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.

17309203_10105389566836713_3023580120313176803_n
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!”

21752003_10106147764512493_4594702760633126761_n
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.

21105440_10106093378118263_1683171315244502078_n
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!

Advertisements

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.

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.

Judging Feels: Victory Comics

Trigger Warning: subtle mention of suicide.

Preface:  this started as a piece to highlight the awesome store I judged at for Aether Revolt prerelease.  But then, as my writing tends to do, it went somewhere else instead.  This blog is intended to be a personal place for my thoughts that I happen to share with the whole world.  While I still want to do a piece that will examine more closely the things that Victory does to build such a great community, this is much more about my more recent struggles and how working at Victory reminded me to keep going.

Sometimes life gets busy; it gets buys in ways that keep you away from the things that you’ve grown to love and replaces them with hardships instead.

That’s where I’ve been living for the last few months.  I’ve been dealing with some very personal demons and facing the harsh reality that being an adult sometimes means that the people you perceive as being close and trustworthy may in fact not be completely honest with you. You may have to retreat to places that are not the most welcoming or easy to deal with.

My mental health has not been where it needs to be.  There was a stretch of a few weeks where I almost lost my hold on things; I was real close to making a choice there was no coming back from.  I had a plan and I was ready to follow through with it.

Magic got me through.  Judging got me through.

Preparing for events, reviewing policy, discussing rules interactions and cool corner cases helped me push aside the dark thoughts for a time so that they didn’t push me over the brink.  I have a very hard time asking for help.  But discussing Magic cards? No problem.

I’m not completely on the other side of it yet, but I am much closer than I was even a week ago.

It’s amazing how much one day can change your outlook on things.

This summer I decided that I wanted to start a series on the blog that targeted Local Game Stores (from here on out abbreviated as LGS) who in my own opinion were doing things to help change the reputation of the LGS in general and who were working on building a better, more inclusive environment for their players. Let’s be honest, a lot of LGS have a reputation of not being the most welcome places sometimes; I wanted to highlight ones that were working to help change things.

But then I got busy with large Magic events, my new job started, my car and trusty travel companion of over a decade blew its transmission, and I had to change my living situation very quickly (and to an environment that was not conducive to mental stability).  I’m not trying to make excuses, but I do want to illustrate the circumstances I was dealing with.  I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water in every aspect of my life which almost led me to my breaking point.

Enter Aether Revolt prerelease at Victory Comics in Falls Church, Virginia.

The more events I do, the more I realize that I like regular REL events more than Competitive ones.  I think it comes from my passion for teaching; there’s a lot more opportunity to educate players, especially at a prerelease, than at an Open for example.  The players are happier and those good vibes and that helps me keep a positive and upbeat attitude through my judging day.

I worked at Victory this past Sunday.  I could tell I was in for a ride as soon as I walked in; the store was packed!  It very much resembles a Tardis; the store appears tiny on the outside but is actually pretty large, spanning through three rooms.  That was part of the reason there were two judges slated to work that day; myself and Matt Wall, a L2 from Baltimore.

Matt was an awesome judge to work with.  We swapped stories and he handed down several key pieces of sage advice as the day wore on.  I had an incident where there was the suspicion of too many promos in one sealed pool (it turned out they players had irregular product and thought because they opened two they could play two) and while I didn’t exactly botch the investigation, it could have definitely been handled better.  He talked me through it later and with his lessons I know that the next investigation I conduct will be better for it.

The other reason we needed two judges: we had 90 players at our noon prerelease!

That’s a crazy number.  Stores in my area would be happy with half of that at a competitive event.  The numbers were like that all day.  I had 12 teams for the Two-Headed Giant event I head judged and our final event at six launched with at least 40 players.

All in all, it was a crazy busy day full of happy players and well run events.

But I’m not here to just gush about the players who welcomed an out of area judge with smiles and excitement; I have to try and explain why they did so.  Victory is run as an inclusive, family friendly comic and gaming store and the employees work hard to make sure it maintains that atmosphere.

Samantha Harr is one driving force behind the success and welcoming atmosphere at Victory; she continuously pushes for inclusion and making the store a safe space for all players regardless of sexuality, gender identity, or race.  As events manager, she promotes monthly events such as LGBTQIA+ comic nights; has a monthly Lady Planeswalkers meeting; and helps lead a children’s night and learn to play for Magic as well.  On top of all that, she’s a rockstar L1 judge who continuously pushes herself to be better and has a bright future in the judge program.

She’s joined in this endeavor by Sydney Weaver and Caitlin Hartnett.  I learned this weekend that these two come as a pair and together they exude such a welcoming and friendly aura that I instantly felt like I belonged.  Along with Samantha, these amazing ladies not only run prerelease but they turn it into a huge celebration, decking out the entire store in the theme of the set.  When I walked in, there were wanted posters for the members of the Gatewatch, streamers in red and hold hanging from every surface above, and  wall decorations proclaiming support for the revolution.  It was mildly surreal and super fun.

I was even informed that there was a cake on Saturday decorated to match. A cake!

You better believe I’ll be back for Amonkhet.  There’s rumors flying around about wearable Bolas horns.

I’ve written before about how uncomfortable I’ve been in places while playing the game I love so much.  I wish with all my heart that I had found a place like Victory when I was first learning how to play; my history with gaming stores and with Magic would have been so different.  I am not upset about my history (it helped me become passionate about working to achieve equality for minorities in Magic) but less heartache and embarrassment and anger would have also been a benefit.

This single day full of warmth, smiles, and acceptance helped ground me in ways I hadn’t been able to find in the past few months.  It also rekindled my love of Magic and judging, and reminded me of the positive impact a single judge can have.

Thank you Victory Comics; thank you players; thank you store employees and fellow judges.  You helped save me.  I have way too much left to do in my life to stop now.

Keep Your Thoughts and Prayers

Trigger warning: violence, gun violence

I sat down yesterday and tried to write.  I organized an amazing charity tournament at my local game store for the animal shelter nearby.  We raised a bunch of money and donated a mountain of supplies that filled and then spilled over their donation boxes.  The volunteers and staff members were full of bright shining smiles and thanks for our efforts.  But no matter how many times I started to write, I couldn’t seem to get the words out.

Which is why this post is about something else entirely.  These are going to be non-Magic waters we’re treading in.

I figured out why I can’t write about the amazing things my players did on Sunday.

I’m angry.  In fact, I am seething.

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard of the heart wrenching tragedy in Orlando.  Fifty lives were taken away from us.  Fifty futures cut short by a bigot with too much access to firearms.  Fifty of my brothers and sisters shot down while they were celebrating their lives.  ‘The worst mass shooting in United States history’ they’re calling it.

Because an angry man with an agenda had access to weapons no civilian should be able to get their hands on.

It has stricken me to my core.

I’m bisexual, a fact not widely known, and in my world, who a person loves is the business of the person and their lover.  Period.  Now I feel like if I ever found the woman of my dreams, we could get shot on the street for holding hands, for holding hands, because someone decides that their personal feelings outweigh the sanctity of my life.

That’s exactly what this was:  a hate crime. A man decided that his view of the world is more important than the happiness of others.  His entitlement led to these murders and whatever ties he may or may not have with terrorist organizations notwithstanding.  His was an agenda of fear and hatred, one which is working.  The vitriol I have seen flowing out of the people’s mouths about individuals following the Muslim faith makes angry and sick.  By focusing on that, you are taking away the real root of the problem: homophobia and way too much access to guns.

I wish I could say that this is the first shooting to affect me on a personal level, but it’s not.  And that makes me even angrier.

I remember sitting on the floor of my babysitter’s house as the news covered the tragedy at Columbine.  The image of the student climbing out of a second story window with bloodied jeans will stay with me until I die.  I was too young to process the fear and sadness I felt.  School was a safe place, school was a place for learning but now I would never look at school the same way.

I was scared to go my school for a week.

I was attending classes at Virginia Tech in the spring of 2007.  My idyllic college experience was shattered when another individual (I refuse to name the shooter), who had no business with a gun, stole the lives of 32 Hokies.  So many lives cut short before really finding themselves, professors who guided and inspired.  I remember the fear of not knowing where my friends were, of messages sent but not replied to, of phone calls that would ring and go to voice mail.  Even typing these words, the pain and panic comes back.

That was supposed to be the end. It was the worst mass shooting in America’s history at the time. This was the event that was supposed push this issue to the forefront of Congress and something was going to done.  After all, we read and heard ‘our thoughts and prayers are with Virginia Tech’ and ‘Today, we are all Virginia Tech’ so that had to mean changes were coming, right

Weeks passed, and we still hurt but the world slowly moved on and the politicians who gained publicity from our grief were now conspicuously silent.  We have continued to mourn for nine long years and nothing has changed.

In fact, it has gotten worse.

My second year teaching we had a lockdown at my middle school. A sixth grader noticed one of his fellow students place a gun in a locker and ran to tell security.  The fear and pain came back as I sat with my middle schoolers against the wall and under desks, my body between them and the door, ready and waiting to spring up if needed.  ‘Are we going to be the next sad headline?’ shot through my head as we waited.

That student saved the life of every person in school that day, but that should not be the reality we live in, where an 11-year-old can find a gun that easily.

Then Sandy Hook happened.  Someone broke the news to me while I was teaching conjugations to my eighth graders and I had to step out of the room to compose myself.  Later that night I read the accounts of teachers who saved and tried to save their students and my heart bled again.  These too were my people and they were taken from me too soon.  Children, who are the future of the world, snatched away by a man wielding semi-automatic weapons he should have had no access to.

This time, I thought.  These were children!  Young children, who no one could blame from existing.  Young teachers had lost their lives in a career where that should never be a threat.  Now, we’ll see those thoughts and prayers turned into actions.

I remember the anger, the sadness, the shouts for change.  I remember them fading away as time went on and nothing changing.

Today, June 14th, is the 166th day of the year.  We have had more mass shootings than days in the year, the number sitting at 179 as of 11am. No other first world country has this problem.  Period.  You can do the research yourself and discover this fact easily.  Why is it here of all countries that changes never happen?  I know why, but I am one voice who can’t compete with the pockets being lined by the NRA.

I don’t want your fucking prayers.  I don’t want your fucking thoughts.  I don’t want any one-shot statuses on Facebook only to forget next week.  I don’t want one more moment of silence.  I don’t want to see another vigil.  I don’t want to watch another president give a speech about this kind of tragedy.

I don’t want to be murdered for my job, where I go to school, who I love.

Keep your thoughts and prayers and moments of silence and give me a world where I don’t have to live in fear of being part of the next mass shooting headline.

Flabbergasted

Was yesterday even real?

I have been in a constant state of shock and awe over how events unfolded.

The day I wrote it, I had a lot of my judge friends share it and congratulate me on a job well done.  It warmed my heart and helped stoke the fire to keep writing.  I even had a friend explain in no uncertain terms that I am not allowed to quit.

I woke up yesterday and was excited that my post had been shared about 200 times on Facebook from the site.  I mean, how cool was that?  People enjoyed what I wrote enough for it to part of their personal lives.  At its core, that is the point of this blog; to take my words and have them affect lives in positive way.

Then at around 11 or so I logged into my blog to check my stats and had my first (of many) shocks that day.  I had almost three thousand views on my blog now.  That was crazy!  A GP sized number of people had found their way onto my site and read my stuff.  I even had some comments, most of which were super supportive.  I checked where the views coming from and the number one list was Reddit.

I don’t know who put my post out there, but if you’re reading this, thank you so much.

I started reading through the comments when my phone started blowing up.  Some players in my local area had seen the article and tagged me in our Facebook group.  It was getting enough attention that it was the top post in the MTG Reddit and was even trending to the front page.  I was floored; the comments and views started rolling in and I felt a little off put from the attention.

At 3pm I got a message from my good friend Roger. “You made the Magic the Gathering Website!!” and he sent a screenshot of my post being featured on the Daily Magic Update for June 8th.  It was featured with heavy hitters like Seth Manfield, Marshall Sutcliffe, and Eric Froehlich.

Y’all, I actually fell out of my chair.

This is why your teachers tell you to not lean back too far.

It was an indescribable feeling.  I posted my freak out on Facebook, along with the screenshot of the page, and the support from my friends was amazing.  (My favorite comment was the request to sign a baby.  I’m pretty sure he was kidding, but with Magic folk you never really know for sure.)

Even this morning as I’m writing about the whirlwind that was yesterday, I still can’t believe it happened.

But this post isn’t just so I can gush.

I’ve read the comments, both good and bad, on my blog, on Reddit, on the posts that I can see on Facebook and I want to address some of the responses.

But it doesn’t happen at my store

I feel like a lot of what I posted on Tuesday was the negative and I also feel like, after a friend reinforced this feeling through his constructive criticism (Thanks Zach!), I could’ve ended my point better.

One of the most common comments I have seen boils down to this:  I’ve never seen this.  I doubt it’s as bad as she is portraying it to be.

If you have the privilege to go to store where they make sure to combat this behavior, that’s wonderful and I am happy for you.  These are the kinds of places that we should be building in our community!  And if you’re doing your part to make your local game store a welcoming place I salute you for that because that’s the way it should be.

However that is not everyone’s reality, especially in the competitive Magic scene.  There has been at least two times that I have been to SCG States in Richmond that I have been the only woman playing, in a field of at least 70 other players.  As a woman, or any other minority for that matter, being the only one is incredibly intimidating.  It didn’t matter that at this particular event the TOs were fantastic (seriously the Richmond, VA stores are amazing; if you have time you should read this about how they schedule events each season) and welcoming there was still that air of not exactly belonging.

‘But how do I fix a problem I don’t see?’ you might say.  Change your language, even in casual conversations with friends.  You could be using words and phrases that are sexist, racist, homophobic, without realizing it.  Or maybe you have friends that say some questionable things sometimes but you shrug it off because they’re a friend and you don’t want to shake things up.  Confront them even if it makes you uncomfortable.  A person who says certain things in private is more likely to say these things in public too.

Let your friends, family, colleagues know that you don’t stand for the comments and the attitudes.  I know that this can be so hard; it’s a problem I personally have.  I have a group of friends that use the verb ‘rape’ like you would use any other verb, especially when describing a victory (‘Man, this card just raped your face!’ etc., etc.).  It makes me cringe every time; as a rape and sexual assault survivor, the casual use of the word upsets me but these are very close friends and I worry about upsetting them.

It’s time to get over that so I can make things better for the next person.

You should be flattered that someone is asking you to coffee

Women don’t go to big Magic events or game stores to find a date.  That’s not the expectation or the reality.  They’re there to play Magic, or board games, or storming the castle in a roleplaying game.  They have a set agenda in mind for their time; you hitting on them is not part of the plan.

The coffee question was my experiences rolled into one blanket statement.  It covers the several times I’ve been hit on or asked to dinner or coffee while participating in a hobby I love.  This is not the scenario where it’s thirty minutes after our match and we’re still sitting at our match table exchanging battle stories and getting to know each other better.  This being asked to coffee while declaring my attackers; it’s the fear of retribution that can come from refusing to accept or give a number (and we live in a world where refusing male advances can have deadly repercussions). It’s the awkward exchanges which make you feel so uncomfortable you’d rather scoop up your cards and leave than stick around.

If you really like someone, take the time to actually get to know them before pushing them for date.  And realize that they still may refuse you; it doesn’t make them uptight, or rude, or a ‘bitch.’ No person is obligated for any action involving someone else.

Why are you complaining in a blog post when you could just speak up when it happens

So speaking up is hard.  When these things happen, you’re filled with emotions and saying anything is difficult it that situation.  I personally bottle up anger; I don’t like being angry and I respect my local game stores so much that I don’t want to cause a scene.  This may be the wrong way to handle it but it’s what happens.

When you’re in a venue far from home you don’t know what could happen when you speak up as a minority.  The judge program is amazing and it’s full of awesome individuals who do everything in their power to make a player’s experience the best it can be.  But there’s always the threat of ‘he said, she said’ and I’ve experienced the frustration when someone (not a judge in this case) did not believe me about a negative interaction with a male player.  I’ve not been back to that store since.

I made the decision to pen my words in a post rather than speak them out loud.  That doesn’t change their impact.  I’ve seen so many women share stories similar to mine which have both angered me and warmed my heart.  The testimonies alone should be proof that this is a problem that still needs to be addressed in both the casual and competitive Magic scene.  Take the frustration you may be feeling at me for writing this and use to do some good in the world.

I still can’t believe what happened yesterday, but I am so happy that so many players and judges agree with my sentiments.  I can only hope that this will change the minds of others.

Thank you all for giving my words a chance and together let’s make Magic better for everyone.