argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
sword arthurs 02

As you might gather from the months of non-updates, this account is semi-retired. I don't plan on deleting anything from it, and I might make the occasional update where there's something I can't say in another way, but for the most part, what's here is it.

Our ATS bellydance teacher is on indefinite hiatus, so we've been practising at one of our dancer's houses. We have three performances in April. The first is a pop-themed event, so we're dancing to "Gangnam Style," which is a lot more fun than it has any right to be. The last is in a theatre an hour away; the first half of our performance will have zills (finger cymbals) and the second half will have baskets. Balancing the basket on my head during a live performance is the part that I'm most nervous about; I recently performed with a sword for the first time and when I went to balance it my entire body felt like it was shaking. (Sometimes I also tense up when playing zills from trying too hard, which makes it harder to stay on beat.)

After April, all we have planned right now is a summer library program and a possible farmer's market.

In June, there's a three-day ATS workshop with zills and sword that I'm really looking forward to. The only downside is it starts the same day my supervisor at work is retiring.

There's another performance at the end of July. I might try to put together a second solo for it.

At the end of September, there's a three-day ATS camp about two hours south; maybe we can go with our troupe? (Even if we don't, we hope to go to NYC at least one Saturday to take classes at Manhattan Tribal.)

As my early birthday present to myself, I bought a doumbek, a common drum in Middle Eastern music. I've been slowly teaching myself the various rhythms. As you might surmise, most of my free time and money goes to bellydance in one form or another, whether it's practising, attending classes or workshops, costuming, finding new music, reviewing moves in my head, etc. This is actually one of the reasons I want to retire my LJ -- all the other bellydancers are on Facebook and I doubt many of the people I met here are that interested (understandably; I was into many other different things years ago when I first made this account).

Work is good, though there are a few changes coming up in staffing. I'm so grateful to have a job with a steady schedule and weekends off; it makes it much easier to plan performances and has improved my sleep.

Fandom is still just Dragon Age 2. I'm looking forward to Captain America: Civil War, but have a hard time getting into the fandom.

If this is my last update, take care and follow your bliss.

Two more photos from recent performances. )
argurotoxos: a woman with a skeleton face holds another woman (Sylvia Ji - sleep)
I uploaded selected photos from the family reunion to my Ocean (Portland, Maine) scrapbook a while ago, but never included them in a post. The first page has all of the 2015 photos.

In other news, I got a job with the county, over three years after I took the civil service exam. My start date is October 5th. I'm working Sundays only at my current job until November 1st, which is my final day.

Shakti! (our American Tribal Style belly dance troupe) has been performing about twice a month. Our first paid gig is near the end of October for a breast cancer fundraiser. Tribal fusion class has moved back to Tuesday, so I'm currently taking American Tribal Style (ATS) on Wednesday and beginner flamenco on Thursday. Lately, I've been staying for the intermediate flamenco class after ATS Wednesdays as well. I'm so glad I got into belly dance; I've met great people, had some wonderful experiences, get to wear costumes and perform, and have learned so much, plus improved my fitness.

Fandom is mostly Dragon Age 2 (Fenris/Male Hawke).
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
The family reunion went better than I expected, though not without incident. All my immediate relatives on my mom's side of the family came except for two brothers and their children. Hard to believe I hadn't seen some of these people in a decade.

Saturday 25 July - We initially left home around 9:30 AM. About 15 minutes out, the check engine light came on, so we returned home and read the code, which was for an oxygen sensor. We debated about moving everything to another car (we had mostly packed the car the night before to save time), but decided to reset the engine code and try our luck. (The check engine light never did come on again.) We were off again at 10:40 AM. Traffic was fairly heavy.

Rest behind cut. )

I thought my grandparents were surprisingly energetic, but they've been discussing moving to an assisted living place on the mainland, which was a surprise to me. My grandpa can't do all the house and yard maintenance any more, but also doesn't want to pay someone else to do it. There are other factors as well, and multiple opinions among the relatives. My dad and I both think if they do move to the mainland, they should keep the island house and rent it out.

Since we've gotten back, my mom's gotten better and went back to work, though today was a down day. (Her birthday is tomorrow.) We have several upcoming performances with our ATS class/troupe. I have a job interview next week, though I interviewed there two years ago and it didn't seem like a good match at the time; asking others to be references is still the worst source of anxiety.

I'll try to post some photos in the next entry, but no promises on when it will be posted.
argurotoxos: fanart of Lady Loki amused (Lady Loki - snerk | by etrangere)
Our teacher's mother recorded the whole performance and uploaded it to YouTube.

Here are our ATS group numbers: one, two, three, and our closing bow. Katy, our teacher, also danced a solo (the laughter is from her mom's expression whenever there was a swear word). Cherish danced a solo, too! Thank you to Katy's mom for the videos, Richard for hosting us free, and Katy, Cherish, and Caroline for being wonderful fellow dancers.

Our first ATS group set is embedded below.

argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)
My dad set up the iPad Sunday afternoon to test the video recording for the family reunion. I recorded about 40 minutes worth of dance practise and made many notes, both positive bits and things that need work. I've improved a lot this past year, though; I can hardly stand to watch the belly dance videos I have from a year ago. (Maybe I'll feel the same way a year from now!)

Wonder of wonders, my Photobucket account is still alive. The audio is quiet (it was playing from my laptop) and the video is a bit dark, plus I've greatly shrunk the video size (the original was almost 400 MB) and Photobucket shrank it even more, but it should hopefully be enjoyable. The song is "Radwind Pt. 1" by MoozE from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl soundtrack. (You can download the soundtrack for free here.) Combining my love of dark ambient with my love of dance isn't the easiest thing, but it seems to work for sword. This was my first and only take for sword -- if it goes this well at the family reunion, I'll be thrilled! The song that kicks in a bit at the end is "Hydro 1" by Eric Brosius from the System Shock 2 soundtrack. I should also link to Tiazza's YouTube channel as she's who I picked up most of my sword work from.

Video direct link
argurotoxos: an elegant half-nude woman standing in green skirts with head facing down and butterflies at her feet (Fée verte)
This is my last day off before we leave for the family reunion on Saturday. Most of the things I pack are ones I use every day, but I think I can get some of my clothes at least packed today. (My mom was smart and took extra days off before to pack. Then again, I used to have at least one weekday off until just the past few weeks. [Somehow, I now have weekends off, which I actually don't like as much; it's nice to be free Saturdays since that's usually a performance day if we're dancing, but I like a weekday off to make appointments, etc., and just break up the week.])

My grandfather was in hospital and briefly in rehab after a fall at home, but he's back at home now with a walker and pain pills. It's still incredible he's lived as long as he has.

Yesterday I danced outdoors with my three fellow ATS dancers. It was quite hot in the sun, but a lot of fun. Since we dance in front of a mirror in class, it's easy to cheat and follow our reflections instead of watching the lead dancer for cues; it went better than I expected, though there are a lot of things I can improve on, especially smoothing out my traveling moves. Also, our teacher was the only one who played with zills -- I can make it through a song on my own with zills, but can't yet play them consistently and follow all the cue changes. I only expected to dance in a few songs, but we did about seven songs as a group. Since I'm the youngest of the group, and by far the newest to belly dance (the other three have danced six-plus years and have taken national workshops, plus have more complex outfits and have known each other a while), sometimes I worry that I'm imposing or being included out of courtesy, but I'd like to think that we all enjoy dancing together with that rush of excitement.

Tribal fusion belly dance class was moved to after ATS on Wednesdays. I hadn't been to tribal fusion in about a month since driving to the studio three times a week is too much. It's nice that I can take tribal fusion again, though it does mean dancing for almost three hours every Wednesday after working all day. My flamenco classes have been canceled the past few weeks due to the teacher being unavailable; I've practised a bit on my own, but am more focused on belly dance. Besides ATS, I've been practising my sword balancing, but I'm not sure if I'm up to performing it yet or not.

(As a sidenote, this week on Tumblr is FenHawke week for the DA2 fandom.)
argurotoxos: a lizard with striking blue and white marks (lizard)
I haven't uploaded any photos in a while.

Photos beneath cut. )
argurotoxos: Midnighter with a hand threaded through Apollo's hair (Midnighter/Apollo - hair)
I've kept a rough list of every pairing I've ever shipped (which I've defined as read at least one fanfic for), but don't think I've ever posted it. The list is chronological, starting from junior high, which is when I was first exposed to fanfiction. Pairings marked with asterisks are ones that have had the most lasting impact, and often ones I read for a long period of time (at least 2 years). Pairings marked '[sort of]' I can read either as friendship or romance, and often prefer friendship.

A lot of the fandoms on this list I have little interest in anymore, but it's still curious to me. This is in many ways also an archive of my fandoms as, except for computer games (such as Thief or Deus Ex), I rarely get involved in a fandom without a pairing appeal. I suppose someone could create a psychological profile based on my pairing preferences; I've tried to look for what draws me to specific pairings. In general, I prefer close friendships that lead into romance and don't go in for many rival/competitive pairings. A lot of the pairings I've shipped are also introvert/extrovert, and the vast majority are male/male. Beyond that, I haven't done much meta.

If I had to pick out the fandoms I'm most fond of (but not necessarily active in) today, it would probably be (following the chronology below): Mary Renault, Yami no Matsuei, Star Trek (especially The Original Series and Deep Space Nine), Maurice, A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia, Stormwatch/The Authority, and Dragon Age 2. But these things vary, some fandoms more than others; I might give you a different answer in a few months.

Pairings list. )
argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)
I usually prefer to buy off of wish lists for other people (it's so much easier!), but I don't have any public ones myself. No one ever has to buy me anything. If you are looking for a wish list, though, here it is, in rough order of desire.

Last edited 9 August 2015.

-Gift cards to Flying Skirts.

-The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power by D. Michael Quinn.

-Small sketch books (around 6" x 4").

-Unique black and/or silver jewellery (e.g., chokers, necklaces, and especially bracelets) [mostly for special occasions or dance].

-Arm warmers, such as these chevron sleeves from Sock Dreams. Black, grey, white, dark blue, or dark green are all nice colours.

-Flower hair clips for American Tribal Style belly dance. (Black, teal, and silver are my outfit colours; can be those or complimentary colours.)

-Unusual bath soaps (e.g., jasmine, tea scents; please no coconut or pineapple).

-Asian water monitor/Varanus salvator things (not skin/meat/leather/etc.; books or prints).

You can also donate to AO3 or Wikipedia in lieu of or in addition to the above.

Things I like but have a lot of (and don't really need more): tea, incense, candles, socks.
argurotoxos: Emilie Autumn sitting on the floor (Emilie - floor | by betterthanlegos)
My mom had her gall bladder removed this morning. The doctors hope it will, if not end, at least lessen her inconsistent side pain and nausea problems. She's also had a lot of trouble sleeping recently.

My dad's had more trouble with high blood pressure and low energy. His bike is also broken, which is one of his main sources of exercise and, I think, a sense of fun and accomplishment.

Because of all this, I've had lots of worries and negative thoughts recently. I don't have any siblings, or a significant other, or children, or pets, so after my parents, it's just me, alone. Of the three local friends I have, one has been super busy, the second has always been more of a talker than a listener, and things have been uncomfortable and awkward with the third (also he's been super busy), so I don't feel I have as much support as I did, say, a year ago. How can people and situations change so much? That thought has been on my mind a lot. Even to take a more mundane example: I used to read pretty much just Loki/Thor fanfic for years. Now that I've found Male!Hawke/Fenris, it's really hard to go back to Loki/Thor. (The Thor fandom was one of the largest I've ever been in, so now I'm trying to adjust to the pace of a more moderate fandom.) How does something that piqued my enthusiasm and brought me joy a year ago not do that anymore?

On one hand, I enjoy having leisure time and being alone -- it's when I'm often at my more creative or introspective. On the other, I also have a tendency to become paranoid or raise my shields.

At some point, I really need to find a different job. Something with more likelihood of actually being able to support myself with. The biggest things keeping me at my current job are the health benefits, short distance, and it's easier and less scary to stay where you are than to make a big change. I haven't heard back from any of the state civil service positions I've applied to lately.

I attended the end-of-year performance for the belly dance group I studied with last fall. The performance was two hours long; most of the classes in the recital were various ballet levels, though there were also some hip-hop and Irish dance groups, and one group that performed a song from Newsies. The belly dance group was the second to last to perform, and I was surprised (and disappointed) how short their piece was. I told my teacher in email after that I didn't plan to come back soon (it's farther away and later in the evening than my current studio, and I want to focus on tribal style) and she took it much better than I expected.

We had another woman join our Wednesday American Tribal Style (ATS) belly dance class, so now there's four of us coming fairly consistently. I have a lot of feelings about ATS, how connected we are to our other dancers, and it's definitely where my focus lies. Our teacher said we might be able to extend classes to 2 hours during the summer. I tried flamenco for the first time last week at the same studio. I've never danced in high heels before - they have flamenco shoes for beginning students to borrow - but the first class at least wasn't as difficult as I expected. If I can, I'd like to continue with it, but I'm not as dedicated to it as ATS.

Our family reunion is the last week of July. I'm hoping it won't be too much of a logistical nightmare or stressful, because I can see it being both. One of my aunts is unofficially in charge of it and wants to rotate dinner cooking -- for 25 people. I've never cooked for more than four people in my life. In theory, we're having a talent show Monday night, which is the only evening my aunt who lives in the area is free. Because my grandparents' house isn't that large, all of us except one family are renting separate houses. Our rental house is only one road over from my grandparents', but we have to bring our own sheets, towels, food, etc., plus all our other packing. (My dad is an extremely light packer, while my mom is a very heavy one and I'm somewhere in the middle, although I'll have one bag just for belly dance.)
argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)

I haven't even played the game and I've read most of the fanfic from the first 12 pages of AO3 that are under 8k words, sorted by kudos count. So this is the rush when you find a new pairing. Loki/Thor has spoiled me for great art and lengthy relationship-focused world-building fic, but then again, I realize that if you only read certain Loki/Thor fic (especially Jotun Loki AUs, which are my favourite), you will be disoriented, and possibly disappointed, by the actual canon.

Also, I know I haven't played many modern games, but the facial expressions are fantastic. The eyes! The mouths! Characters that actually move their lips when they speak! (Okay, that last one is probably only noteworthy if you play Thief.) I can ignore imperfect collision and hands sometimes going through legs.

(For more Fenris/Hawke without, you know, playing the game, there's a nearly hour-long video of a male mage Hawke and Fenris in a friendship romance here. I imagine writing Hawke is a bit like writing JC Denton for Deus Ex -- everyone's Hawke or JC is different because of how they chose to play him.)

Even though I like the characters and the relationship, I'm not sure if I'll actually play Dragon Age 2. My experience with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has taught me that even if a game has a lot of things that are important to me and I enjoy (exploration, atmosphere, a sense of isolation, dark ambient music), if the gameplay doesn't suit me, it's hard to retain any interest.

On a sidenote, Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption is probably the closest game I have to Dragon Age; I recently reinstalled it and have played about two hours. The only fan patch I added was upgraded textures for Prague. The third person POV threw me off badly at first, but I was surprised both how much I remembered and that the game seems to hold up to my first playthrough. That said, Redemption gameplay is definitely not the type of gameplay I usually go for . . . but somehow I enjoyed it anyway. Is it just because of its connection to Vampire: The Masquerade? The best comparison I have is to the Dynasty Warriors games, which I have fond memories of because I played them with my best friend.
argurotoxos: Emilie Autumn sitting on the floor (Emilie - floor | by betterthanlegos)
Both my parents and I bought a belly dance outfit for my birthday. (I justified my part by paying for it with some of my tax refund.) From my parents I asked for a tribal fusion-style bra and belt set from eBay (I was debating between two different styles and my mom helped me decide). I bought an American Tribal Style student set from Flying Skirts. In the photos below, I've also included a few (new) photos of the cabaret-style bra and belt I bought used on eBay last year, as well as some of my practise wear. I'm very curious which of the three outfits people prefer.

I also experimented on face paint for belly dance last month. I initially intended to go for a more authentic tribal look, but most of my sketches consisted of elements from Sylvia Ji, Thief (especially glyphs), and Jötun Loki (both official and fanart).

Tribal fusion-style outfit photos. )

American Tribal Style (ATS) outfit photos. )

Cabaret-style outfit photos. )

Face paint photos. )
argurotoxos: (Emilie - Opheliac)
One of my local belly dance teachers just returned from a one-week intensive with Rachel Brice. Rachel is very methodical and also uses a lot of yoga in her practise; I always think of serpentine torso figure 8s, long undulating arms, and her famous and incredible backbends. I was looking for videos of her on YouTube and discovered she's done a duet with my first ever belly dancer, Illan! You can watch the video here. Rachel and Illan's styles compliment well, though Illan tends to do more turns, use a wider stance, and incorporate more sharp pop/lock moves. It was amazing to see my two favourite belly dancers dancing together!

I've been working off and on on dance ideas for a possible family reunion talent show. Probably something from 3-5 minutes in length with broad appeal from 6 months to 80 years old and a good introduction to tribal belly dance since I don't think most of my relatives have ever seen belly dance. I'd prefer not to use any props, except perhaps zills if I decide to do an American tribal style solo or there's no easy access to a music player. One of my favourite songs to work with lately has been Diary of Dream's "Malum", but I think that's probably too dark and heavy. (By the way, if anyone knows where the animation used in this video comes from, that would be great to know.) I have a few Loreena McKennitt songs, but they don't inspire me as much. Vas's "Remembrance" is currently my top pick.

In the realm of fandom, there hasn't been much new Loki/Thor fic to catch my interest and I've been getting a bit restless even though my backlog of fic will last a few months. Some of the tumblrs I occasionally check (pretty much all people in the Thor fandom) have posted about Dragon Age lately and I remembered that, way back when, I watched some of Dragon Age II's relationship scenes. I haven't played any of the Dragon Age games (or Elder Scrolls or Gothic) and the only game I have that seems similar is Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption. Nevertheless, I've read a few Fenris/Male Hawke fics. I've also bookmarked a few Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Star Trek, and even Yami no Matsuei and Loveless, stories. The last time I was in this phase - I think I was getting out of Batman/DC comics for oversaturation/lack of interest and The Authority for lack of any new material - I had no idea where my next fandom was going to come from and it took half a year to suddenly discover the Thor fandom. I watched a few episode of the original Hunter x Hunter anime a week ago, but don't think I'll get further than that, so I'm doubtful I'll find my new fandom home in older fandoms. Who knows; maybe the next Marvel movie will give fandom new ideas?

(That said, I was more active in the Hunter x Hunter fandom, as far as posting, interacting, writing fanfic, and cosplay, than I have been in any other. These days, I'm pretty much passive, just reading fanfic, occasionally searching for fanart or music videos, and following a couple blogs. I even deleted my cosplay list; there's not anyone I have a burning desire to dress up as and my spending money is going elsewhere.)

Edit: Near as I can tell, I got into the Thor fandom around March of 2011; four years is a pretty good run, and probably a bit over my typical fandom investment. (Most of my fandoms last 2-4 years. It tends to be shorter if: (1) the fandom is small [Earthian, Alexander], (2) my investment is half-hearted or peaks and drops suddenly [Sherlock, the Aubrey/Maturin series], (3) the type of fic I'm interested in isn't much written [Farscape, Merlin], or (4) there's limited source material [Maurice, Brimstone], but there are exceptions [Stormwatch/The Authority]. I suppose a (5) would be I stop liking the source material, either through time or new developments.)
argurotoxos: a lizard with striking blue and white marks (lizard)
I signed up for my first 'gym membership' last week, except that the membership was for a dance studio. This dance studio is actually the most expensive of all the local belly dance classes, but they also offer the most variety, including the only American Tribal Style (ATS) belly dance class in the region. By paying a membership, I can take as many classes as I want each month. I debated over signing up; when I started taking dance classes again, I set a rule for myself at the very beginning that I wouldn't take more than one class a week, out of consideration for time, money, driving, and energy/commitment level. However, even if I continue taking just one class a week, paying for a membership is still the cheapest option.

The classes:

Tuesday - Tribal fusion belly dance
Wednesday - American Tribal Style belly dance
Thursday - Beginning flamenco; belly dance basics

I've been to the tribal fusion and ATS classes twice each. Thursday's classes I've yet to try; the basics class sounds like it's more Egyptian cabaret style.

So, what's up with all the different types of belly dance? I don't know that I have enough experience to write a thorough response, and even though I've grown enamoured with tribal fusion and ATS lately, I still have the most experience with Egyptian cabaret classes (and only about six months of those).

Tribal fusion belly dance was my first belly dance exposure. The performance was set to a techno/electronica song and incorporated various dance, and even acrobatic, moves. Tribal fusion seems to be the most open and creative of all the belly dance styles; dancers use all kinds of different music and costumes and blend in whatever other styles or disciplines interest them. The teacher at this studio sometimes throws in hip hop moves, which are challenging to me as I've never learned that style. Even two of the most well-known tribal fusion solo dancers, Rachel Brice and Zoe Jakes, have quite different styles. Tribal fusion often has a strong focus on isolating different parts of the body, grounding, and sharp pop/lock movements.

ATS belly dance is quite different. It's not the type of dance I would have though I'd like, but it's currently my favourite class. ATS teaches set patterns of moves along with cues. The dancer in the top left corner takes the lead and the rest of the group read her cues to keep in time. In this way, a group can dance together on the spot even though there is no choreography. It can be challenging, especially when I'm still learning a move, to focus on the moment and on the dancers around me. In a way, I could think of ATS as the extroverted side of belly dance. During my first ATS class, I was under the idea that it would take months to learn just a few of the set patterns, but only two classes in we've covered at least 15. (The patterns seem to be split into slow and fast moves, and fast moves are usually performed while playing zills [finger cymbals].) Having other belly dance experience, and practicing with zills on my own, have been hugely helpful.

Oddly, I find defining Egyptian cabaret difficult. It's probably the most widely known and taught style in the US, is usually done to Middle Eastern music, and often features glittery costumes. Personally, Egyptian cabaret feels more airy and playful to me. When I started taking tribal fusion classes, one of my teachers explained that, while there's often some bounce in Egyptian cabaret movements, tribal aims to minimize bounce as much as possible. Most dancers I've talked to started with Egyptian cabaret before moving into other styles, which was also true for me.

I've done a couple flamenco DVDs from the library, but that's the extent of my experience. I was surprised to learn that my ATS teacher (who actually started with ATS belly dance first) was also in the intermediate flamenco class. Unfortunately, I must have sold or donated the black character shoes I used for plays in high school, so I'm hoping the black shoes I bought a few years ago at Salvation Army that look sort of like flamenco shoes will suffice and not be uncomfortable. (Real flamenco shoes often have 2" heels and nails hammered into the soles to emphasize the sound, but aren't required for the beginner class.)

Wednesday's ATS class is the one I'm most committed to. I don't plan on spending three nights a week at dance, and actually prefer to take dance classes on days I work so I can dance on my own on my days off, although I sometimes wonder if I'll have the energy to go right from work. However, since I have the membership, I feel I should take advantage of it and maybe alternate Tuesdays and Thursdays as well as Wednesdays. (I never signed up for Netflix or the YMCA for similar reasons -- if I have a membership, I feel I should take advantage of it as much as I can to get my money's worth, but on the other hand, I don't want to just sit and watch things/be in the gym during all my free time. And if I'm just watching a couple things a week, well, I can just go to the library for that.)

I have some guilt that I'm not going back to the studio I was at in the fall. Several things motivated my decision: the studio was farther away, classes ended later and I often wasn't home until 9:30 or 10 pm, I'm not as interested in Egyptian cabaret as tribal, and I felt that most of the time would be spent putting together and rehearsing choreography for the end-of-year performance, which I wouldn't be in. Sometimes I leave for class at the new studio right from work, eating a quick snack and changing in the bathroom, but the advantage is that I'm home by 8:30 pm at the latest. (The Thursday class ends later.) One disadvantage of this new studio is that traffic is often quite heavy when I drive to class; even when I take the back roads, it still takes longer to get to class than to get home.
argurotoxos: Emilie Autumn sitting on the floor (Emilie - floor | by betterthanlegos)
Podcasts are something that have become surprisingly routine for me. On an average day, I probably listen to about an hour of podcasts, but it could be as little as 15 minutes or as much as three hours. I mostly listen while getting ready for work or bed, doing chores around the house, or before falling asleep.

Podcasts I listen to regularly (i.e., almost every episode):

-Infants on Thrones. An irreverent, engaging, wide-ranging, and sometimes hilarious Mormon-themed podcast. Most of the regulars got their start on Mormon Expression and they aren't afraid of controversial topics or arguing with each other. Updates fairly often with episodes usually running about an hour and a half. (The name of the show comes from Joseph Smith's King Follett discourse.)

-My Book of Mormon. A never-Mormon reads The Book of Mormon with commentary. Updates once a week with hour-long episodes. The newest of all my podcasts.

-Bellydance for the Everyday Woman. One woman's experience with bellydance. I find her episodes inspiring. No set update schedule; episodes about half an hour.

-The Edge of Forever. Two men review Star Trek: The Original Series (and perhaps all of Trekdom?) two episodes at a time. Great camaraderie and discussion. Updates twice a month (in theory, at least); episode about an hour and a half long.

Podcasts I listen to occasionally:

-Mormon Stories. If you love in-depth personal interviews, this is the podcast for you. Some interviews are over four hours long, usually broken down into hour-long segments. Stories of believing Mormons, questioning Mormons, and former Mormons are all featured. This is the most believing Mormon-friendly of all the Mormon podcasts listed. Usually updates at least once a month.

-Mormon Expositor. Another wide-ranging Mormon-themed podcast that splintered off of Mormon Expression. I have some mixed feelings on Mormon Expositor, and a few of their episodes provoked strong negative emotions, but I started listening again a couple months ago and they've had some good episodes lately, though I only listen to about half of what they put out. Like Infants on Thrones and early Mormon Expression, episodes range from panel discussions on various topics to personal interviews. Updates infrequently; episodes about an hour and a half.

-Mormon Expression. Mormon Expression was hugely influential for me and the first Mormon-themed podcast I listened to. There are many amazing episodes in the archives; I especially enjoyed the dummies series and learned much more about church history. Recent Mormon Expression has changed quite a bit, with smaller and more homogenous panels, live recording, and now a new host. Even though I downloaded every episode with the original host, I missed the original energetic panel discussion format with multiple points of view. I've only listened to one episode with the new host, and it wasn't my cup of tea, so now this is a 'download if I'm really interested in the topic and no one else has done it' podcast. Mormon Expression's sister podcast, Mormon Expression Voices, features individual stories, and I still listen to just about every episode of that. (Think Mormon Stories, but with a focus on former/ex/post-Mormons and much shorter.) Mormon Expression updates once a week with hour-long episodes; Mormon Expression Voices updates infrequently with hour and a half episodes.

-Earth The Show. This is the main podcast on the site that hosts The Edge of Forever. Covers geek culture in many forms, mostly comics or film-related. I download an episode once in a while if it looks interesting.

-Feminist Mormon Housewives Podcast. Feminist Mormon Housewives Podcast had a fantastic series on women in early Christianity and Mormonism near when the podcast first launched. Unfortunately, since then I haven't enjoyed most of the episodes I've listened to and sometimes I question why I still have it bookmarked.

Defunct or completed podcasts:

-World's Finest Podcast. Two men review the entirety of the DC Animated Universe, from Batman: The Animated Series all the way through Justice League Unlimited. Hundreds of hours of episode review fun, and an impressive achievement.

-Daughters of Mormonism. A Mormon-themed podcast by and for women. Sadly released the last episode over two years ago.

-Looking Glass Studios Interview Series. Interviews with various Looking Glass team members, the game studio that produced Thief, System Shock, and Ultima Underworld, among others. The interviews are wonderful to any Thief or System Shock fan; the most recent episode was posted over two years ago.

I've tried one herpetoculture/herpetology (reptiles and amphibians) podcast, but the lack of video or images was actually a detriment for me. I also still have a large collection of podcasts designed to help you learn various foreign languages, but I find my mind isn't focused on that kind of learning or memorization when I do a lot of my podcast listening. There are a couple of other podcasts I've tried, such as Mormon Matters (a panel discussion on various topics, but I felt they were never able to have as in-depth discussion as Mormon Expression or Infants on Thrones) or Quarter to Three (a gaming and other geek culture podcast; I've listened to their Thief and System Shock episodes, but the rest didn't catch my attention). I've also listened to a few podcasts on medieval Germany and Buddhist meditation.

If anyone has any podcast recommendations, I'd like to hear them. I could use more geeky podcasts, but feel like my interests are fairly limited at the moment (Star Trek, Looking Glass games, and Thor are the big ones right now). Some historical podcasts might be interesting, especially about ancient Greece or medieval Europe. I like learning about world cultures and nature, but the audio-only nature of podcasts sometimes lets me down in this area. Then again, I'll try any podcast once.

As an ending comment, I've never really cared for audiobooks, so enjoying podcasts came as a bit of a surprise. I'm especially fond of pair or group/panel podcasts where the conversation takes natural twists and turns and you really get a feeling for the chemistry and personalities among the podcasters. Even when podcasters are well-read and well-prepared, there's still spontaneity in the outcome, and it's great when the group can disagree with each other but still have friendship and respect.
argurotoxos: an elegant half-nude woman standing in green skirts with head facing down and butterflies at her feet (Fée verte)
As I tend to get really into things for a few years and then lose interest, I've been tentative in my belly dance investments. I went through all of the library's DVDs before I bought some of my own, and started with some cheaper props and accessories first. So far, though, my interest has kept growing. (I tried to take photos of all the props I describe below, but the lighting wasn't very good and I didn't like the results; there are still a few photos at the end.)

My very first belly dance prop was a veil. It was a solid-coloured piece of chiffon from Jo-Ann Fabrics, unhemmed. Eventually I bought several colours of chiffon and trimmed some of them to different lengths, from two to four yards. There are so many types of veils, from colour and length to shape and material, that you could have quite the collection. (The variety and temptation is similar with hip scarves.)

Next came zills (finger cymbals), which are worn on the thumb and middle finger on each hand and are musical instruments in their own right. The zills felt rather heavy when I first wore them, but now I hardly notice the added weight. I've become decent at playing various patterns and sounds with the zills, but putting them together with dance steps has been extremely challenging and I sometimes get frustrated.

I ordered a pair of silver Isis wings after reading one of the library's books on belly dance. The wings attach at your neck with a collar; each wing end has a rod that makes it easier to control the massive amount of fabric. I can't practise with these indoors as there's simply not enough open space in our house.

A set of fan veils followed the wings. Fan veils are made of a fan with a veil trailing from the ends; mine lighten from black to white and the veil part is silk. After discovering how different silk feels and moves from chiffon, I was sold and ordered a (non-fan) silk veil. I think these are my favourite prop from the 'pretty material to wave around' category.

My latest purchase was a sword. It's specifically designed for belly dance, so the edges are dull and it's well-balanced. At 21", it's on the shorter end, but was heavier than I expected. Swords in belly dance are often balanced on your head to show your skill in isolation and coordination. I've heard of candelabras and tea sets, as well as baskets and jars, also being used this way, but a sword feels (oddly) much safer. (I should mention that a dancer wearing a candelabra is a wedding tradition in Egypt.)

As far as I know, the main props I haven't tried are a cane, or stick, and a snake. Canes to me are associated with jazz dance, not belly dance -- I think of the black top hat and cane in something like Fosse. Nevertheless, canes are actually one of the original Middle Eastern props. As for a snake, I love reptiles, but can't imagine having one, or any other animal, on me while I dance. If I had tried to dance with my iguana, I think he'd either be totally uncooperative or sit on my head with his claws digging in to my skull. Also, according to Wikipedia, fear of snakes is one of the most common phobias, even more than fear of spiders. (Snakes are probably my favourite animals after lizards, but perhaps that's a luxury of living where there are no venomous snakes and the biggest ones to be found aren't very wide.)

I recently went to my first-ever live belly dance performance, which was amazing. Even though all the belly dancers were from the tribal style, there was a great variety in costuming and dancing. The most common props were veils and fans (just fans, not fan veils). One of the troupes did use swords (of all different shapes and sizes), and the American tribal troupe, which was very impressive, used zills.

However, as one of my teachers told me, props can add excitement and variety to your dance, but they are not a substitute for strong dance technique. In other words, props can enhance your dance, but they should not replace it. When I practise at home, which can last from 15 minutes to two hours, I usually start with warm-ups and isolation drills. During the middle of the session, I'll sometimes pick one or two props to work with. (To do them all would be overwhelming). I usually end with free dance before cooling down and doing some ending stretches. Zills I sometimes practise separately. Even when I'm walking at work, I sometimes play invisible zills and count the rhythms in my head. So far, the only prop I've used in outside dance classes is the veil.

As far as dancing with props to specific songs, I've found some songs will bring to mind a certain prop while others I prefer to go propless. Isis wings and swords are usually used with slower music, but I have relatively few slow-paced songs in my belly dance folder. Zills I usually don't use except with Middle Eastern or Middle Eastern inspired music.

Though I feel I've made progress practising on my own - Rachel Brice's Arms and Isolations DVDs are my current go-to starting points, plus a few dancers on YouTube - I haven't been as dedicated about going to classes recently. I've tried both tribal fusion classes in my area, and they have different things going for them; one is challenging and I feel would teach me more technique, but the other has such a positive and engaging environment. I decided when I started classes I would take no more than one a week, both for time and money; in this case, both classes are at the same day and time! There is one American tribal class in the area and I'd like to try it, but I feel I might want to commit to it and I'm already committed to going back to my fall class, even though tribal appeals to me much more right now than Egyptian or cabaret style. Still, I've been belly dancing less than two years -- I have a lot to learn and more years to do it in!

Some photos under the cut. )
argurotoxos: a scene from System Shock 2 with a ghost crewmember (System Shock 2 | by plant_boy)
My mom's side of the family is planning a reunion the last week of July to celebrate my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary. Normally we stay at my grandparents' house, but with so many people coming (my mom has six siblings, most of them have at least three kids, some of them have kids . . .) we rented a cottage that's just a road over. I haven't seen most of these relatives for 10 years; I hope to make up for last reunion where I was at a much different, and less mature, place in my life.

I've felt off the past week; I came down with a cold Friday, but have felt restless on top of that. It put a halt in my plans, especially when I'm so close to finishing the cleaning.

I just finished watching the developer playthrough of System Shock (which was never finished?). One of the things that was brought up was the shorter length of many modern games, and one of the responses was that the people who were playing and developing computer games in their 20s during the 1990s simply don't have the time now that they're in their 40s. My own approach is that I could use my free time to play a fan mission, or I could read a fanfic; both are of unknown quality, but I feel the fan mission (or a computer game) requires more investment and I'm more keenly aware of my time limitations compared to reading. If not for the time limitation, though, I think the fan mission would be the more immersive of the two if they were of the same quality. (I think it's also often quicker to judge a piece of fiction than a fan mission.)

Instead, I started replaying Jazz Jackrabbit 2, a platformer with fairly short levels and easy to do in short bursts.

In theory, I'm also watching a Let's Play of last year's Thief reboot, but I got so bored that I'm just flipping through the videos and watching the parts that tickle my fancy. Yahtzee named Thief last year's worst game, which surprised me a bit even knowing he's a big fan of the original Thiefs. (In contrast, I've watched about seven Let's Plays of System Shock 2, plus played the game myself, and I haven't gotten bored yet . . . though I do like some parts more than others.) Of course, the newest game I've played is S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl and I'm pretty sure I'll never finish it, which means the newest game I've played to completion is . . . Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines from 2004.

I didn't have anything set in mind when I sat down to write, so it was interesting to see what came out.
argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)
Christmas didn't feel as much like Christmas this year. We didn't put our tree, lights, or any ornaments up. My grandparents sent us a lovely wreath and centrepiece from L. L. Bean, so we moved the outdoor wreath indoors and put all the presents under that. We had no snow Christmas Day, and the weather was warm but windy -- nice enough to sit outside without a coat. I also worked both the day before and the day after Christmas.

Wednesday night we each opened one present, as per our Christmas Eve tradition. We also watched the first hour of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. (More on the movie later.)

We had a late lunch Christmas Day, picked up from a restaurant the day before: prime rib, asparagus, rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy, Caesar salad, and Italian cookies (including my favourite, cannoli). Opening presents took up the next hour or two; it was fun and quiet, with most gifts from each other or relatives, plus Kun and Sarah. (I had gotten together with my three local friends earlier in the month.) We saw the rest of The Hobbit (Part 2), and ended the evening playing Apples to Apples (which I bought on Black Friday) and Star Fluxx (one of my gift requests). It's been quite a while since we had new games to play, or played board/card games together in general.

My mom, the only one of us who has read The Hobbit, did not like The Desolation of Smaug at all. She felt it altered too much from the book and the only thing she did like was Smaug himself, both aurally and visually. I felt that, in the efforts to tie The Hobbit back into The Lord of the Rings and make it more action-oriented, Bilbo was left with hardly anything to do. Even though I thought the first Hobbit film was too long and repetitious, the scene with Gollum was excellent at showing Bilbo's skill with words and wits (which seems to be his main talent in the book) rather than fighting. The Necromancer/Sauron storyline overshadows that of the dwarves' (one city or a whole world?) and pushes the film into a darker tone. The Orcs are simply fodder for the heroes, Legolas is pure fanservice, and most of the fighting technique is totally ridiculous.

I hope you all had an enjoyable Christmas and a happy 2015.

This year flew by, especially the last two months. One of my biggest struggles continues to be how to balance things in my life: work, family, my somewhat new and still surprising social life with friends, belly dancing, chores around the house, alone/relaxation time, and other desires (like looking for a new job, answering emails, and dealing with paperwork with deadlines). For most of December I worked overtime with only one day off a week. There's just so many things I want to get done and I don't have the time or energy to do them, which often leads to me stressing myself out, feeling guilty, and/or criticizing myself.

On the other hand, I think I like myself more as a person now than I have for several (many?) years. I'm more active and have been developing and enjoying many diverse interests that I don't think are that common, especially combined: belly dancing, corseting, reading (especially non-fiction), reptiles (especially lizards). I'm still interested in comics, Thief, science fiction, and other, older mainstays, but not to the extent I used to be. In short, I've noticed these changes more acutely this year and think I look forward to seeing the person I become, hopefully possessed of both more knowledge and more kindness. (I don't believe in fate, destiny, karma, or the like, but I do believe in being influenced by your experiences, environment, acquaintances, and memories.)

Below is a short look back at 2014, or at least the multimedia side, with a bias toward the latter part of the year.

Favourite book: Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Best show of 2014: Would I Lie To You?, a BBC panel-based game show [My dad and I watched this all in a few months.]

Favourite new podcast: Infants on Thrones

Best new YouTube channel: Lindybeige

Best fanfiction: Wild Ambition Fortune's Ice Prefers by amberfox17

Number of dance classes taken: 20, with three different teachers/locations

Songs/Lyrics of the year: "Sin Skinner" by Diary of Dreams
("Keep my integrity intact,
I want to base my life on facts.
Whatever comes, I never know,
but life will ultimately show."

and "Former Me" by Neuroticfish
("You are possessed,
By what the people say or do,
With every step,
You know it never suits you.
You think you're dirt,
And everybody hates it,
Rewind, don't tell me that you're wasted."
argurotoxos: Emilie Autumn sitting on the floor (Emilie - floor | by betterthanlegos)
It's been so long since I updated that I almost forgot how.

Photos under the cut. )
argurotoxos: fanart of Lady Loki amused (Lady Loki - snerk | by etrangere)
Today I:

-Got up around 9 AM and drove over to have breakfast, go on a morning walk, and talk with one of my closest friends. (A few days ago, we went on an 11-mile bike ride together.)

-Stopped at the doctor's office to pick up a script for my mom and make my annual physical appointment. One of the receptionists actually gave me a printed copy of my immunization record at no cost. (The last time I'd tried to get it, I was told they would have to print my whole medical record and charge me almost $40. It's still crazy to me that I can't get my whole medical record without paying for it, or even read it myself at the office, but having the immunization list is a start.)

-Went to my bank's ATM for more cash.

-Bought a second watering can (for the back porch plants), another bottle of sunscreen, and some cheap, scented bubble bath at Walmart.

-Returned some of my and my mom's books at the library. I normally never eat while reading physical books, especially library books, but did one day at work when no one else was on to have lunch with and, sure enough, I spilled some food on it. It doesn't look that bad, but it's an interlibrary loan book, so it's up to the original library to decide if they just want to note the condition or if they want me to pay for a new copy. I also checked out a number of audio CDs and a few new books for Maine and the car drive. (CDs -- The Music Rough Guides to the Himalayas, Japan, Turkish Cafe, and Scandinavia; The Art of Seduction: Gypsy Nights - Belly Dance Music of the Balkans; books -- Belly Dancing Basics by Laura A. Cooper, Funny Misshapen Body by Jeffrey Brown, The Heart of Buddhist Meditation by Nyanaponika Thera, The Zen Path through Depression by Philip Martin. I'm still reading The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo.)

-Picked up my mom's prescriptions at CVS.

-Had a quick lunch (thai curry TV dinner) while reading the newest chapter of one of my current favourite fanfics (A Week is a Long Time in Vanaheim by Hermaline75, Loki/Thor, pre-MCU, explicit, WIP).

-Put on some sunscreen and worked outside. Watered the flowers. Planted some creeping thyme in my small front garden. Moved one of my marigolds that was started to wilt from a clay pot into the soil near the thyme. Swept off the front steps. My plants: two marigolds in clay pots and one amaryllis in my bedroom; cactus and regular zinnia, thyme, and one marigold up front; one marigold, one amaryllis, and two pots of three morning glories each on the back porch.

-Helped my dad check the fluid levels and air conditioning system in my car. He checked the other two cars while I had a short dinner and changed.

-Went to the first class of a new belly dance session half an hour away. The drive wasn't as bad as I'd expected, and the place was easy to find. There were almost 30 people there, some who had taken prior classes with the instructor and some who were completely new, ranging from late teens to 60s! Most people did have their own hip scarfs, though. The studio was an actual dance studio with wooden floors, a barre, and full-length mirrors across one wall. Oh, what a beautiful sight! The mirrors really do help, and I found myself automatically going into ballet warm-ups. It was quite a difference from my experience with the nearby belly dance class, where I was the only one there and the studio was designed primarily as a yoga studio, with no mirrors or barre and just painted concrete. Even though I enjoyed having more people in the class, I also found myself feeling very self-conscious and had a hard time relaxing. The instructor seemed much more knowledgeable, gregarious, and willing to give constructive criticism than the local one, although also a bit absent-minded. I'll be in Maine next week, but signed up for the rest of the session, which will be every Thursday night at 6 PM through 17 July. To my surprise, the instructor said she might even cover veil and zill (finger cymbal) use even though it's a beginner class.

-Came home and ate some fried rice with my parents.

-I might burn some music CDs for Maine after finishing this.

I work tomorrow 7:30 AM - 4:15 PM, Saturday 8 AM - noon (in theory; it might change). If we don't leave for Maine on Sunday, I might go to my close friend's house; he's off that day and their pool might be open.


argurotoxos: Midnighter holding balloons, waiting for his husband (Default)

March 2016



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