you wear your cape?” could be heard.

Please understand- I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Boy Scout. Nontheless, when Annika and I discovered that Sam adored hiking (and that we did too), I filled a zip-lock bag with some band-aids, draw-out salve, wound wipes and the like and tucked it in the bag we would leave in the car when we got to Vasquez Rocks or The Devil’s Punchbowl.

Then came the time we saw the guy get thrown by his horse and suffer a head wound that had me wishing I had EMT training. He survived, but it was scary for a few moments (it always is when someone loses consciousness), and since that time, the first-aid kit has gone on my belt whenever we hike or climb.

I feel kind of douchey- like I’m some paramilitary dad or something. Now, understand: that is MY fault. I approved the cool MOLLE attachment coyote-brown milspec pouch that Annika picked out to keep the first aid gear in. I’m the one who suggested a web-belt with canteen pouch for carrying our water supply. So if I look like an out-of-shape Airsoft enactor, it’s my own damn fault.

On Saturday I took the kids hiking at Placerita Canyon with our friend Jim. The web-belt now has the first aid pouch (which also has room for the digital camera), a 1 quart canteen, and a general purpose pouch that we tuck diapers, wipes and a wet bag in for Miss Grace’s needs. With that much weight pushing down on my hips (I am prone to a bit of a hip problem if I carry too much on them for a time) I said “eh, fuck it, so I look like a retard” and picked up a pair of old Y-frame suspenders to help distribute the load-out weight on my shoulders.

I guess I don’t look too much like a creepy wannabe guy. I just really like the drab coloring and rugged functionality of surplus gear.

Anyways, as we set out on our epic uphill climb (15% grade! And Sam walked the whole 3 miles himself, there and back!) we passed some young kid with a gory elbow. Seems he’d taken a nasty spill near the top of the trail and janked himself up on some rocks, and he was a little concerned that the Nature Center had a first aid station.

“Let me take a glance,” I said. I had just re-packed the first aid kit that AM, so I knew where everything was, cleaned and dressed his wound and sent him on his way. The kid was almost absurdly grateful.

“I think he was worried about bleeding out,” Jimmy dead-panned as we hiked on.

The thing is, I kind of like having the 1st aid kit. I’ve used it on a nasty scrape Sam got across his chest when he made a poorly timed jump, and on my own self for a few minor injuries.

But I get to a point where I start to worry. Should I have a tourniquet in there? What if there is a BAD injury, a Holy Shit injury. What about a snake bite? We live on the edge of a desert biome; a rattlesnake bite isn’t an unrealistic concern. But are snake bite kits even viable?

I just found out today that my friend Keith’s kids were in a really bad car accident- they are all ok, but I cannot imagine how terrifying that was for him and his wife. What good does being prepared do then? And how prepared is prepared and how much water should you really have in your closet for when the Big One hits and…

I never used to worry much, because it was just me. And Annika can take care of herself. But with kids…

I remember Sam and I saw another dad out with his two kids at Vasquez Rocks once. He had a huge fucking Rambo type knife on his belt, tied down to his thigh. Now I have a knife, it’s a folding blade attached to a Gerber multi-tool. I usually just stick it in a pocket when we go out- not because I think I’ll need it, but because it is small and compact and “what if”.

On the one hand, guy kinda was asking to be chuckled about. He had a giant fucking machete lashed to his hip while walking around a state park where you have to work extra hard to get out of sight of a house, and there are tourists everywhere (unless you go way into the back country, like we do, but he wasn’t). But maybe he was just “what if”ing it. At what point do we stop being “prepared” and start becoming goofy assholes?

The rural New Mexicans I worked with on crews in Colorado often carried a chunk of Osha root in their pockets, because a snake will not bite someone carrying it (they told me). And are things like first aid kits and snake bite kits and pocket knives just our Norse safe travel medallions, Hindi good luck bracelets, osha root and St. Christopher on the dash?

She Came Out Of Nowhere

Lets talk, for a bit, about gender roles in specific settings.

For Christmas, as a sort of gag gift, I got Bettie the D&D 4th edition Red Box- a starter kit for fantasy RPGs, essentially. There probably were fantasy writers before D&D who let female characters be heroic- without resorting to pure damsel, or the Heinlein “sharpshootin’ tomboy girlie girl” archetype (wherein the lady is slightly mussed, gorgeous, deadly with her chosen weapon and willing to throw back a drink with the guys until she melts into the arms of the hero and bats her long lashes at him)- but I’m not familiar with them.

If we look at the real founder of the contemporary fantasy story, Robert E. Howard, he would let women be badass- so long as they were sexy as all get-out too. They were also, whether Valeria of the “Red Brotherhood” (a pirate), Red Sonya (A Ukrainian mercenary during the late middle ages) or Dark Agnes the swordswoman, the exception, not the rule. In Howard’s writing (and in most historical fantasy or pseudo-historical fiction) the woman who stood up among men and was their equal (as a warrior) was a rare thing.

Now with D&D- or any fantasy setting- obviously you don’t want to limit female characters to “traditional gender roles”, because then you are limiting your potential audience (in theory). Which is probably where the kind of ludicrous “Rogue” archetype showed up. The female archer/thief, all lithe and cat-like reflexes, agile and sinewy (and acrobatic), with a bow or maybe a pair of daggers or a quarterstaff- basically, some sort of sneaky/long range support character. Supporting what? The big man-tank armor and flesh Thrud guy who wades into the front with an axe- the Conan, if you will.

The Rogue archetype has been a lead, a sidekick, a love interest- and probably all three. Villains, henchwomen, whatever- More niches, I’m sure, have been filled. Er. Moving on.

To the point: the traditional fantasy/historical fiction place for a female- in an action based role, not as a conniver or a damsel or involving magic etc.- is usually as a Rogue, right? Or a variation therein? Ok.

This kind of bothers me. For one thing, the bow. Until the birth of modern archery and those nifty compound bows with the wheels and thingies- it took a LOT of upper body strength to shoot an arrow far, accurately, and with enough power behind it to punch through armor. I’ve read accounts of the English longbow having a drawing power of 200 pounds. Can you pull 200 pounds back with one arm? I doubt I can, and I’m not a small guy.

“But we HAD to give the girl SOMETHING to do!” I can almost hear the collective voice of a thousand nerds cry out. “She didn’t want to deal with the rules for spellcasting!” or some such.

I guess my problem is that it has become an archetype- I have no issue with a unique and extraordinary female heroine who can do things most women can’t, the same way Conan is awesome (because he can do stuff a lot of guys can’t), it is when “chick with the bow” becomes the default female role (or, for that matter, hugely muscled barbarian who breaks things is the norm for “barbarian”). The archetype is what annoys me, because it feels so incredibly stale and stagnant.

So I was watching a western- bear with me, this going somewhere- Return To Lonesome Dove, a sequel to the extremely successful and popular miniseries starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones.

LD was a remarkably well-shot, researched and acted miniseries. It had some great characters, including several well fleshed out female ones. Return… not so much. For one thing, it stinks of contemporary meddling.

“Well, the original only had one strong woman, the Angelica Huston part, and she still wore a dress!” the Exec might have said.
“Sure,” says the Producer. “Because it was the 1870s, and most women did. But she was strong, argumentative, spoke her mind and ruled her land.”

“Eh. Can the first character we see in the sequel be a chick gunfighter who dresses like a guy, but sexy?”

And so we have a female gunslinger. And later, a sassy young girl who dresses like a boy and shoots rustlers- with two women showing similar traits, the 1st no longer seems extraordinary, but like a late 80s/early 90s “Grrrrl power!” feeble swipe at getting an audience that- the execs fear- wouldn’t like a western.

Now I have no problem with female characters being allowed to slip outside of the norm- but way too often it feels like they are a sop, a cheap gimme to either the perceived need by female audiences to see a “strong” female character (which “Creative” types seem to see as “like a guy, but with tits”) or some sort of tomboy/sexy girl fantasy for the Otaku types.
I sort of kind of totally hate the “just like a guy, with tits” type of “strong female character”, because it seems so hacky, so very trite and poorly thought out.

How do writers avoid the archetype? If you were writing in a fantasy setting, would you avoid the Rogue archetype because, jesus-fucking-joker-christ, it has been beaten into the ground? Would you try and find a way to subvert it, or at least draw attention to it?

Can an archetype avoid being a stereotype? Is it just in the writing- if the character feels alive and fleshed out and fully formed and real, do you forgive the archetype?

Wouldn’t a “strong” woman, who dresses and acts and fights (and fucks, etc) like a Man be viewed as a threat by men? By most “normal” women? Would or should they be the norm, or be the rarity- the oddball maverick?

How do YOU feel about the “strong female” archetype, how should a strong woman be portrayed particularly in (fantasy, sci-fi, horror, whatever) genre settings?

Tales of High Adventure

I don’t know where the month of March went. Wherever these things go when they happen and are gone. They come back again, I guess, but never the same.

We all grow- myself mostly outwards, Sam straight up and down, and Gracie by leaps and bounds. Annika has much less hair, and more or less the same amount of fire in her eyes.

Sam is tall, maybe 44 inches, and willowy. Very strong though. He still runs and climbs almost casually, confident in his mountain goat sure-footedness.

Gracie has started laboriously hauling herself up onto things, usually while grinning and chuckling to herself. She is still cherubic, but becoming more angular in the face and body as she gets older. She will always be, of course, the Goblin Princess, but she looks less and less goblinoid as time passes. When she frowns, she looks remarkably like her mother.

Sam has the same open, goofy face that I did when I was younger. As he grows, I recognize more and more of myself. He still loves Star Wars and Lego (and especially Lego Star Wars) and building castles with his blocks, and lightsaber fights- but he also is growing to love playing finger-guns (he runs out of ammo and mimes tossing the empty weapon before drawing his invisible sword or knife), and the kid is a fucking prodigy wizard at Super Mario Galaxy. Boy, does he love Mario and especially “WeeGee”, or Luigi. He even loves the old Super Show from the late 80s, with Captain Lou Albano and Danny Welles.

His mom, who was just up Seattle having an awesome experience (read about it Here) brought him little stuffed Mario Bros, which he now adores with the fire of a 4 year olds passions. I can’t believe he’ll be 5 next month.

While Annika and Gracie were off adventuring, Sam and I did our own here in LA. We hiked deep into the ravines at Vasquez Rocks and found some sort of egg pods in a creek. We climbed and climbed on a huge wind-etched rock that had a series of hollows, crawl-spaces and mini-caves to explore.

There was a man with a female baboon at one of the parking lots at the park- that was sort of random and odd. I kept making SHAKMA! jokes, but Sam didn’t get them. He laughed, because he is a good sport, but he didn’t get them.

We sat at the counter at our favorite canyon country diner and ate a late breakfast. Sam begged for ice cream, at half a stack of toast, then ate one spoonful of ice cream and asked for more toast, which he devoured.

At home, we built castles, knocked them down, and shot at castles and each other with a Nerf dart gun.

There was a power outage Thursday night for about two and a half hours, Sam was bothered that the lights weren’t working, but he enjoyed the candles. When he woke up Friday morning, he jumped out of bed and turned on the over-head light and cheered like he had won a race.

We went to the Santa Monica Pier and rode the roller coaster three or four times, watched the people playing on the beach from high above in the Ferris Wheel, snapped and whipped around on the Scrambler, weaved and bobbed on the Pirate Ship. Sam insisted on riding the Sea Dragon after a little girl told him it was “really, REALLY scary!” while on the pretty tame Pirate Ship.

She wasn’t wrong. On the Sea Dragon, once the ride was swinging out at the extreme of its arc, Sam hunched over the grab bar yelling “Oh, Oh, Oh ‘it! Oh ‘it! Oh ‘it!” He can’t say “sh” easily, if that helps. When the ride finished, we wobbled off and I asked Sam if he wanted to go on it again: “No WAY, Da, no way!”

But he did love the roller coaster. I stopped white-knuckling after the 2nd or 3rd time, I think. I don’t really like rides, but I love seeing Sam so happy, so I fed off his fun and never regretted it- even if I did say out loud “what the hell was I thinking?” the first time the coaster started it’s clackity-clack climb.

Sam adores his “Uncle” Shelby. I’ve known Shelby since I was 14 or so, and I heartily endorse Sam’s fandom. Luckily for Sam, Shelby returns the adoration and on Saturday they played and played from 11 till 5, when Sam and I went to pick up Grace and Annika at the airport.

I missed my wife and my goblin daughter while they were gone, but I will admit that the bed was nice and roomy and even with Sam in it, I never found my legs pushed off the side thanks to someone else like I did this morning.

Adventuring with Sam is exhilarating, and exhausting. Now it is Monday, and after 4 days of high adventure, I am back at low work. I miss the weekend, and the time we got to spend together, already.