Just a Judge

A bit more than a year ago, I wrote a post about my experience as a female Magic player.  It somehow made its way onto Reddit, and from there, on to Wizard’s front Magic page.  I look back on that fondly; the reaction was more positive than negative, and it gave a lot of female players a chance to say, “Me too.  I’ve felt this.  I’ve had something similar happen to me.”  It gave them a chance to feel like they weren’t alone.

Most people don’t know what sparked that article, what put my fingers to my keyboard and in a manner of an hour or so post it in a pretty raw form for all to see.

I was angry.  Actually, angry doesn’t begin to come close to what I felt.  I was incensed, furious, raging over one of the largest miscarriages of justice I had seen: the conviction and ‘sentencing’ of Brock Turner.  My fury took the form of words and I opened myself up and spilled out everything that had hurt me while playing, everything that had made me feel alone, everything that made playing the game that had grown to be such a part of my life difficult.

I don’t know why I did it.  Maybe at some deep level I hoped that by addressing the incidents I had experienced first hand, we could keep things from being as bad in the Magic community.  A lofty goal to be sure, but if speaking out meant that even one more female player had the courage to call out the bad things that were happening to her or one more male player realized what he was doing was wrong, it was worth it.

That post was very player-centric, as I had only recently become a judge so I wrote about what I knew.

This time I’m once again writing about my experiences, only this time as a woman judge in the Program.

I’m once again writing because I’m angry; because something small happened today that was the proverbial last straw; because the past two large events have been the most emotionally draining and hardest of my judging career.

I’m writing because while the Program is vocal about change, I continue to see the same things happening.

I’m writing because I’m so tired of bringing up the same concerns again and again and again to concerned faces who lament with me about what happens but mostly don’t push hard enough to change things.

Two weeks ago I judged Nationals in Richmond.  (There were three female judges on staff. Total.  Only two staffed for Friday.)  I started off my Friday with an email explaining that I had received my first decline for staffing for a GP.  Logically I knew it was bound to happen, but as we head into the world of a single Tournament Organizer for Grand Prixs, it put me in an anxious place so I separated myself from the group so to speak and worked on helping get the event set-up before the doors opened.

Turns out I misread my schedule and wasn’t supposed to be in until later.  Oops.  My (then) team lead was nice enough to adjust my schedule to make up for having worked longer than needed, and after a nice lunch with a fellow judge, I checked in with my new team lead, and talking things over with him, I went over to begin to handle moving top four results of Last Chance Trials to one spot.

Soon after my most recent ex-boyfriend showed up and my emotional well-being went to shit.  I was going to detail the exact events that happened, but frankly, revisiting them will probably do me more harm than good.

I was upset because he was there; not because he was in the same space, but because I had asked him to stop messaging me, a request he subsequently ignored.  I was upset because it was very obvious he was approaching me because I was relatively alone and he walked to talk. I was upset because he pulled the same stunt a few months ago at another large event in Richmond, made me feel cornered and trapped and I had already told him after it happened that it wasn’t okay.

Long story made short, he played in a Last Chance Trial not to gain byes, but to stay near me because I was handling top four placements.  I know this because he scooped to his opponent in top four and then hung around.  I know this because he tried to talk to me, twice.  I know this because it took another judge on Saturday asking him to leave me alone or be escorted out of the venue for him to stop.

It shouldn’t take a male judge asking a male player to stop doing something in order for that player to not do it.  Fun fact, female judges have autonomy outside of their male counterparts and deserve the same level of respect, but we don’t get it.  I was harassed at my job because a man decided that my wishes weren’t important enough to be respected, especially since they didn’t match his own.

I almost didn’t leave the venue for lunch Saturday because I was worried about a confrontation, most likely a verbal one but every woman knows there’s always the what if factor.  We live in a world where men kill women who ignore their catcalls.

I spent way too much time in the bathroom controlling tears, even breaking down once in the judge area, though I made sure I was facing away from everyone else because you don’t want to be the girl crying or you get labeled the ’emotional’ one.  You don’t want to be the one that attracts drama and issues, especially as we move into a world of a single Grand Prix tournament organizer.  Women are stereotyped by society as being lightning rods for drama, so anytime something dramatic happens the fear that someone (usually a man) will use it as an excuse to exclaim, “Ah ha! I was right! This is why women don’t belong/can’t be trusted/are unsuited to the task at hand!” is so strong.  When women ‘stick out’ negatively, consequences of those negative interactions are unfairly put on all women; this doesn’t happen for men.

Friday and Saturday should’ve been amazing judge days; instead I spent them stressed and harassed. Sunday he didn’t show up and I had a great day.  Until the ‘Diversity’ talk.

Do you know how exhausting it is to always be the ‘expert’ on women’s experiences in judging?  To be asked time and time again to rip open old wounds so you can tell male judges what happened to you so that maybe you have one more man will believe you because it came from you directly?  To sometimes feel that you never get to be the expert on anything rules or policy related, only on what makes you and other women upset?

Look, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be having these talks, because we should, but instead of it being a round-table discussion of issues it became two women laying out their grievances to a table of mostly silent men.  Some of them looked like they were slightly interested, others just looked bored.  A very small number did try to engage us, though for a few it felt forced.  I eventually had to step away because I was tired of exposing my past hurts to the table to just feel like what I was saying was valid.

It perhaps wasn’t the best idea to have this talk at the end of a three-day judging weekend for a lot of us but I didn’t leave the table with much hope that what I said had any real effect after the blank faces and general feel that people felt obligated to come instead joining us of their own volition.  Also, without a way to disperse the discussions that are had at each event, we’re looking at multiple instances of women having to publicly produce the things that hurt us again and again, and that will drive us out just as much as the overt and subtle sexism will.  I don’t want to seem overtly critical; I think with more organization and advertising, these talks are and can be important but I left this particular one more bruised than hopeful.

At the end of the day, I just want to be a judge.  But I can’t be.  I get to be (these are a conglomeration of things that have happened to myself and others):  miss, or sweetheart, or being interrupted more, or appealed more, or talked over, or bossy, or ‘You lost to girl?!’ I’m “can I get your number” or catcalled as I walk to post pairings.  I get to be ignored while my male colleagues converse with one another, only being talked to when it becomes necessary.  I get ‘helped’ with more tasks when there are greener judges.  I get told to smile more because my neutral face is not pleasant enough.  I get beat down for being excited about a fellow woman being my head judge for a large event for only the second time ever.  I get to have never had a female Grand Prix head judge.  I get dismissive team leads who assume I’m going to do a worse job than a L1 on their first event.

I get to look out onto a sea of faces and see very few that are women like me.

I get to have a player ask me if blowjobs are something that can be exchanged for a match result.

I’ve been doing more events lately and I’m starting to, very incrementally, get more and more tired.  It’s not the tired from traveling or being on my feet for hours at a time or dealing with complicated boardstates and rules interactions.  I’m getting tired of working twice as hard to have my voice heard and not even heard as much as my male counterparts.

It is exhausting, infuriating, frustrating, and sometimes I feel, not worth it.  I’m not giving up, because pushing against it means it will be easier for the women judges who will follow me, but just once I want it to not be.  And frankly, we can’t do it on our own.  We need men to listen, and more than that, we need men to engage.  Call out each other on your problematic behavior; don’t make assumptions about our ability without, I dunno, talking to us first; when someone interrupts us, interrupt them back.  I’m getting tired just writing these sentences because I have lost count of the times I’ve said, or read these sentiments.

Women just want to be able to go to an event and judge; set goals and push to achieve them; interact with players as positively as they can.

I just want to be a judge, friends, but I need your help to get there.

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Sanctuary

Sanctuary

 

It’s pretty much a given at this point that this blog has become a place for me to air my personal experiences as a way for myself, and sometimes others, to grow and learn.  I’m not the best at keeping up with it regularly and tend to only put fingers to keyboard when the universe moves me but through word of mouth as well as recognitions, I do believe my words can, will, and do help people.  That’s why I put myself out there, so to speak, to let people know they’re not alone, that they aren’t the only people going through these experiences.

I know it seems like I’m rambling, but stick with me.  I’m doubling down even harder on being open and vulnerable.  We’re gonna get real personal, real fast, but I promise there is a larger point to be made than simply discussing my personal life.

Outside of judging, it’s been a very rough year for me.  Towards the end of last year, financial stumbling blocks and an unforeseen living situation began the snowball effect of thrashing my mental health.  At 29 years old, I had never expected to go back to living with my parents.  Once I left for college at 18, I hadn’t really ever come back to reside there for long periods of time.  But the transmission died in my old car, I was forced to buy a new one, and not two days after moving to a new place and my car dying, my living situation became untenable and I had to attempt to find somewhere to live, so back ‘home’ it was.

I… don’t have the healthiest relationship with my mother.  There’s love there, but when we share the same living space it doesn’t really show up.  Most of the tension comes from the mental image she has of what she wants her daughter to be, and at the time a 29-year-old living at home who hated her job and resented being treated as if she was still a teenager didn’t really fit the mold.  We bickered, we fought, there was yelling and tears occasionally, but at the end we would mend things as well as we could and move on.

My step-father was another thing entirely.  To be frank, he resents me and having come from a generation where he walked onto a job site with only a high school diploma and landed a job that let him advance, he simply didn’t understand why I had come home.  Whereas my mother and I bickered, my step-father and I clashed.  He is very much used to always getting his way and is steeped in traditional familial roles.  Essentially, women should be seen and not heard.  That’s not a game I play and it got to the point where I would avoid him for the sake of my mom; there was more than one occasion she got between us for fear of where his anger would lead.

Things came to a head early one morning when he woke me from a dead sleep, bellowing about the latest thing I had done that he couldn’t stand.  While he was several rooms away from me, I could hear every word and this time his anger and reaction were so intense, I was scared for my life.  I scrambled out of bed, barricaded my dresser against the door and hoped against hope he wouldn’t go for the gun that was in his closet.  It was the most terrifying three hours of my life, because even after my mother calmed him down enough for him to go to work, I didn’t move for fearing of him coming back.

That ended up being the final straw for me.  Mom didn’t want me to leave but once I laid it out for her in terms she understood, she agreed that maybe I should leave.

“Mom, if I was dating a man who acted the way dad did this morning, you would tell me to leave him.”

“…you’re right.”

It was March at this point and while I had some money saved up, I didn’t make enough to live on my own in my area so I put a call out on social media to see if anyone had a place to lend.  I got one answer that would mean a much longer commute to work however once I got a look at the room (and the two lovable dogs I’d get to share my space with) I had to say yes.  I think that ended up being the first step on towards my sanctuary.

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My little piece of paradise.

While I was now in a much safer place, I still felt adrift.  You wouldn’t know it from interactions with me while judging, but the anxiety monsters were strong and my perception of myself was probably at the lowest point of my life.  It was very much starting to feel like everything I did was going to end up as a failure.

Enter GP Pittsburgh and Meg Baum and Megan Linscott.

Now this event happened shortly before I left home but some of the interactions I had at this GP, with Meg in particular, stuck with me.  It was starting to become a running gag about which Meg you were referring to as we started to get staffed more and more on the same events.

“Which one, the one with dark hair?”

“The one who smiles a lot?”

“The one with the glasses!”

“You mean Megan Linscott?”

We had a bonding session over some of these interactions and it sparked a friendship.  Towards the end of the day on Sunday, Meg got an ‘Ah ha!’ look on her face and told me to wait there while she ran off somewhere.  A few minutes later she walks over with another female judge.

“Meg, this is Megan!  I think we should take a selfie together!”

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I may look tired, but I had such a great event and I was happy.

Thus a tradition was born.

As the months progressed, my new living conditions helped me start my inner healing process.

But I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without the support of Meg and Megan.  It may seem like such a small thing, but bonding over names (which is partially due to the small percentage of women judges in the program) led to kindred spirits.

And it didn’t stop with events!  It became a running joke that bled into social media, to the point where Jeff Higgins commented about us not having our own chat.  Not five minutes later I found myself in a chat with five other female judges: Meg Baum, Megan Linscott, Megan Hanson, Megan Holden, and Brogan King (who was dubbed an honorary Meg).  While I didn’t know the other Megans that well, I felt an instant sense of welcome.

Not to mention hilarity when I changed the chat name.

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But can you be sure it was me that changed it?

It could’ve just ended up being a short lived gag; it has instead become a bastion of support and a sounding board for concerns, both judge related and otherwise.  Just knowing it is there in case I need to rant or if I want to share a rough judging experience or to send cute pictures of fluffy animals has led to a huge improvement on my mental and emotional well-being. I think it was the last step I needed to really start healing from the trauma of fleeing home and the self-loathing I felt as having failed in my personal and professional life.

Fast forward a few months to now and I am happier than I have been in a very long time, possibly ever.  A large part of this was taking the leap of leaving teaching but I believe it is more so the connections I have made in the Judge Program that have helped me recover.  I now chat with at least one of the ladies in the chat every day, when before I would be anxious to send any message for fear of being an annoyance.  This casual acceptance that people are okay talking with me has spread to communications with other judges and friends as well and it has helped to beat back the anxiety monsters who lie to me and tell me that I have no friends and no one likes me.  Don’t get me wrong, I still have my bad days but they are less severe than before.

I certainly wasn’t the only one making use of the chat either.  We all rejoiced in that ability to communicate and feel validated or to help coordinate projects and idea.

I know this feels very much like I was just talking about my experiences to garner sympathy, but that is far from the point.  I listed my experiences in order to better illustrate a point: find your sanctuary in the program, in your living space, in life.  Having a space you can flee to, whether actually fleeing or going off on a tirade to welcoming ears, is integral to your success and happiness.

In the Program, outside of the mentor/mentee process, I went on my own for a long time.  I was raised in a way that viewed asking for help as weakness.  I think it hurt me in the long term and I now firmly believe that if I had had a place like the Meg chat when I started out, I would been in a better place in judging and in life.

The term safe spaces seems to get thrown around with derision most often in our current climate, but it’s a term for a reason.  Form one that can go with you, and even when you’re standing on your own feet, you can know you have the support of those who care and who want your success as much as you do.  It’s invigorating, empowering, intoxicating, and it helps you believe that can do anything.

Speaking of accepting places, I had another motive to sharing my story.  I’ve recently become involved with a project I’m really passionate about.  The Collected Company Mentorship Project came about from the desire to empower and connect female judges to help them achieve their potential in the program.  Check it out!

Growing Pains

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Edit: someone pointed me in the direction of a  another great article on failure written by Riki Hayashi that was posted on Paul Barany’s

blog.

Folks, I did it.

I did it, I did it, I did it.

I, finally, passed my L2 test and now have the honor and privilege of calling myself a Level 2 judge.

A lot of the experiences I have posted about in this past year have been the stumbles and downright failures I have made along this wide and varied journey.  Some people may think that by focusing on the challenges means looking at my journey through a negative lens but I would have to vehemently disagree.  In those missteps, in those frustrations, in those moments of embarrassment and frustration and anger, I discovered my drive and passion for this program and for my personal journey through it.

That’s not to say that I should completely ignore the good experiences, for there I often found reprieves and joys that helped me recharge so that I could keep moving.  But if you ignore the challenges you also ignore the growth that’s been made and to do that would be not only a disservice to myself and my unwillingness to be beaten but also to the friends and mentors that have helped me along the way.

I, personally, think that in the Judge Program (and honestly in a lot of aspects of life) we don’t talk about failure enough.  Today, the Feedback Loop posted an excellent article written by Erik Aliff about his failed Level 3 Panel.  Scott Marshall faced a combat call that ended with a mistaken ruling on coverage for GP Denver (December 2016) and posted his apology to the player in question once the event was over.

Besides these two awesome examples of publicly shared stumbles, you’ll be hard pressed to find more examples of judges sharing items in this way.  (At least, I was.)  It also seems that I’m not the only one to notice the deficiency.

I was recently the recipient of an Exemplar Recognition for my post on the IQ where tough player interactions caused me to have a bad day.  I won’t quote the entirety of his words, but Arthur Halavais penned some strong thoughts that I believe will stick with me for a long time to come:

“Often, judges feel that they need to appear invulnerable while they judge, and are unwilling to ask for help, either with the event or with themselves. You bucked this trend by being willing to talk about your frustrations and ask for support from the community. Next, you took the opportunity to write a blog post about the day. While you had the option to minimize the poor encounters and talk about positive parts of the event, you fearlessly tackled a topic that was still hard to write about, and in doing so you focused on the opportunity to use your negative experience as a chance to teach other judges and to help them grow.”

First of all, holy cow can this guy write!  Secondly, this struck a chord with me and reaffirmed my motivation for keeping this blog.

Look, I get why admitting mistakes can be so hard.  There is such a large stigma attached to failure.  In the Judge Program, it can often feel like one mistake will mean the difference between being staffed for an event or never working again, and in the future world of one Tournament Organizer Grand Prixs, or viral and heinous Reddit threads, for example, it seems understandable but feeling as if perfection is the only way forward is damaging not only to yourself but the Program as a whole.  No one can be, or should expect to be, perfect.  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t strive for excellence and push to be the best you can be, but to expect perfection of yourself, and by association your colleagues, is not feasible.

I’m also not saying that your only focus should only be on the negatives.  That also doesn’t do anyone any good.  Instead look for and strike a balance between the good and the bad.

My background in education has been nothing but a boon to me in the judge program, and one of the first things they teach you when you learn the fundamentals of education is that students will learn the most when first faced with failure.  When we choose to ignore the mistakes we make we are removing ourselves from potential learning experiences.

I almost stopped after I failed my L2 test for the second time because I was simply not used to the hardship that can come with wanting something that hinges on academic knowledge and missing the mark not once, but twice.  If I kept going, I was going to have to acknowledge the fact I wasn’t quite good enough a second time and frankly, self reflection is one of the hardest things a person can face.

Passing the Level 2 test was hard.  Facing my faults and not quitting was harder.

As a final note, I beseech those of you reading this that if you take away only one thing from this post, it be this:  embrace failures the same why you embrace successes and there is nothing you can’t do in the Judge Program or in life.

Thank You, Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot

Wonder Woman

This, for the most part, is a Magic and Judging blog.  That is why I started, those items are the ones I talk about the most, and this is the place that I process the things that happen at judging events.

But something magical happened in an entirely different way last night and I need to talk about it.

I finally got the female led super hero movie I have needed my entire life.

For whatever reason, as I’ve traveled through my 3o years on this planet, I’ve always been drawn to what a large portion of the population refer to as ‘male’ hobbies.  I’m an avid video gamer when the time allows, always enjoyed science fiction movies, was huge into Batman once I discovered the animated series when I was ten (still, easily, the best animated serial about any super hero ever), and obviously fell into playing this game who’s player base is largely male, white, and straight.

This demographic majority often means that a lot of the things I enjoy are seen through the eyes of someone of that race and gender which translates to a lot of women or women characters used as objects, or prizes, or tropes, or props to build up a man’s confidence.  We only see them or their story used in a way that betters the lead male character.  Or, in the case of video games and some cards games (though not current Magic art ❤ ) we get objectified women characters that are only their for the enticement of the male gaze.  I lost count of how many times I heard from a male player in the MMO World of Warcraft who was only playing a female character because, ‘If I’m going to stare at someone’s ass for hours on end I’d rather it be a chick’s.” *  I’ve recently finished Horizon Zero Dawn and I was so happy about playing a non-sexualized female video game lead that I often had the sniffles during the play through.

In the most recent decade of my life superheroes have gone from being part of a subculture to blasting into pop culture fame.  We’ve had absolutely fantastic superhero movies that have kept you on the edge of your seat while also pulling at your heart strings.  The Winter Soldier is a personal favorite because of how much in touch with his feelings Steve Rogers gets.  Shockingly (can you sense my sarcasm?), these movies were very male centric, with both (hey at least there were two!) female characters playing supportive roles as well as love interests.  And don’t get me started with Black Widow’s treatment in Age of Ultron.

Fun fact, being unable to bear children sure as shit doesn’t make you some kind of monster.  We’re not simply baby factories.

Despite the problematic treatment of female super heroes in major movies, I was still hopeful that we would get a female superhero movie where things wouldn’t be as bad.  I waited for Marvel to give me a Black Widow movie after the success the Avengers as they were clearly in the lead for successful big screen super hero adaptations. (Instead they produced toys that excluded Black Widow from their toy line, citing that girl’s don’t care about super heroes or some other pedantic bullshit.)

Then there were rumblings that the Batman Versus Superman movie was going to have a cameo that would make me happy.  I still remember the goosebumps I felt when she I watched the first trailer with Wonder Woman in it. After being subjected to that movie, myself and most of the people I knew, decided that Wonder Woman was the best part of the movie and by not a small margin.

Then we got the news: a Wonder Woman solo movie had been green lit.  I was filled with both joy and despair.  Finally, someone had decided to listen to the female (and non-binary and in a smaller percentage, the male) fans who had been clamoring for a female centered movie for ages.

However…

Historically female characters have not been handled well.  I’ve already mentioned my dislike of Whedon’s handling of Black Widow.  Most superhero movies where female heroes even make an appearance, they’re put there to fulfill the ‘badass strong female character’ check mark, and nothing more.  They’re rarely offered as much depth as their male counterparts and a lot of times it feels like they just get added so the studio can claim diversity without actually practicing what the preach.  (I cannot wait for the Black Panther movie for all the same reasons; superhero fans are not just white so neither should their superhero movies be all white either.)  There was a large chance my hero was going to be sexualized and transformed into something for men to oogle more than the strong superhero I had read so much about.

Enter Patty Jenkins.  My hype increased ten-fold.  Not only was I getting a female led super hero movie but a woman was also directing it?  Sign me the fuck up.  Now I knew, regardless of the initial reviews, I was going to see it opening weekend, if only to support their decision to place a woman at the helm of a superhero movie.  Overall, Hollywood is still an old boy’s club in a lot of aspects so any chance to support at not (old) white guy I’ll take.  (A great example of this recently was ‘Get Out’ which was directed by Jordan Peele, one of the few horror movies I’ve actively enjoyed and overall a great movie.)

Fast forward to release weekend and the reviews start to trickle in.  The whisper permeating social media that it’s good starts to build into a dull roar and then it’s revealed that Wonder Woman has achieved the coveted above 90 rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (At the time of writing this, the rating was still at 93%.)  My excitement was growing and my friends were returning from the theater with exultations of joy.

That’s how I felt once the credits started rolling: joyful, ecstatic, and emotional.  I had cried during the movie and I cried once it was over.  You may be wondering I was so emotional and I myself couldn’t really put my finger on it until this morning.

Wonder Woman was not a superhero movie designed for a man; Wonder Woman was a superhero movie designed for us all.

It portrayed her as, if nothing else, human.  She was herself.  She was not there as some love interest for a man (though there was love in the movie, that was not her sole purpose for existing).  She was not there as someone’s mother, or sister, or cousin.  She did not have to be tied to a man in order to be found worthy.  She was strong and powerful but was not simply given martial prowess to fulfill some rule that all superhero movies have a ‘strong, female character’ but because it was her cultural heritage.  There was no gratuitous but shot; no super low-cut or cut out costume to show cleavage that defies physics.

The Amazons themselves were all different body types and no less strong.  They were scarred, and aged, and not just white (though the movie as a whole could’ve had a more diverse cast as much Hollywood blockbusters can).  They made no excuse for their strength, but reveled in it in a way that was refreshing.  They were not strong because that might interest a man but strong because they wanted to be strong.

That’s why Wonder Woman was so important: she was not made for men alone.  She was not there to be a sexual object for a man but more as an inspiration for woman.

I shared a picture recently on Facebook of a small girl in a Wonder Woman tiara and shirt with a pink tutu who is staring up at Wonder Woman on a cardboard advertisement for the Justice League.  She is why this movie matters so much; so that the girls and young women who see this movie see a heroine who’s not just in the movie as the final prize for the male superhero, but is instead there because she can save the world her own damn self; that she is not just an accessory to boost the male hero’s ego.

It wasn’t perfect; I had some issues with how the female villain was handled (THOUGH THANK THE GODS SHE WAS NOT THE VILLAIN BECAUSE WONDER WOMAN STOLE HER MAN OR SOMETHING. FILMMAKERS, THAT TROPE SHOULD BE DEAD AND BURIED) and I wasn’t so keen on the casting of Ares, though I won’t reveal who that was for the sack of spoilers.

At the end of the day, though, its positive attributes outweigh its flaws by one hundred percent.

Thank you Gal Gadot for portraying the kind of Wonder Woman I have always pictured in my mind.  Thank you for giving her fire, and courage, and anger, and emotion.

And thank you so much Patty Jenkins for directing a movie that left me in tears; that reminded me to not give up the fight for diversity and representation in mainstream culture.  Thank you for giving me both Princess Diana, Princess of Themyscira and Wonder Woman, two different sides of this heroine who has moved past her questionable origins to being a representation of female self-empowerment.

Thank you so much for giving me the woman led super hero movie I wanted but didn’t know that I, and women everywhere, needed so much.

*This was paraphrased and pieced together from the multiple ways I heard it.

**Big shout out to Big Hero Vince for letting me use his Wonder Woman image!  Check out his amazing cosplay and prop making on Instagram!

One Year Later

One Year Later

Oy.  It’s been a year.

There’s been struggles abound, adventures galore, and a lot of personal growth.  And that’s not even including the judge program.

They tell you as you grow up, that the more you age the easier things will be.  I’ve decided that’s a pile of malarkey.  Things don’t get easier, you just gain the ability to adapt more and once you’ve grown comfortable, that is when you run into a new challenge to conquer.  And let’s be honest, life would be pretty boring if everything was easily wrapped up and cataloged with pre-programmed responses.

I started this blog as a way to organize my thoughts and work through the events as I traveled down the Judge road.  I haven’t kept up with it as regularly as I’d like; being a teacher often means sacrificing not only your free time but also your free energy.  Most days when I get home it’s all I can do to wash clothes and keep far enough ahead on my grading that I’m not crushed by a mountain of papers.  Writing is a part of my soul and when I don’t have the energy to focus on it, I tend to push it aside until I can get to it.  I hope that a future change in careers will mean I have the time to write about more events, not just the ones that have really hit me hard (whether good or bad).

In three or four days, I’ll hit the one year anniversary of my very first GP.  You can read more about the event here but it’s safe to say that event changed me, and for the better.  While I had judged a largeish Magic event the previous weekend, it was here that a fire really lit inside me; I really loved this judging thing.  As an introvert, it felt like a way for me to connect with people and really make someone’s day better and that’s what I think motivates me to this day.  Judging is this odd mix of customer service, intricate knowledge, and people skills that means I always have to be prepared to think on my feet.  I think that’s why GP Charlotte was the turning point for me; if any GP could be considered the ‘Be Flexible and Make it Happen GP’ it was that one.

I’ve had a lot of amazing success this past year: I planned and successfully ran a charity tournament for a local animal shelter; I judged in my first SCG Open; and I’ve tackled the plethora of formats that Magic has to offer.  I even wrote something that ended up on the ‘Mothership’ (Wizard’s homepage) about the struggles I’ve had as lady Magic player.  That was an especially proud moment of mine and an illustration of how powerful written words can be.  Not only have I had several female players express similar struggles to mine, I even had a fellow judge call attention to the fact that he had a female judge candidate who was inspired to become a judge because of what I had written.  That, more than anything, is my proudest judge related moment to date. (I hope to meet her one day!)

But it hasn’t all been sunshine and daises.  I’ve punted rules calls pretty publicly; I had a tardiness situation where I wasn’t firm enough and it led to player backlash; I’ve dealt with upset players as both a floor judge and a head judge.

I also failed the Level 2 test twice.

I’ll admit, the second time I wasn’t prepared.  My new teaching job was robbing me of all my time and I made the mistake of taking it at a GP instead of in a quieter setting.

But the first time… the first time hit me hard.  I’m not used to failing at things; in fact, I have the tendency to avoid situations that put me in a spot where I may fail.  That’s one of the places I think I’ve grown the most since I’ve started judging; facing my knowledge and ability gaps in a way that I can understand them and improve.  Without failure there is no getting better, no moving on to the next level.

Now when I make mistakes, I don’t let them drag down into a spiral of despair.  I instead let them ground me and I examine them for ways I can improve.  I have the ability in me to be a very good judge, and in some areas I am already a very good judge, but in order to reach my potential, I have to know not only what mistake I made, but also how I got to the error in the first place.

But I know I’m growing.  Earlier this month, I judged side events at GP Richmond.  As the weekend progressed, I felt great but there was a nagging feeling in the back of my head that it felt too easy.  Towards the end of my second shift, I realized that it wasn’t that things were too easy but that I now had the skills to be more efficient which made me better at my job.  I also got to help coach a fellow female judge who was launching their first side event as a head judge at a GP.  I even got called a ‘SCG Stalwart’ which may have caused my heart to grow three sizes that day.

Looking to the future, I’m heading to Cleveland in the middle of June to judge another GP under Riki Hiyashi.  I was on the main event floor for his first GP in Indianapolis so I feel extremely grateful and fortunate that I get to judge under him for his last GP as well.  Fingers crossed that this will also be my first event as a Level 2 judge.

I’m hoping to check ‘Judge an Event Out of the U.S.’ off my judge bucketlist but only time will tell if that becomes a reality.

But more than events, more than simple rules knowledge, judging has helped me grow as a person.  Confidence has always been a weak point but continuing to receive concrete evidence that I can do things correctly, and even well, has pulled up my self confidence, not only as a judge, but as a person.  I still continue to struggle with depression and anxiety but overall I am a happier person.  Having to evaluate not only myself, but also other judges, I’ve learned to explain myself more concisely in order to help a fellow judge grow.  It’s like using my teaching skills but turned up to eleven.

Writing this blog has been an exercise in courage.  I still get nervous teaching in front of my students sometimes so tossing out my words for (potentially) all the internet to see can be unbelievably nerve wracking.  But if my words and experiences can help just one person besides myself, it will all be worth it.

I’m nowhere near out of steam.  I aim to keep my passion and drive for judging for a very long time.

Here’s to another amazing year of events, players, and new and old judge friends along the way and I hope you’ll join me for them all.

Will You be my Manatee?

When I first envisioned writing about mentoring, I had a particular image in my head; the wise, older individual overseeing the younger person as the future successor.  Now, while that isn’t completely wrong, it’s also very far off from what really happens when we look at mentoring in the judge community.  Whether it’s polishing rules knowledge, increasing soft skills tied to player relations, or the logistics of running events of all sizes, no judge comes to the program with all the skills they need honed and ready to go.

The level of mentorship that flies around the judge program is what makes it so unique.  It’s not something that’s defined by levels, age, or experience.  I’m lucky to have met and worked with so many judges of different levels in my journey through the program most of whom happily embrace mentorship.  The great thing about mentoring is that sometimes it’s a very pointed, on purpose kind of action.  A judge comes to you for help or growth and so you provide guidance to best of your ability.  You talk through their issues; give them advice as you can; help them push for and reach their goals.  It doesn’t even have to be something big; maybe they don’t quite understand the intricacies of WER so you spend the afternoon tweaking their skills.  It may have just been an afternoon to you but now each time that judge works with that program you can bet they’ll remember you and the help you provided.

The other kind of mentoring can happen quite on accident.  You’re chatting with a judge and the next thing you know you’ve shared ideas back and forth about tournament logistics or how to make your local game stores more inclusive.  To some this may seem to be a simple sharing of ideas but it’s also a little piece of mentoring that’s been shared between colleagues.

Manatee me
Everyone can be a manatee!

But let’s say you’re more in category one than two.  Someone has come to you for advice, seeking guidance on the tumultuous journey that can be working your way into the program.  Very few people can make it through this process without help; the sheer amount of information you need to acquire as you move forward can seem insurmountable; beginning this journey often looks impossible.  I had a great first mentor in the program, and the mentors that have followed have all approached mentoring with similar techniques.  I’m going to share a few things that I believe they did right.  This structure gave me the confidence and drive to keep going even after stumbling here or there.

Make it okay to make mistakes. As a society, we look at mistakes as things to be avoided at all costs but in actuality mistakes are how we learn.  I can all but promise you that you will and do remember your stumbles much more than you remember your easy journeys.  Creating an environment where they can be confident enough to jump and know that someone is there to catch them if they fall is a powerful thing.  It also means they’ll be comfortable coming to you when they have a problem.

Explain things in plain terms.  Nothing will make your ‘manatee’ more frustrated than you wrapping your explanations in jargon.  Yes, they do need to learn the terms and vernacular of judging but it is best to ease them into things.  Lower stress and frustration means that they will absorb things better.  It also means a happier them and by proxy, a happier you.

Don’t be afraid to start with the basics.  People will come to from all different backgrounds and with varying levels of rules and policy knowledge so you’re going to want to set a baseline.  It will give you a place to start and them a place to build from.  Understanding your limits is empowering because once you know where they lay you can push past them.  Even if they insist they don’t need it, make a baseline anyway.  They’ll be thankful once it’s done.

Communicate.  Communicate.  Communicate.  Nothing is worse than reaching out and finding silence.   Mentoring can be exhausting or overwhelming but fully retreating isn’t an option.  If it’s becoming too much let your ‘manatee’ know.  Self-care is important, in every aspect of judging.  Conversely, if your ‘manatee’ is too quiet don’t be afraid to touch base to make sure they’re still on board with the process.  Life gets busy; it could be that they need a small pause.  However, sometimes people also realize that this isn’t what they thought it would be.  It’s okay if you have some people drift away.

Be present.  The most important thing you can be is there.  Let them know you care; that you want to see them be successful as much as they want to be successful.  That doesn’t mean you have to give yourself entirely to mentoring but caring goes a very long way.  Sometimes all someone needs is the knowledge that someone else believes they can do it in order to push themselves.  Simple support and belief can make all the difference between success and belief.

Mentoring is a tough but rewarding experience.  Sharing failures can be hard but when you share successes it makes up for the stumbles along the way.  Don’t let your preconceived notions get in your way either; anyone can be a mentor and anyone can be a ‘manatee.’

Let’s help build each other up to make the program stronger.

(Photo credit to Paul Johnson, L2 Judge out of New Zealand)

Perceptions and Intrepretations

CorrectionThe original post stated that the person who gave me ‘constructive feedback’ claimed to be a judge.  I misheard him during the interaction and have since edited the post to reflect that he was just a player.  Sometimes you don’t perceive things correctly; it happens. It doesn’t change the fact that they shouldn’t have done it but it’s also good to recognize that your own perceptions will always color your interactions as well.

Disclaimer:  As this post is about perceptions, what I write here is colored by my own perceptions of the incidents that happened during the below mentioned IQ at Victory Comics.  I have purposefully not included names as public shaming is not the way to fix a problem and instead hurts much more than it helps.  This post was hard to write because of emotions tied to it so if parts are unclear that may be why.

Most of the time when I finish an event I’m full of happy feelings and new knowledge to help me continue my journey towards Level 2.  Not every tournament is amazing, nor is every tournament smooth, but I have never finished a tournament feeling worse than when I started.

Until I judged an IQ this past Wednesday.

A lot of what we do in judging is supported by rules and policy that are explicit and can be followed easily.  But not everything in policy can be black and white because it would leave no room to bend before breaking.  Therein lies the places in judging that have to be left to the judge’s interpretation; whether or not we can perform a back up, if a player has been cheating, how much time must pass between actions before we call it slow play, as well as others.  While opinions on these may be similar they still differ between judges and situations.

Other aspects of what we do are tied up with concerns like making sure our tournaments run smoothly, that our scorekeeper has to deal with as little stress as possible, that players have a good of a time as we can manage, and that we perform well for the TO that is compensating us for running their tournament.  Players, unless their judges, often don’t know just what goes into a good tournament; to them we’re black or blue clad officials that help if there’s a problem, or more rarely give them a ruling they don’t like in which case we become ‘that judge.’

For most of the IQ, things went well.  I punted my first call (like you do) but didn’t let it get to me.  I had a lengthy investigation into a player discrepancy over whether a burn spell had gone to a player’s life total versus their creature (made more complicated by the players’ ages as younger players can sometimes be more intimidated by judges and get more nervous when involved with a judge call).  I even had a DDLP (Deck/Decklist Problem) game loss appealed to the HJ; it’s not every day a player thinks to do that.  All of these things would’ve made a great post but what happened in the last few rounds of the tournament stuck with me a lot more.

To give you some context, we had 80 players for this IQ.  That’s a staggering number for an instore event.  We activated our standby judge and also had to split ourselves up into two rooms.  For most of the day I hung out in the second room with the lower tables, something I’m generally fine with because most players at these tables have decided to stay in the event because they want to play Magic, and at seven rounds, it was at least two more rounds of Magic than most people get to play in a Comp Rel tournament for that price.

Round five or six (I honestly don’t remember other than that it was later but wasn’t the end of the tournament) I was sitting on a match that was in game three with about five minutes left before time.  The younger player realized he had no more outs and conceeded to their opponent.

Now, Magic players have a tendency to chat after a match, which is fine!  Part of what makes Magic such a great game is how social everything can be.  I’ve spoken several times about how Magic has brought so many wonderful people into my life.  However, when you’re running a seven round tournament on a Sunday, you want to make sure you turn over rounds as efficiently as possible so before they got deep into their conversation I asked them if they would please sign the match slip for me.  Most players I ask that of will sign it quickly, most of them not even stopping their conversation to do so.

But the younger player’s opponent wasn’t having it; they called me rude (they may have used the words ‘sort of’ but that never actually means sort of).  They went on express displeasure because they we’re the in one of the last table’s so it didn’t matter, that I should’ve just left them alone to talk about it, that I shouldn’t interrupted.

I tried explaining that it doesn’t matter what table you’re sitting at, we need all the slips in order to flip the round.  I then started explaining that if I didn’t they would just keep talking and would’ve explained more about how that would’ve delayed the tournament for all the players but he jumped in and then called me rude and ranted at me some more.  If not for his friend (who we’ll see later) filling out the slip for him and getting him to sign it, we would’ve wasted a full five more minutes while this man explained to me about how I was wrong for asking him to complete one simple task.

Maybe I could’ve explained things better but asking for a match slip and then getting berated because a player didn’t like how I handled it was also not the best way to approach the situation.  I did apologize several times as I sat there being insulted nor did I lash out.  It certainly wasn’t fun but a customer service background helps in lots of places while judging.

Fast forward to round six or seven (again my memory fails me) and I’m watching a match on the higher tables.  At this point, as tournaments do, it had shrunk down enough to fit into one room.  I wandered over to a match at one of the high tables.  There was under fifteen minutes in the round and some players at the higher tables have a tendency to get stuck in the ‘tank,’ meaning thinking through their available moves.  While we want to give players the chance to think, taking too long is also a problem.  Players only have fifty minutes to play at minimum two games of Magic so when players take too long it, whether it’s on purpose or not, it can negatively affect the chance of either player winning the match.

As I’m spectating, it occurs to me that nothing has happened for a long enough period that I’ve noticed the lull so I started counting the seconds.  When I got to sixty I informed the player that they needed to make a play.  They glanced at me and then continued to think for another ten or fifteen seconds before I ask them again to make a play at which point the player informs me, “You’re not my favorite judge right now.  Is that appropriate feedback?” before playing a land and asking in the same impolite tone and aggressive tone: “Is that a play?”

After the second prompting I should’ve given him a him a Warning for Slow Play for two reasons.  One, in case the match did go to time there would’ve been two extra turns added to make up for the inaction. And two, it reinforces (and not just for this player) that players need to play this game at reasonable pace so that we can avoid draws where possible.  But because of his reaction towards me I felt it prudent to not infract so that this particular interaction did not turn into a ‘Situation.’  At that point my head judge took over watchng the match so I stepped off the floor to gather myself and complete my tournament.

At that point I was already beat down.  Due to past experiences, when men get aggressive, upset, or angry at me it throws me off and makes me very nervous.  It means that I avoid conflict when I can (see above). I know that it’s a skill I need to work on because not every interaction I have with a player will be pleasant or productive and currently a large majority of our player base is men.  It won’t stop me from doing what needs to be done but I certainly need to work on my hesitation to confront issues that may result in a confrontation.

Sadly, the hits weren’t done.  As I started to sit on my assigned match for top eight, the player whom I had given the Slow Play caution to (and was also the friend of the player who had an issue with me asking him to sign the match slip) approaches me and asks if it’s okay if he gives me feedback.  I explained that I needed to watch this match and he says it won’t take long so I start to stand but he tells me it won’t take long and it’s okay if I just sit there.

Before I get the chance to respond he launches into his feedback: he had been watching me all day (supposedly) and thinks that I need to work on my player interactions.  He says they’ve been poor and that if I want to be a better judge, I need to speak to players better.  That he’s d still working on rules knowledge but that he’s really good with players so that’s how he knows my interactions weren’t great.  He hopes that I do come back to Victory to judge but that I come back as a better judge.

Friends, readers, judges, players, whomever is taking the time to read these words, if you take away only one thing from this post let it be this one: never scold someone in front of people.  There I was, sitting on a top eight match in progress, in a room full of players and spectators while this person told me how bad they thought I was.  All I could do was just smile and say okay because again I didn’t want to be part of a ‘Situation,’ but the whole thing was a punch in the gut not to mention extremely embarrassing.  He left and I barely kept it together long enough for a debrief from my head judge and to get my compensation.

I cried almost the whole three hour drive home.

I felt sad and defeated (and still do a day after) because I pride myself on my interactions with players.  I’m that judge that always has a smile, that goes above what is expected of me, that tries to fix things to the best of my ability, and who handles things as well as I can without letting the players see me sweat.  That’s not me bragging; those are simple truths.  So to have this judge (though I never caught his name so unsure if it’s actually true) decide to rip me apart in front of people, with his comments wrapped in the pretty package of ‘for my own good’ stung a great deal.

This tournament I learned that not every one is going to be great.  I learned that not everyone is going to like you but at the end of the day as long as you’re confident with what you did it’s okay if not every player believes that you’re a good judge as long as you know you are.  I learned that sometimes we have bad days caused by more that just ourselves.  I learned that I’m not going to ever let the bad days stop me and I’ll be right back to being awesome when I head judge an IQ at the same place next week.

But mostly I learned to praise in public and scold in private.  I will never do to someone what was done to me.  Build each other up, support the cracks; don’t tear each other down.  Because when you do, all that you leave behind is tears and pain.