Saturday Storytime: Witch, Beast, Saint: an Erotic Fairy Tale

It is as the title promises, and C. S. E. Cooney has more for you in her Witches Garden if you want it.

I put him in the cellar and fed him up until he was able to move about on his own. Then I began the arduous task of coaxing him outside to the wishing well and washing him, which took many days and a great deal of patience. Already the potatoes and last year’s apples and the onions greening in their barrels had begun to take on his dank and desolate stench. And really, he was so grateful for the attention.

Like many beasts, he found the sound of my voice soothing. So I told him the story of how he came to be.

“This cottage passes from witch to witch,” I said. “My predecessor was ancient by the time she mistook an oak tree for an open passage and drove her mortar and pestle right into it. They say mortar and pestles are safer than brooms. I don’t know about that. I prefer to walk everywhere, or maybe hitch a ride on a wagon. You have nice broad shoulders. Perhaps I’ll teach you to piggyback me, by and by. There’s a bit of a pig in you. Well, boar. It’s the tusks. Your nose is more stag. Soft and broad from bridge to tip. Those gently flaring nostrils.  But your horns are definitely bull. Anyway. What was I saying?”

The monster made a gesture like a pestle grinding something in a mortar.

“Right!” I cried. “My predecessor. Apparently in the last few decades before her terminal flying accident, she’d developed this habit of turning local boys to beasts every time they slighted her—or she imagined they did. The most famous case was that of our sovereign prince himself. He lives in a castle, in a stretch of forest not far from here. Don’t worry though. He found a local hedge-witch—much like myself—to break the spell. They say she was so beautiful she could shatter strong sorceries with a kiss.”

I shrugged. My hands were wrist-deep in his sudsy fur, the soap black with his murk.

“Could be. Or she might have been a scholar—much like myself—who knew the right incantations, under which phase of moon to utter them, how to transfer all that moonlight and magic words from her lips to his. It looks much like a kiss. All very standard, unless you slip in some tongue. Fact is she was probably tired of trading chicken eggs and goat milk for her minor miracles. Thought to have a go at the princessing business instead. Never have to pick nettles in a midnight graveyard ever again—unless she wanted to. And once a witch, we like to say, always a witch. Princess or no.”

Pausing, I regarded the monster, wondering what it would be to kiss him. The juncture at my thighs prickled, swelled, pulsed, grew moist. Then he exhaled and I stepped back.

His fangs needed brushing. Badly. Too, I wasn’t sure he was used to me yet. That he wouldn’t startle back in panic, catching my lip on one of his pointy bits and taking half my face with him.

His eyelashes were very long, coarse and curly. He would not yet meet my gaze. But when I stopped scrubbing, he knocked his large skull against the palm of my hand, urging me on.

“Beast, be still!” I commanded, and he was. Except for his tail, which swept around to brush my hip in shy apology. I ran my hand along it, muttering as I scrubbed, “Why I didn’t just shave you bare-ass naked so we could start afresh, I don’t know. Probably because my garden shears aren’t big enough.”

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“Greater Minnesota Freethinking”, Amy LaValle Hansmann and Ken Kressin on Atheists Talk

What’s it like to be a humanist, an atheist, a freethinker in outstate Minnesota?  How do atheists find each other in a small town, where they risk exposure leading to the loss of friendships or even business if word gets out that they aren’t religious?  On Sunday, July 27, Atheists Talk has invited Amy LaValle Hansmann from Brainerd and Ken Kressin from Cannon Falls. These two have taken the initiative to form groups for atheists to gather, to talk, to have fun and to provide mutual support in areas that can be less than supportive.  We will talk about their struggles, their successes and a bit about what sorts of activities they have engaged in.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to [email protected] during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

Breathing

I’ve known for a long time that I don’t do well with extended aerobic exercise. I get intensely overwarm, to the point of nausea. I get lightheaded and have trouble thinking. I take a long time to recover, and frequently end up with a headache. I cough for hours afterward.

That last one, I knew was exercise-induced asthma. I didn’t know it when it started, in junior high track. I was given to believe I was malingering instead, that the problem was somehow shameful. But I figured it out some years later on my own.

I’ve mentioned it to doctors in intake interviews. None of them ever followed up. There were no questions about managing the condition, no tests to measure how impaired my breathing was, no suggestions even that I should have a rescue inhaler. They probably assumed that it was mild rather than self-diagnosed.

I didn’t have any way to gauge the severity of the problem either. I knew I couldn’t sustain activity that required me to breathe heavily, but I also knew the asthma kept me from training. I knew I coughed afterward, but I’d always done that without my breathing feeling particularly impaired.

Then I started my new job this summer. [Read more...]

Sentenced!

Jason has received the most wonderful* piece of FtB fic in his comments. The whole thing is a rather awesome** exercise in comparing FtB to the slave-owning South and YouTube atheists, but the last paragraph is the most amazing*** part.

We (the Union) will inevitably stamp out the scourge that is the FtB fanaticism (that’s you, the South) when basically all of the relevant groups see the light of reason and leave you by the way-side. General William T. F00t’s scorched earth campaign has pretty much decimated your resources and left no idiot standing. General Ulysses S. Mykeru has either entirely defeated or cornered your leaders here while your stronghold of Atheism+ forums is all but deserted. Eventually, General Mykeru will capture your president Peezey, force him to surrender unconditionally, and then proceed to eat Generals Brayton, Watson, and Benson alive. General F00t will ensure Secretary of State J. Glenn and Chief Justice TJ Kincaid oversee movement Reconstruction, whilst F00t takes his place as Secretary of Education in President Dawkins’ Cabinet. President Dawkins’ cabinet is by far the most outstanding, and includes the noted Vice President Abbie Smith, Attorney General D.P.R. Jones, Secretary of Defense Sam Harris, and the famed Secretary of the Treasury Neil deGrasse Tyson. Your president Peezey will be sentenced to hard labor in Karen Straughan’s service; General Svan will be sentenced to a diet. You and the rest of your confederates will be expelled into Utah, the pit of Mormon, as punishment for your warmongering. May those crazy bike-riding, creepy, thieving missionaries have mercy on your souls.

In my copious**** free time, I may have to revisit those proposed positions for the lulz. For now, though, take a look at the punishments.

To start with, it’s hard to claim you’re the North when you want to have people eaten alive. That wasn’t exactly how they went about it. Burning? Yes. Cannibalism? No. Your position as the “good guys” is in danger here.

It’s even harder to position yourself as the anti-slavery North when your next step is to sentence someone to slavery.

Me? I’m sentenced to a diet.

No, really. A diet. The punishment this fantasist came up with for me is that I have to not eat a whole bunch of food. He doesn’t have any idea how much I eat now, but I’m fat, so not eating scads of food must be punishment.

Eek.

Gasp.

Yawn.

Honestly, dude, could you find a better way to show off your shallow thinking than that? Oh, wait. You can. You can brag about how Team You is death to all religion, then reveal that you find Mormon missionaries terrifying.

Oh, no, Brer James! Please, please don’t throw me into the…bicycles?

Hey, Richard Dawkins, these are the people who claim to be speaking for you. How does this make you feel?

* By “wonderful”, I mean that it really makes me wonder about the person who wrote it.

** My jaw dropped as I read it.

*** Someone wrote this? Really? And they were serious?

**** This is just sarcasm.

The Reading List, 7/20/2014

I share a lot of links on Twitter and Facebook that I don’t blog about because I don’t have much to add. The reading list is a periodic feature where I share those links with my blog audience too. Of course, you’re still welcome to follow me on Twitter.

Around FtB

The Wider Web

Saturday Storytime: Chopin’s Eyes

I’m not usually a fan of the Victorian propensity to romanticize illness, but this story from Lara Elena Donnelly does things a little differently.

George courts Chopin like a terrier down a rabbit’s hole, teeth bared, tongue dripping. He flees, but every so often turns to look over his shoulder with liquid, changeable eyes. She lives for those glances, drawn into flashing moments when he is less than human and more than prey.

In early autumn, she corners him playing in the parlor, at a house party. George crosses the room, thick carpet quieting her riding boots. He does not notice her; his dark head is inclined towards the keys. The air in the room is electric. George swallows against a thickness in her throat, holds fast to a small sound trembling in her larynx. She dares not break the silence.

Kneeling by the bench like a postulant, she lays her cheek against his leg. He starts; his notes go sour, and the charged atmosphere dissipates. He holds his artist’s hands up high as if he is afraid to touch her, even to shoo her away.

“Madame Sand—”

“Angel,” she says. “You are an angel, sent from God. Please, don’t stop.”

But he does not begin again. He closes his hands—soft, cool, uncalloused—over hers and lifts them from his knee. “Please, madame. This is most improper. Most distracting.” He coughs with his mouth closed, wincing against the sharp convulsion. “Please.”

“Please,” she repeats, breathless. “Yes. Please. Go on.”

When she does not leave him, he sighs at her stubbornness and slides his fingertips between the black ridges of the sharps and flats and plays: a single dark note that fades, then builds into furls of triplets and sixteenths.

George, with her cheek still pressed against him, feels the change in his body, the sudden strength in the long, lean muscles of his thigh. He is fevered, and where she touches him she can feel currents moving, sliding like a great cat through a shadowed jungle. Her hands climb the contours of the piano leg, skip from the varnished wood to the give of Chopin’s flesh, grasp at him as the music swells. He is hard with need beneath the soft summer wool of his trousers, but ignores her in favor of his impromptu.

Chopin’s left hand strokes the lower octaves. His right climbs in rolling arcs towards the high reaches of the keyboard. George has made love to many men in her life, but never experienced ecstasy like this. Her orgasm crescendoes, and she sinks back into her body, dizzy and prickling with sweat.

The piece finishes with a gentle undulation and chord that is little more than a suggestion of sound. Chopin lifts his hands from the keys and looks down at George. He seems surprised to find her there, surprised to find himself at the piano. He draws breaths to speak. It catches somewhere behind his breastbone and he doubles in on himself, wracked with coughing.

George pulls his mouth to hers and kisses him, seeking mysteries in the darkness of his mouth. She does not find them. His breath is sharp with the iron tang of tubercular blood. Nevertheless, she knows what she has seen: something lives within him, uses him, and she wants it.

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What “We” Want

No, we don’t want the same thing. I don’t want what you want.

  • I don’t want my arguments to rely on dressing my opponents’ arguments up in a cheap wig and a sneer because I can’t call them ridiculous when they stand on their own.
  • I don’t want to build a sense of superiority on disagreeing with positions that have only been handed to me through a game of shouty, anti-feminist telephone.
  • I don’t want the endorsement of people or organizations who sweep me under the rug when the time comes to justify their support.
  • I don’t want the endorsement of people who rely on volume to carry their arguments.
  • I don’t want the endorsement of people who get so emotional when faced with feminism that their spelling, capitalization, and ability to make less-than-laughable analogies go to pot.
  • I don’t want the endorsement of people so desperate to discredit feminism that they have to quote mine and misrepresent people’s positions.
  • I don’t want the endorsement of anyone in such need of validation for their positions that they appreciate the support of the slime pit.
  • I don’t want to benefit from the work of generations while telling the world that I’m not a part of what they’ve done.
  • I don’t want to feel so helpless I throw my hands up at YouTube or Twitter harassment because that’s just the way the internet is.
  • I don’t want to have to make myself look brave by suggesting that people who have stood fast in the face of years of harassment are “pussies”.
  • I don’t want anyone ever to see me conflate caring that people are treated well with weakness.
  • I don’t want to be held up as a “good one” by people who are pretty awful themselves.
  • I don’t want to spread misrepresentations and poor arguments that get used to justify the harassment of others.
  • I don’t want anyone ever to see me ask people to support me without question or criticism.
  • I don’t want people to support my organization because I guilt them into it rather than because I’ve made a good argument that it works in their interest.
  • I don’t want anyone ever to see me argue to someone that our mere shared identity is a good way of evaluating how well I work in their interest.
  • I don’t want my success to be dependent on men who try to sell me on sex appeal instead of on my abilities.
  • I don’t want my success to be dependent on organizations that will throw me under the bus the moment I disagree in public with one of their big guys.

But here’s the deal: I don’t think you really want any of those things either. I don’t know what you do want. I don’t know what your dream was or where you wanted making videos to take you, but it probably wasn’t getting yourself stuck in an ideological trap where you get more praise for treating others badly and know what you’re in for if you bite the hand that feeds you. Still, here you are.

Welcome to movement atheism in 2014. Good luck.

And take that silly wig and sneer off. You can do better than that.

“Pop Culture Chemistry”, Raychelle Burks on Atheists Talk

Since we had a snafu during CONvergence, we’ve rescheduled this interview for this Sunday.

Dr. Raychelle Burks is better known as Dr. Rubidium, forensic chemist and smart alec extraordinaire and the developer of the recent (entirely hypothetical) zombie-repelling perfume. She is in the Twin Cities this weekend to participate in SkepchickCon, the science and skepticism track at science fiction and fantasy convention CONvergence. At the conference, she’ll be talking about the science of zombies, Breaking Bad, and Song of Ice and Fire.

She’s kindly agreed to get up early this Sunday and join us in the studio to talk about using fantasy and snark to hook people on the fun of science and about her crusade against chemophobia.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to [email protected] during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

“You’re Not Oppressed, White Atheist Dudes”

It’s the Dear Muslima of atheist progressives, so knock it off.

Not enough? Okay, we’ll do this the long way.

No, not all atheist progressives. (Do I really have to do this?) Plenty of atheist progressives manage to critique the actions and priorities of atheist organizations without suggesting that the enterprise as a whole isn’t needed because the atheist oppression white guys complain about isn’t real. It still happens, particularly among a subset of well-educated, urban, white, progressive atheists.

Oppression of people who are otherwise well able to withstand the oppression does not stop being oppression. [Read more...]

The Elided Rights of Accusers

There is a strain of thinking that I see repeated over and over as we work to change the culture around rape, as we work to see that people who bring accusations of rape don’t automatically become treated like suspects themselves, that they have equal access to institutional protections and remedies. This has been particularly evident in statements from those who oppose the White House Title IX initiatives addressing sexual assault on college campuses.

The clearest statement of this argument I’ve seen came from Joseph Cohn of FIRE in The Chronicle of Higher Education a couple of years ago, though I’ve seen it in various forms since.

Under the new standard, if it is determined that an accuser’s claims are a fraction of a percent more likely to be true than false, the accused may be subjected to discipline, including expulsion.

Unfortunately for students’ rights, a long line of institutions have adopted this low standard under federal pressure. In fact, a review of policies at 198 of the colleges ranked this year by U.S. News & World Report reveals that 30 institutions—including Yale University, Stanford University, and the University of Virginia—have changed their standards of proof following OCR’s mandate.

That’s too bad, because colleges should be free to grant their students more robust due-process rights—and the federal government should not stand in their way.

This argument is generally presented in gendered terms, though it isn’t here. While this article refers to “students”, it is usually “men” standing in for those who are accused of sexual assault. Their alleged victims are in turn presumed to be women, though the women/accusers themselves are rarely mentioned in the formulation of the argument.

There are a number of possible reasons for the invisibility of these presumed female accusers. Women’s rights are often viewed as “special” rights, along with the rights of other marginalized populations, so human and civil rights arguments tend to focus on men. People these days do tend to notice when you argue for men’s rights over women’s rights and apply a bit more critical thought to an argument that does this. Talking about women as alleged victims quickly brings to mind a number of well-publicized stories that look nothing like false accusations to even unsophisticated audiences, and that doesn’t help garner sympathy for the accused.

Whatever the reason, we cannot allow this particular argument to stand on its own. Arguments for the rights of the accused have to be considered in the context of the rights of the accusers.

Why? Because the only way to guarantee that there will never be a negative outcome for an accused innocent is to guarantee that there will always be a finding of innocence. [Read more...]