Lessons Learned From Teaching Small Children How To Play Chess

So. For the past month or so, I’ve been teaching small children chess on a weekly basis. It’s very good pay and it’s easy to fit into my schedule. I got word yesterday that the remaining two classes in the session have been cancelled due to coronavirus concerns, so while I’m hanging out at home with very little to do, I thought it time to reflect. Here’s what I learned.

First of all. I really need to work out more. I am not the most physically fit of people, I will admit. That made carrying the heavy box containing all the chess supplies from my car to the school rather difficult. I will deny that it was all due to me being out of shape – it was a very large box, I am not a large person, there was often quite a bit of snow on the ground, and opening a door while holding something that requires two hands will be a challenge no matter how strong you are. All that being said…I should have less trouble carrying a heavy box.

Second of all. I really haven’t grown since I was about ten. I’m not that short. I know that sounds like what most short people say, but really, I’m not – I’m about as tall as the average American woman, and that’s how it’s been since I was about ten. I taught this chess class in second grade classroom, and I had no trouble at all sitting on the chairs meant for seven-year-olds. I did have trouble reaching the heights necessary to hanging up the demo board, and that was while wearing heels, as I’ve done pretty much every day since graduating high school. I take that to mean adults make everything bigger than they need to be.

Third of all. Kindergarten teachers should be paid more. My class contained people in grades ranging from kindergarten to third grade, and even though I only had to deal with nine kids, it was a lot. I’d turn to work with one kid for a few minutes, only to be interrupted thirty seconds later by a dispute between two others about the legality of a move. When I went over to look at their board, I’d find that the problem went back much further than the disputed move, because there was no way the pieces should have ended up in that position to begin with. (A player can’t have both their bishops on black! Doesn’t make any sense!) And that’s far from the most chaotic a class can be. Kids shout at each other. And throw things (thankfully not at me). And refuse to listen when I’m trying to teach them something with the justification that “I’m great at chess” (even when that same kid has been involved with multiple disputed-moves-that-couldn’t-have-happened-anyway). I brought coffee in an attempt to look more authoritative, but that didn’t seem to help. I was just doing this for an hour a week. Kindergarten teachers do it every day. All I can do is shake my head and marvel.

Holiday Cooking

Technically, I’m supposed to be eating as healthily as I can right now. But you know what, it was the holidays, so starch! Dessert! Things that are terrible for you but delicious! No regrets!

Now. We are not Christian. We do not believe in Jesus. Nonetheless, my mother is somewhat of a fan of Christmas. She likes presents and nice food and warm pajamas. She even got a set of very fancy toys for my sister’s cat. So on Christmas, I intended to make jalapeno cheese bread. Seasonal? Well, no. But it’s delicious. Who am I to question that?

I seeded and diced up my jalapenos, grated my block of cheddar, added some cream of tartar to a cup of milk for a buttermilk substitute…then realized that, unfortunately, the yeast did not make it out of the shopping cart. Well. There’s a bit of a disappointment.

So what do we do? We adapt! We use the other stuff in the kitchen to make some other form of bread that does not require a raising agent! The obvious answer here was gougères. Why is that the obvious answer? Well, I love them more than is healthy, I have made them enough that I have the recipe committed to memory (see here), and they come together quickly.

IMG_3131.jpg

Because I am lazy, I used a muffin tin to make them. Unfortunately, the texture that you get when you do that is not nearly as excellent as when they have more of the surface area directly exposed to the heat, which you get when you spoon them onto a tray like you’re supposed to. They don’t have nearly as much of the wonderful contrast of that lovely toasty outside with the light and fluffy inside. But they still taste good, so. There’s that.

A couple days after that, I wanted a snack. And most things weren’t sounding very appealing. I briefly thought about getting some Ruffles and making a dip, but I wasn’t feeling it. I normally love chips and dip, but it didn’t sound right at the time. So what’s a girl to do? Well, I’ll tell you – garlic bread. Cinnamon toast. Bruschetta. A weird thing with caramelized onions and goat cheese. A CROSTINI PLATTER. Or, you know. Not a platter platter, but an assortment. You know what I’m saying. I’ve been very good lately about cutting down my bread intake. But, as noted earlier, the holidays mean screw being good, it’s time for food.

You know how you should almost always add more garlic than a recipe calls for? My philosophy with garlic bread is to not only use a huge quantity of garlic, but to use multiple types as well – I make the garlic butter by adding roasted garlic, minced garlic, and garlic powder to softened butter and a little shredded parmesan. First baking it at a lower temperature to crisp up the bread, then turning on the broiler for a couple minutes to brown the surface…oh,my god. So, so good. To make the cinnamon toast, I do pretty much the same thing, except with cinnamon and a bit of sugar instead of garlic. As for the bruschetta…I sometimes make it using the same garlic bread described above. And instead of using raw tomatoes, I like to cook them with some garlic because I don’t really enjoy raw tomatoes.  So, traditional? No. Delicious? Hell, yeah. Unfortunately, I do not have a recipe for any of that because those are entirely based on what feels right in the moment. Gotta embrace my inner hippie.

NEW YEAR’S EVE. You know what that’s time for? Something over indulgent, chocolatey, and covered in salted caramel! (Recipe here)

This was not the world’s brightest idea. The reason why it was not the world’s brightest idea is that I’m not really a big dessert person. Like, do I like things that are sweet and chocolately and good? Sure. But I hype it up in my head, and when I actually eat some…it’s not as good as I expect. It’s not satisfying. At heart, I’m a savoury snacks gal.  My junk food of choice will always be the humble potato chip. But the problem with that is…chips on New Year’s? That’s just depressing.

Jalapeno Cheddar Gougères

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 jalapenos, diced
  • 1 cup grated cheddar
  • Rosemary
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F
  2. Bring butter and water to a boil
  3. Lower heat to medium
  4. Add the flour
  5. Stir for a couple minutes, then remove from heat.
  6. Let cool until warm, but not hot.
  7. Stir in eggs, one at a time.
  8. Add the cheese, jalapenos, salt, pepper, and herbs.
  9. Spoon onto greased tray.
  10. Bake for 10 minutes.
  11. Lower heat to 350°F and bake for another 20 minutes.

 

Salted Caramel Rum Tart

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour.
  • 1 and 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Chocolate chips
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Method

  1. Mix flour and baking powder together.
  2. Beat the 1 stick of butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and eggs until creamy.
  3. Add to the dry ingredients.
  4. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes and 350°F.
  6. Cook white sugar over low heat until golden brown.
  7. Remove from heat and add remaining butter, small pieces at a time.
  8. Stir in 1/2 cup of cream.
  9. Return to heat and cook until thickened.
  10. Add rum and salt.
  11. Pour caramel over cooked cookie base and leave until set.
  12. Heat remaining cream to a boil.
  13. Slowly add cream to chocolate to make ganache.
  14. Pour ganache over tart.
  15. Leave to cool until set.

Becoming Less Clueless: Interviewing

I theoretically understand what I need to do in an interview. But I’m really bad at them.

It’s not that I don’t know the answers to the questions I’m being asked – of course I do. They’re either about me or reasonably basic technical questions about things I’ve done and know. But I get self conscious about everything – my voice is too high pitched, I can’t pull off a suit, do I have a giant pimple on my forehead preventing my interviewer from processing a word I’m saying, when are scientists going to develop technology that would allow me to be a brain in a jar – oops, was that another question? It definitely doesn’t help that I really haven’t done many of them. In August, though,  I applied to a job that I really, really want. And the application process here? Well, it helped me get a lot more confident and a lot less clueless about the terrifying prospect of a job interview.

One of the things that I find discouraging is getting back a form rejection before even getting to a coding challenge, let alone the interview stage. I have no idea what that means – what specifically did they find unappealing? These are entry level positions, and so it’s rather unlikely that many candidates have much  more to offer than I do. So what is it? There’s only so much I can change, and for all I know, the rejections stemmed from other candidates being from “better” schools! Luckily, this application process was not like that. A couple months after I sent in my application, they sent me a coding challenge.

Fine, I thought. This is good.

A coding challenge is something that I can control, far more than I could with if someone was deciding whether to call me based on my resumé. Some companies will send you a timed test, which are almost universally hated, but this was better. I got a problem and ten days to return my solution. And you know what? I do know how to program. I may not be the world’s best speaker. I may panic at everything. But I am good at getting things done. Good enough that a few days after I submitted my solution, I got an email from someone in HR asking me to set up a phone interview. That’s when my obsessive reading of the Glassdoor page started out.

Now. I am a giant nerd that thrives off having as much information as I can on any given topic. So I read every single review of the interview process and wrote down answers to every question people said they were asked. I read countless lists of interview questions and practiced my answers to those. I made flashcards. I even recorded myself talking so that I could get more confident with the sound of my own voice. And when the interview actually happened…it went well! So I got an invite to an in person interview.

This was far from perfect. I stammered through a few answers. There were questions to which I didn’t like my answers and that I wish I’d answered differently. But it went well enough. My preparations weren’t perfect, but they were good enough that I got an offer. It made me realize…I don’t have to be ready for everything. I’m probably never going to be the kind of person that’s effortlessly confident and always believes in her own ability. But I am capable of preparing for the most likely questions well enough that I’ll be solid, and sometimes, that’ll be enough.

NIGHTWING NIGHTWING NIGHTWING

As I say pretty much every time I start talking about comics, Richard John Grayson has been my favourite character forever. So now that Titans is on the verge of him putting on the Nightwing suit, I think it’s time I talk about how I feel it’s handled the journey to this point. Nightwing is about far, far more than the suit. I think I made that point before when it applied to Gotham – Batman is more than just a suit that Bruce wears. That means that I have a few issues with how Titans is going about that transition.

One of the things that was wonderful about season one was that it wasn’t about Bruce. Like, at all. Dick was at the lowest point in his life, but it was about him. Yes, Bruce plays a major role in his life, but as much as Dick blames him and resents him, it’s not really about him. But since they cast someone for the part, we’re being put into a position where Dick needs Bruce for everything. He needs him and a whole team of people to make his suit. He needs him to give him Titans Tower. He needs him to make decisions. Bruce, Bruce, Bruce. Everything comes back to Bruce in a way that just didn’t happen in season one.

Hallucination Bruce isn’t really Bruce. Duh. He’s Dick’s conscience, his way of working through information alone, the manifestation of his worst fears and insecurities and guilt. Everything hallucination Bruce says is something that Dick knows but doesn’t want to confront, or something Dick’s subconscious knows, but his conscious mind hasn’t actually figured out yet. So that fight scene? It has nothing to do with Bruce and everything to do with Dick. Fandom keeps trying to make it about Bruce – like, “yes, this is exactly Batman!” Except the entire point is that it’s not. It’s Dick projecting, it’s making his father into this larger than life figure that’s strong enough to throw him clear across the room, still seeing himself as the kid that couldn’t stand on equal footing with him. It’s not about any of that being true in reality. It’s about him knowing that he’s not Robin anymore, that he’s grown up into something more, something better. Titans does a much better job than I originally anticipated of balancing the different aspects of Dick’s character, but it still fails to grasp the full scope of why he matters, and the interpretation of that fight being about Bruce is a byproduct of how the entire season has ignored has ignored a lot of what makes Nightwing.

Nightwing is interesting in part because he’s a walking contradiction. He has more friends than Bruce ever will, yet he operates independently. He has been a part of countless teams, yet he’s more introverted at heart than Bruce has ever been. The Titans writers haven’t been doing nearly as good a job lately at handling that.

Let’s start with Rose – Rose and Dick’s relationship is hugely important in the comics. He trains her; he inspires her to break away from her father and become a hero; he’s the reason that she becomes a Titan. That’s a role in her life that no one other than Dick could have taken on – it requires the relationship with Slade as well as Dick’s idealism and determination, his insistence on looking for the best in other people. Titans glosses over all of that in favour of putting Rose alongside Jason. That’s tied to an issue that I pointed out in this post – with every additional Robin, more and more of Dick’s characteristics and relationships get leeched away from him to be handed to the new Robin. In this case, the writers had to give Jason Dick’s relationship with Rose to keep him relevant to the season. Yes, they made it romantic instead of the mentor-mentee dynamic that defines how Dick and Rose interact, but it’s the same basic principle – a relationship that pulls Rose away from her father and towards heroism.

Forever Poisoned By Chronic Idealism.png
Dick talking to Deathstroke about Rose.

In Titans, it ends up falling flat because we don’t see much substance to Rose and Jason’s relationship at all. It was Rachel that stood up for her in the beginning, and she was standing up for her to Jason. We don’t see them doing anything to inspire each other. Hell, there’s barely any reason they stuck together at all.  Not only does it have to do with the way Jason ends up taking on Dick’s characteristics, it has to do with how even within this universe alone, Rose has been an afterthought. She showed up, we get some insight into her famijly dynamics, but it’s not part of the running theme of the show. It’s separable. You could remove it and the show would still make sense. That’s the same problem as with a lot of the subplots – all of them are included, but they’re so disconnected it doesn’t mean anything. In season one, the running theme was one of identity. But in season two…Kory. Rose. Hank and Dawn’s drama. There isn’t anything connecting any of those plots. They’re just there. Even Dick’s rivalry with Deathstroke, something that I love, is still a little bit lacking. As I said before, they’re still missing the full spectrum of the character.

Fighting skills are a very small part of the picture of what makes a character, so in most cases it wouldn’t bother me to see Dick depicted as not Deathstroke’s equal. But in the trailer, we see him knocked to the ground, seemingly in the same scene as initially confronting Deathstroke, so Rose can fight her father. While that’s obviously an important thing to see…the timing is frustrating. Dick putting on the Nightwing suit and taking on the Nightwing name is a huge moment. It’s important. Dick is the central character of the story. The plot of the first season may have revolved around Rachel; there may be a huge number of characters with subplots. But the constant is Dick. The entire show has been building up to him leaving Robin behind. And to have the moment where we finally get a visual recognition of how he’s moved on be undercut with an immediate shift towards someone else…well, that’s not great. It’s what Titans did last year all over again, in terms of fumbling at the end.

And then there’s the issue of the Stu thing. I get it – it was pretty funny. But that doesn’t change the fact that it didn’t make sense. For a start, is there a single person in this entire universe that doesn’t know Batman’s identity? But more importantly, Nightwing is about independence. It’s one thing for him to use Bruce’s money once he’s established – he does that frequently in the comics, and I have no objection. It’s an entirely different thing for him to need Bruce’s resources to become Nightwing at all. In Titans, not only does he need to go to Bruce’s guy to get a suit made, Bruce already had him start on it. It’s taking away so much of Dick’s agency in the matter. He’s being made into a perpetual second stringer, rather than a grown adult that doesn’t need Bruce’s help or permission to be a hero.

None of this really matters. Dick Grayson is my favourite comic book character of all time. I’m so ecstatic to see Nightwing finally exist in live action. That has been true and still is true. I’m just…a little displeased with how the leadup has been handled.

‘Batman v Superman’, ‘Young Justice’, and a Contemporary Lex Luthor

I’ve talked a lot about Batman v Superman before, including this post about how much I love its version of Lex Luthor. And I’ve talked about Young Justice plenty as well. But I don’t think I’ve ever actually discussed the differences between the two different interpretations of one of the few elements they have in common – Lex. That’s a shame, because it’s important. Especially as of season three. So here goes.

Let’s start with the reminder that Young Justice took eight years to release its three seasons. That is extremely important to this, because the first two seasons were very different from the third in a lot of ways. I…didn’t really enjoy season three. You might have noticed that from the fact I never actually wrote anything about it. Sure, episode four was the best episode of anything ever. But the season as a whole was trying too hard to lean into the cultural zeitgeist. It was trying so hard to be relevant to today that it a) felt instantly dated and b) didn’t actually delve deeply into any of the political themes it seemed to think it was exploring. A bunch of teenagers used social media as an organizational tool; there was a fissure between the heroes based on what they believed they should do; no one appeared to learn any lessons from the previous seasons and continued to lie, deceive, and abuse their powers to be met with no real consequences. None of that really went anywhere meaningful. They were just disconnected points without a coherent narrative connecting them and driving them forward. And arguable the biggest victim of that was Lex.

A very vocal group of people expressed a lot of hatred for the BvS incarnation of the character. He’s not physically intimidating, they said, he’s too goofy, he’s more like the Riddler than Lex! Let’s for a minute accept that premise. So BvS Lex is “too goofy”. And yet…season three Young Justice presented Luthor as an goof, blathering about fake news and far less competent and intelligent than the versions we saw in the preceding seasons. I didn’t see nearly as many complaints. How is that different? Well…I think that goes to what people really expect to see out of Lex. Just as with Superman, we’re talking about a character that’s been around for decades. There are many possible interpretations, each as valid as the last. Others might disagree, but I personally believe the version that’s best in a situation depends upon which version of what character he’s being pitted against. That’s something Batman v Superman did extraordinarily well. It’s something Young Justice didn’t really do at all.

Young Justice leaned into the idea of Lex as a fictionalized version of Donald Trump. It was the pinnacle of how season three sought to tell a more political story. And it’s understandable. Of course it is. We’re talking about a villain known for his hatred of an immigrant, real estate ties, and brief tenure as president of the United States. The problem isn’t the interpretation. What is…Trump is a symptom, not the real problem. Trump is not the be all, end all of racism and villainy. So taking shots at Trump is fine…but without actually taking that somewhere, in terms of him as a counterweight that reflects something in a different character, it doesn’t end up meaning anything.  And Young Justice placed him in opposition to Gar, not Clark or Halo or M’gann, and did so without leaning into the idea that Gar doesn’t quite fit in. So making him a Trump analogue fell flat for me, because it didn’t mean anything, didn’t explore what’s actually terrible about Trump. Trump == Bad. Sure. True. But that’s not anything challenging. It’s not a real argument or a political stance. It’s lazy. It’s the easiest shot that can be made, the argument that there’s one bad guy that’s the real problem and not the systemic issues that led to that one guy. It’s the equivalent of Resistance Twitter, those signs at protests claiming that if Hillary won, we’d all be at brunch and reminiscing about Obama, professing to have strong opinions about politics when those strong opinions can be summed up as “I hate Trump”. It’s shallow. It’s empty.

This kind of political story does nothing to challenge some of the worst abuses of power in today’s world – CEOs paying starvation wages to workers whose labour built the companies in question while raking in millions themselves; tech companies that disregard all data privacy laws; the fossil fuel executives that gleefully set the world on fire and are doing everything in their power to stop anyone from putting it out. That’s what I love about the BvS interpretation – at its core, it’s a story about power and corruption.

What makes this version of Lex scary is he’s not over the top. He’s not at all laughable. He’s not a direct parody of any real world figure, but he brings many of them to mind. He’s unthreatening looking, but powerful beyond comprehension. Because it’s not about physical appearance or public image or any such thing. It’s Lex Luthor broken down to his base components – hatred for Superman, wealth, power – and an exploration of what that actually means and how those parts connect. That leaves us with someone whose money leaves him able to do pretty much anything he wants and threatened by the very existence of someone with a different kind of power. It gives us someone who can hire mercenaries and actors, bribe senators and kill them, do pretty much anything he pleases with no oversight…until people start to stand together in opposition of that. It’s a villainy that goes beyond a person and into systemic corruption.

BvS presents a much more compelling, nuanced, and meaningful take on a Lex Luthor for the modern age than Young Justice does.  And it does that through not trying so hard to be relevant. By not giving into the temptation to reference current events through politicians or businesspeople, it yielded an enduring take on a villain. It’s one that was relevant when the movie came out, relevant now, and will continue to be meaningful as time progresses.

‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, ‘Game of Thrones’, and Arianne Martell: How Arianne’s Absence Explains Why The Story Needs Her

Now. I showed up to the whole A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones thing about ten years late. That may make me unqualified to talk much about it. But earlier this year, I read all the books and watched all eight seasons in the span of, like, three weeks, which has the benefit of leaving everything very clear in my mind. So I really want to talk a bit about how huge of an impact Arianne has, even though she didn’t show up until the fourth book.

From what I understand, there was a huge outcry over Arianne’s absence from the show. As there should have been – she’s fantastic. And the irony in excluding not only the character whose greatest fear was that her father intended to disinherit her in favour of her brother but said brother as well, only to make the sibling that has the greatest place in the narrative the youngest one, whose only contribution in the books that have been released so far has been to play board games with his fiancée and cry one time…well, it’s painful. But excluding her had ripple effects throughout the entire plot, even well after the show wrapped up their version of the Dornish storyline.

The problem with excluding her goes beyond just Arianne, of course – equal primogeniture isn’t just a world building detail included for the sake of the plot, it’s the beating heart of the Dornish narrative, just as much as Arianne herself is. The House Martell of the days in which the main story takes place was cofounded by a woman, with her name passed down to her descendents. It was a woman that ruled Dorne when they resisted Aegon’s Conquest. It was a woman who arranged her daughter’s marriage to the future King of the Seven Kingdoms. From the cofounder of House Nymeros Martell all the way down to Arianne, nearly all of the most important, in a historical sense, members of this family – and nation state –  are women. Game of Thrones completely disregarded all of that.

The show did more than just remove Arianne. It entirely gutted Dornish culture by changing references to Oberyn, Doran, and Elia’s mother – the ruling princess of Dorne in her own right – to being about their father. It made Doran’s heir a son, rather than a daughter. In the final season, they had the new ruler of Dorne be some random man. There was no reason to do any of those things – hell, there was less than no reason. Because the women in the Dornish story matter. The Unnamed Princess of Dorne is important. As a political player she was enormously effective! Tywin Lannister’s victories were a result of brutality – the Reynes and Tarbecks, Elia and her children. The Princess of Dorne’s were a result of politics, not war crimes. All of this is a major part of the political state of Westeros at the start of the series.

So why does this matter and how is it relevant to Arianne and the rest of the story? It matters because of what the story is missing without her: without Arianne, the story doesn’t have a woman that is her father’s heir at the same time as she lives in a sexist world. It doesn’t have someone who has a functional relationship with a parent, not because that parent did everything perfectly, but because they both worked to fix it and start being honest each other. It just doesn’t have the adult woman that’s an unambiguously good person taking on a leadership role.

The age changes and casting of older actors obfuscate the issue. But in the books, there are clear distinctions between the adults and the children. Sure, there’s some gradation – the few years between Margaery and Sansa matter, Brienne isn’t a child anymore but she’s still young, and so on – but you can easily categorize the characters into child and adult. And after Catelyn’s death, the two main adult women in the story are Arianne and Cersei (I know Asha probably counts, given that she’s had more chapters than Arianne, whom I’m counting, but still, she bores the hell out of me, so I’m ignoring her for now). What makes that powerful is that they are absolutely two sides of the same coin. Arianne is a better foil for Cersei than any other character could ever be.

Neither of them are fighters in the physical sense. They both crave their father’s approval. They were both extremely close to their fathers as children, only to grow away from them as they grew up. They’re both ambitious and intelligent. But while Cersei wants Tywin’s approval for the sake of Casterly Rock and her inheritance as his eldest chlid, Arianne wants Dorne largely because it’s representative of Doran’s love. Tywin had a “secret smile” for Cersei when she was a child, and Doran has one for Arianne when she’s an adult. Cersei never repaired her relationship with Tywin, while Arianne did with Doran. Hell, even their respective relationship with two of Cersei’s children demonstrates their differences – Tommen is afraid of Cersei, but Myrcella adores Arianne. These are characters whose stories parallel each other with the arguably primary difference being…Arianne doesn’t alienate everyone around her by being a dick.

The show doesn’t have that character that can balance Cersei. Not after Catelyn’s death. And because of that, there’s no one to drive home the idea that as understandable as Cersei’s misanthropy is from  a woman in a patriarchal society, it’s not excusable. Arianne is in a similar position, but manages to still care about other people. She demonstrates better than any other character that none of Cersei’s character traits are inherently wrong. She also uses sex to manipulate, but with much better goals and not without getting emotionally invested in return. She has just as much ambition and determination to prove herself, but she believes firmly that there are lines that she should not cross – she wants to be a good ruler, not just a ruler. Cersei claims, both to other people and to herself, that it’s about self defence and defence of her children. That’s not entirely a lie. But it’s also demonstrably not the entire truth because of how she refuses to actually return to the Westerlands and do her job as the Lady of Casterly Rock, how she flat out refuses to let Tommen learn the things he needs to learn, how her love for Joffrey came at the expense of her other children in very real ways.

The problem with society’s treatment of women, as the show presents it, is that they don’t have the right to rule. It doesn’t actually show that, though, because even though we don’t see any of the female heads of houses, by season eight, no one actually raises any objections to women as heads of houses. But through erasing Arianne and Dornish equal primogeniture, they erased both the complexity and the precedent for accepting women leaders, which results in that casual acceptance of Sansa, Yara, and the like not actually making much sense. Either there were cultural obstacles that needed to be overcome or there weren’t. But the writers tried to have it both ways, which was incoherent.

The thing is…no one actually cares if women rule as regents. Not really. Whether it be Lysa in charge of the Vale after her husband’s death or how Ned intended for Catelyn to govern at Winterfell in his stead while he was off in King’s Landing until Robb was older, it’s not an unusual position for women to be in. Women do have some degree of political power here. The real issue isn’t that they have no rights. It’s a two fold problem – first of all, it’s about how men are prioritized in terms of inheritance. And secondly, it’s about how the control that women have is usually fragile and unsustainable.

Ned left Cat in charge. But when war broke out, Robb was the one that took command. When Robb drafted his will, he pushed Sansa down in the line of succession in favour of Jon, who had specifically taken an oath not to inherit anything. Even though Cersei is queen regent, Jaime has the power to dispace her and send her back to Casterly Rock, pretty much because he’s a man. And that doesn’t even get into how she became the Lady of Casterly Rock by default – Tywin was dead, Tyrion was on the run after killing him, Jaime was in the Kingsguard. Arianne calls attention to that women’s fragile and unsustanaible power by having her story start off as explicitly about it.

Arianne is in the best possible position for a woman anywhere in Westeros. She’s Dornish and an eldest daughter, meaning she can inherit; she’s the daughter of the ruling prince of Dorne; and she’s beloved by her people. She stands to become one of the most powerful people on the continent. But she’s still a woman in Westeros, and since she’s not stupid and can see how other women are being treated in the world…she is rightfully scared of being cast aside for Quentyn! Getting Dorne isn’t just about a castle and power for her, it’s about safety. Women do not have a lot of options in Westeros. Arianne losing her inheritance means she loses her power. It means she could be pushed into an unwanted marriage. She could end up like Lysa, married to an old man, or Cersei, to an abusive one, and she wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.

The character whose story is closest to Arianne’s is Sam, what with his father passing over him in favour of his younger brother. And because he’s male, there are clear differences. Sam could go to the Night’s Watch. If he really wanted to, he could have fled and gone anywhere else, while remaining reasonably safe by virtue of being a man. Arianne could…what, join the Faith? Her options are a lot more limited.

Arianne being Dornish puts her in a better position than anyone else. With just about everywhere else, even if a woman is her father’s heir, she only rules in her own name if she’s not married. Otherwise, her husband is in control of her lands. That was the reason Robb passed over Sansa in the line of succession, after all – he didn’t want Tyrion to get Winterfell. The fact that Arianne is Dornish means that that doesn’t hold true for her. Her inheritance is hers. So long as she actually gets it. If she doesn’t, she’s just as trapped as any other woman. As I said before, Dorne represents to Arianne her father’s love. That’s true, and it’s the forefront thought in her mind. But there are practical reasons for that fear as well.

Arianne very much does have the skillset required to govern. She dismisses her purview as “feasts and frolics”, and longs to be responsible for taxes, hearing out petitioners, but her perception of that is largely a confirmation bias. The letter Doran wrote – which he almost certainly never sent, but that’s a different story – made her view everything as evidence that her father didn’t love her and wanted to circumvent her to make Quentyn heir. But organizing feasts and coordinating visitors is no small task. It requires a lot of work and planning, as well as knowledge of all the guests. It’s not a bad use of Arianne’s strengths, but she can’t see that because she’s too worried that it means she’s being cast aside.

She’s not one of one to think too highly of herself and her abilities. If anything, Arianne has a tendency to downplay her own skills. She doesn’t seem to realize how valuable her ability to convince is. Myrcella will do pretty much anything she asks. She got Cedra on her side while literally imprisoned in a tower using nothing but words. She managed to calm down an angry Obara that had just stormed out of a feast. These aren’t small feats, they’re big – the second didn’t pan out for her, but the first and last? Those are what salvaged Doran’s plan and stopped him from crashing and burning. From the moment he told her the truth, Arianne and Doran became a team. And unlike Robb with Catelyn or Tywin with Cersei,  Doran knows damn well how to use his daughter’s strengths.

She’s patient, she’s loving, she is remarkably talented at convincing people to follow her. She is capable of more than she realizes, and she demonstrates better than any other character the power of women and the skills a good leader has. It’s not Dany. It’s not Sansa. It’s not Cersei. It’s Arianne with the collection of traits, learned and innate both, that would make her an amazing ruler. She has the experience with organization, what with her work in event planning. She’s spectacular at making friends and is beloved by the Dornish. She understands people and knows how they think. She’s patient enough to wait for more information before acting. She knows intuitively when she should make decisions and when she should defer to people with greater expertise in the subject area. Erasing her, and the competence of her Sand Snake cousins, is harmful.

Not only does Arianne herself provide the example of a woman ruling in her own right, her entire story revolves around women in power. She wants to lay the groundwork for people accepting a woman on the Iron Throne by championing Myrcella’s claim. Tyene gave her the idea for that in the first place. Her cousin Nymeria is going to represent Dornish interests in King’s Landing by claiming their council seat. And to top it all off, Arianne will represent Dorne by going to parlay with Aegon herself. The show cut all of that. And what does that do? Well…it brushes aside the hows of the matter, ignoring all the ways in which characters would have to fight and plan to get what they need and want. It’s like what they did with Sansa and the Vale. In the show, she didn’t make friends or anything, the only reason she could get their army to ride to her defence was that Littlefinger was obsessed with her! It’s a cop out written by people that value military power more than diplomacy.

Women in power is an actual theme in the story, not just something tangential. But the show doesn’t explore that in any depth. It cut out mostly everything about Maege Mormont, including her elder daughters. It ignored the fact that Brienne is her father’s only heir and the implications of that in terms of marriage. It disregarded how Jaime and Kevan both planned to set Cersei aside and had every reason to believe it was possible because they were men. All these are different facets of the same issue of the role of women in politics that’s anchored by Arianne, whose story is specifically and explicitly about institutional sexism. And it leaves all these moments that the Game of Thrones writers seemed to want to mean something feeling very hollow.

Brienne as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard was supposed to be a triumphant moment. Most of the criticism I’ve seen towards it has been about how it would have been more satisfying for her to be on Sansa’s Queensguard, but I think that also misses the point – either way, she’s committed to a life as a glorified bodyguard rather than taking on her own leadership role. There’s no character growth there. Sure, she was knighted and had her value acknowledged, but she’s still pledging her life for other people’s as from the moment we met her. She never had to face the same kind of challenges she did in the books, so she ended the story with the same beliefs as she started it with.

For Benioff and Weiss, no one mattered except the lead characters, and that leaves a much flatter story – the Dornish characters’ actual goals don’t matter, just how they can be vilified or turned into Dany’s sidekicks. Brienne’s conflicted feelings on what she wants out of life and longing for love don’t matter, she’s just there to support the Starks, even though the only Stark with whom she had more than a one sided relationship where she contributed for nothing in return was Catelyn. She had no relationship at all with Bran. Her relationship with Sansa was basically just one between an employer and an employee. So after Catelyn, the show’s dynamic between a sworn shield and the person they swore to protect became just…servitude. Nothing complicated or two sided. Which is again, something Arianne could contribute to expressing beautifully, because of how much more nuanced her relationship is with her sworn shield.

Daemon loves her. He’s sworn to protect her. But he also has his own shit going on, his own sense of right and wrong, and he is not a blind sidekick. His life is about more than just slavish devotion and pining. He’s allowed to have wants and needs of his own, which show Brienne is really never afforded. And he challenges Arianne, tells her things she doesn’t want to think about, has close relationships with her cousins – it’s not quite that their relationship is one of equals, because that’s overly simplistic, but they’re on the same level. She trusts him. She neither wants nor expects a voiceless protector, she wants an advisor, and that’s what he is.

So why is Arianne’s relationship with Daemon important to lending insight to Brienne’s position, you ask? Why not just actually express some more complexity in Brienne’s arc without it? Well…because she shares similariites with them both while also being in a very different position than either of them. Let’s start with Daemon. Daemon was very close to Oberyn, and is still close to Oberyn’s daughters. House Martell is extremely important to him, even outside of his relationship with Arianne. And he’s a bastard born to a father with trueborn children. So him swearing his sword to his princess…well, it makes a lot of sense for a man who has clearly been shown to make his own decisions. It’s an extremely respected vocation for someone that won’t inherit; it means that he has the ear of the most powerful people in his homeland; and it lets him be close to the woman he loves. Brienne, though, she’s her father’s heir. She has her own responsibilities that she will, at some point, have to return to. She swore herself to Renly, she swore herself to Catelyn, she’s practically killing herself trying to fulfil her oaths, and sooner or later, she’ll need to question whether she’s like Daemon or not. Whether being a bodyguard is really what she wants out of life. And if she decides no, the contrast between her and Daemon can make it clear just why that decision makes sense. Which in turn allows for contrasting her with another female heir – Arianne.

If Brienne’s story is in equal parts about womanhood and knighthood, Cersei’s story is about power and motherhood, Sansa and Arya’s stories are about growing up…Arianne’s is about family and choice. And those are themes that are present to a greater or lesser degree everywhere else in the story. And by ignoring how central Arianne is to those themes, we have many of the same events, but no themetic coherence linking them all together in a way that makes sense.

The scene where Cersei argues with Tywin about remarrying is in the show, and that version is phenomenal. I would never deny that. Lena Heady killed it. But it fell so flat compared to the books because of the lack of context – how Tywin considered marrying Cersei to a Greyjoy and shipping her off to the Iron Islands. How Brienne’s third betrothal was to a man thrice her age who told her outright he intended to beat her. How Lysa underwent a forced abortion and was married off to an old man. How one of the things Arianne takes as evidence of her father’s lack of love for her is the insulting suitors she’s offered – old men without teeth – and the way Doran actively refused offers from younger men. Arianne’s story is extremely explicit about all of this and why it matters! In the eyes of teenage Arianne, not only does Doran not want her to succeed him, he doesn’t want her to marry anyone powerful or important – refused to let her meet Edmure Tully and Willas Tyrell – or even that loves her – refused Daemon Sand her hand. She becomes the connective tissue between all these women facing marriages they don’t want. It’s not just cruel women or ugly women or weird women; it’s not just a consequence of a time of war. It’s misogyny, plain and simple.

An argument that I remember seeing for years before I started reading the books or watching the show was about who has it “worse”, feminine women or masculine women, especially through the lens of Sansa and Arya. And that’s just so reductive. It’s the gross argument that there’s a way for women to win, that misogyny only applies to some women, that others have it easier. That’s not true at all! And it relies on viewing “masculine” and “feminine” as two diametrically opposed things. In this case, I think the obvious non-Arianne example is, again, Brienne.

The show erased a lot about Brienne’s character, and the most important part, I think, is just how much of her story involves love and romance. Her loyalty is incredibly easy to win, to the point where all it takes is the slightest kindness. When it comes to what we know of her past, it’s pretty much all to do with romance – her failed betrothals, how she’d been in love with Renly from pretty much the moment they met, the people in Renly’s camp that courted her for a bet. We don’t know when she first picked up a sword or why. We barely know anything about the kind of man her father was other than what we can infer. But we know about her romantic history, because it’s that important. Even into the present, we see her relationship with a man that wants to marry her for her island and the way Jaime takes over from Renly in her thoughts, we see how her initial swearing herself to Renly had more to do with being in love with him than it did anything else. It’s not possible to remove the romantic element from her story. Her story is every bit as much about womanhood as it is knighthood. Arianne is the other side of that, just as she is the other side of Cersei. Where Brienne’s story revolves around romantic love, Arianne’s is about familial. Yes, she has love interests that matter to her, but they’re not nearly as important as Doran, Quentyn, the Sand Snakes, and that makes her just as important as Brienne in terms of preventing the story from splitting the women into “masculine” and “feminine” categories.

She’s the beautiful woman that wears silk and jewels that’s also very much a believer in dressing practically for whatever the task at hand is, wearing a veil to keep the sand out of her eyes and mouth. She’s not a fighter, but she knows the desert as well as Darkstar, keeps the knife gifted to her by her cousin in her boot, and is a skilled enough horsewoman to be able to vault onto her horse when she’s exhausted after a long day of hard riding. She’s the femme fatale that’s in complete control of that as a role she plays. She’s actively involved in wartime negotiations in a way that no woman has been since Catelyn. She’s both the former teen rebel and the dutiful daughter, loved by bastards and nobles alike. She’s vividly real, and she makes the story so much better through her presence.

In the released books, Arianne has two chapters from her point of view. That’s nothing! That’s fewer than Quentyn! I was talking to a friend pretty soon after I finished reading the books, and our conversation went to House Martell and the different roles the members of the family play in the overall story. It had been several years since she had last read them, and she was shocked to realize that Quentyn had more chapters from his perspective than Arianne. Arianne’s impact is so much that she feels so much bigger than she is. She’s so human that it’s hard to look away.

She’s logical and dutiful, but she often thinks with her heart instead of her head. She’s smart, but still has a lot to learn in terms of carrying out plans in a non-controlled environment. That combination of innate intelligence, knowledge, and experience makes her perspective completely unique in the story. No one, not one person, can fill that void, no matter how many similarities to her they have.

Take Cersei. Cersei isn’t stupid! She’s not. But she is kind of inept. She doesn’t pursue knowledge. She doesn’t try to learn more. She makes dumb decision after dumb decision because she acts without thinking; she doesn’t actually learn when they blow up in her face; and she doesn’t at all understand why, beyond run of the mill misogyny and her conviction that she’s smarter than everyone, people would prefer to have Tywin or Jaime in charge. That’s very different from how Arianne watches and waits and gathers information for as long as she possibly can before she does anything, how she’s politically savvy enough to understand why Lord Yronwood would prefer Quentyn as Prince of Dorne to her and wrap that into her understanding of the situation. Yes, Arianne reached the wrong conclusion. But it was a very understandable conclusion to draw from the information that she had. And because Arianne is the type of person taht’s actually capable of learning from her mistakes, experience is helping her make better decisions and better conclusions. She and Cersei are both smart, ambitious women with issues with their fathers, but Cersei could never make her redundant. That same thing holds true for every other character.

People are always talking about how smart Tyrion is, right? But the issue there is…he thinks he’s smarter than he is. He is incapable of keeping his mouth shut when it would be the smart choice. He has to have people know how smart he is. Arianne’s intelligence doesn’t stem from a classroom. It comes from observing and experiencing, erring and fixing it. What she does is provide insight on just about every other female character in the story. She adds depth to the narrative and fills in the gaps so that the themes are fully articulated, rather than just disconnected pieces of a motif. She’s who many of the younger women could one day grow up to be. She has Sansa’s femininity and compassion, demonstrating what an adult Sansa could be like. She has Arya’s frustrations with a father that doesn’t give her the same freedoms she knows other people have. She has Cersei’s ambition, but more kindness.

The show felt hollow at many points for many, many reasons. One of those reasons was the lack of Arianne Martell. She unapologetically takes up space. She doesn’t ever try to shift blame onto other people. She’s harder on herself than anyone else could ever be. And she forces everyone else to face the fact that she matters, that people from other houses and other parts of the continent are important. It’s not just the Starks, Targaryens, and Lannisters that are important; it’s not just characters that have been around since the first book. The themes that are supposedly expressed fall flat without her.

Becoming Less Clueless: Clothing

There has long been a disparity in my life between the clothes I wear, the clothes I like, and the aesthetic that I want to fulfill. For most of my life, the Venn diagram of these things would be three circles with no overlap of which to speak. Now, I’ve been working on closing that gap.

I think the first problem is that I don’t really do seasonal clothing. I wear long sleeves in the middle of summer and sweaters all year round. I love sweaters. I have a drawer filled with them. Precisely zero of them are even remotely flattering. There is a time and place for giant sweaters, but there is not really a time and place for the sweaters that have nothing going for them but a pretty colour.

I am oddly shaped and nothing fits. I’m not short, but I’m definitely not tall, either. My torso is disproportionately long, and for whatever reason, most button up blouses look ridiculous on me. This below is one of the few that doesn’t:515540f2-b34d-465c-bb8a-0f37fd8dc03b

The colour, material, and drape of this shirt make it way less awkward looking than most dress shirts, so I keep it around, but still isn’t exactly flattering. So if I lean away from stuff like that and more to stuff like the next picture, I get closer to my preferred aesthetic:

IMG_2344

Clean lines, nothing too flamboyant. Lately, I’ve been tending towards blacks and creams, and I think it looks pretty good. I don’t really have many full body shots, so I can’t show how a lot of the stuff I’ve been trying looks overall, but that’s the general vibe – simple and clean.

I like the idea of short dresses and such – as my mom says, the time for skimpy clothing is now. However, then I’d have to put on sunscreen on my whole body and not just my face, and I’m just not that level of motivated. Plus, I’m super self conscious, and I feel weird about my knees. That being said, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to not get heatstroke:

IMG_2903.jpg

I’m also a big fan of suits. By which I mean, I like the aesthetic on other people, but when I try, I look ridiculous.

IMG_2943.jpg

Oddly enough, as silly as it looked with the jacket and all, that’s actually my favourite blouse! It’s simple enough to be versatile, and it’s got fun, kinda billowy sleeves! Which you can’t see in the next picture, I just like the way my face looks in it.

IMG_2720.jpg

Verdict: The rules are made up, no one cares, you can justify literally anything you put on your body, and people should just wear whatever they damn well please.