Mykal Burns

This Concludes Our Broadcast Day

Somewhat sad news for me, Whatever readers, but don’t worry. It ends on a happy note for you.

I’ve had a terrific time guest blogging here for the last six weeks, but as Chaucer said, there is an end to everything, good things as well.

I’d like to thank John for allowing the other guest bloggers and me the opportunity to take over the Whatever airwaves for a bit. It’s been a treat.

I’d like to thank John Anderson, N.K. Jemisin and Mary Robinette Kowal, as well. It has been an honor to be considered among such esteemed company. I hope we’re all able to meet in the real world, sometime soon.

I’d like to send huge thanks to Kate Baker for running the show around here in John’s absence. She kept this train on the rails, and did a great job wielding the Mallet of Loving Correction. Such a great job that I hardly noticed that mallet swinging at all.

Finally, the biggest thanks of all goes to you, Whatever readers. You’ve been kind hosts. It’s worth noting that in the last six weeks I’ve only posted one photo of a cat, yet you kept reading and commenting. I think it has been the commenting that has been my favorite part. It is true that Whatever readers are some of the best around (I’m not just sucking up here,) and I’ve really appreciated everything that you’ve brought to the conversation. Thoughtful responses, witty, maybe a little snark; I’ve even appreciated the opposing views, as they’re always delivered with respectful courtesy. So thank you, friends. It has been a pleasure to spend this time with you.

Here comes the good news. While this is my last post, John will be back tomorrow, and my guess is that after a six week break he’s got a lot to talk about.

Thank you all again. This has been a great time. I’m sure I’ll see you all in the comments section from time to time. Maybe I’ll see you on the Twitters, too. Occasionally I post something amusing (@mykalburns.) Should we happen to meet in the real world, I’ll look forward to that as well, but I ask that you please just come up and introduce yourselves; watching through binoculars from your car across the street is a little creepy.

Mykal Burns

My Life In Women’s Roller Derby

When John introduced the guest bloggers here several weeks ago, he mentioned that, among other things, I am a roller derby referee. It has also been said that I have more fun than anyone I know; probably more than anyone you know, too. By far, the most fun that I have is in roller derby.

I hear you thinking, “Roller derby? Like in the movie ‘Whip It?'” Yes, somewhat similar to that.

Photo of Mickispeedia by Stalkerazzi f/8

So often when I talk about roller derby (and I talk about it often,) I get questions like, “What’s roller derby?” And, “That’s a real sport?” And, “Awesome! I’ve always wanted to see that.” (That last one isn’t a question, but it comes up a lot. More on how you can see it live a little bit later.)

In answer to one of the most common questions, yes, roller derby is a real sport. Its origins date back about 125 years, but the most recent iteration began in 2003. Something I hate to even mention because people have a tendency to latch on to this idea (please don’t) is that in the 70s & 80s, roller derby was somewhat similar to WWE wrestling in that it was largely scripted, with predetermined outcomes and a lot of fake fighting. No more. Modern roller derby is a fast paced, aggressive, full-contact sport. There is nothing fake about it. Also, no fighting; there’s a rule against that.

Tough Cookies vs. The Swarm by Stalkerazzi f/8

If you were unaware of roller derby, I’m honestly a little surprised. What started out as a mostly underground sport is growing at an incredible rate. There are currently approximately 20,000 women skating in about 500 leagues worldwide. Wherever you are, there is probably a roller derby league near you. Just Google your area and “roller derby.” Then go watch and support your local league. You will not find a more exciting sport.

I know Whatever readers like books, so let me recommend a couple on the subject. First, if you’re a regular reader here, you’ve already met my friend Pamela Ribon (aka May Q. Holla.) She wrote a terrific novel called “Going Around In Circles,” which our mutual friend John featured in The Big Idea in April. Another great book which serves as a primer on all things derby from the history of the sport to a quiz to determine if you’re a derby girl is “Down And Derby: The Insider’s Guide To Roller Derby,” by my friends Jennifer “Kasey Bomber” Barbee and Alex “Axles Of Evil” Cohen.

The league that I referee is the L.A. Derby Dolls. While most leagues play on a flat track, the Derby Dolls have a banked track (the outer edges of the track are at an incline,) which makes the game faster and (if you ask me) more exciting.

The Derby Dolls have their own practice/bout facility, The Doll Factory. It is a 65,000 square foot former ice cream cone factory that has been fitted with a banked track, bleachers and stands for fans, video screens and score boards, and a giant disco ball-like mirrored roller skate.

The Doll Factory by Stalkerazzi f/8

Every few weeks a couple thousand screaming fans pack the house to see the most exciting sport around. They come to see incredible athletes who literally put their blood, sweat and tears into being the best at their sport that they can be. It doesn’t hurt that those athletes are attractive women skating really fast (25 mph+) and knocking each other down.

Being so close to Hollywood, the L.A. Derby Dolls are very lucky to have the best (all volunteer) audio/video production crew available. RaD (Research and Development) produce, among other things, our live boutcast on game nights, as well as amazing promotional videos. I promise you will not be disappointed if you click through to see examples of their work here and especially here.

While the skaters are certainly the stars of the game, I am most proud of my own team, The Enforcers. Quiet professionals, we are the referees who enforce the rules to ensure the safety and integrity of the game. Roller derby is a game and we’re having fun, but it’s a game that we are all very serious about. Like the skaters, we are at practice every week (sometimes several times a week) building skills, training on the rules, and constantly working to make sure we officiate every bout and scrimmage to the best of our abilities. It’s that level of commitment that make The Enforcers one of the most respected ref crews in the country. Worth noting: my team is undefeated; the refs always win.

Enforcers post-bout team photo by Stalkerazzi f/8

I’ve only really touched on the surface of what an incredible sport this is. I can tell you how exciting it is to watch, to be in the middle of that screaming crowd of fans, but you can’t really know until you see it for yourself. But, see it once, and you’ll be hooked; I was.

Photo by Shutter Thug

Find your local roller derby league and go see a bout. If you’re anywhere near Los Angeles (or coming for a visit,) come out to see the L.A. Derby Dolls. If you’re not in L.A., check the schedule (previous link) and watch the bouts live (and free) on the internet. Find me at the bout and say hello. Just ask for Third Degree Burns! and I’ll see you there.

(BTW, all of these photos are clickably gigantifiable, and look better large. Stalkerazzi and Shutter Thug are great photographers. Clicking will take you to their Flickr streams, where you can see lots of other fantastic roller derby photos.)

Mykal Burns


About a year and a half ago I was researching a story about Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church (most famous for being the Christians hateful bigots that carry signs that read “God hates fags.”) Digging a little deeper into the story, I discovered that Phelps & Co. believe their God has a lot of hate to spread around, so they also protest military funerals with signs like “God loves dead Marines” and “God loves IEDs.” I could think of nothing more hurtful than a family seeing signs like those as they buried their son or daughter.

As I described what I’d learned to an acquaintance, she suggested I look into a group called the Patriot Guard Riders. She knows I ride a motorcycle, and thought this might be a group for me. To be honest, I was a little worried about what I might find when I clicked on that link. Recent history has seen the word “patriot” hijacked by those who would use it to exclude, even vilify fellow Americans. They call themselves patriots, and imply that if you do not agree with them then you could not possibly be patriotic yourself; in fact, you may even be un-American. Luckily, that is not at all what I found.

The Patriot Guard are a group of (primarily) motorcycle riders dedicated to honoring fallen heroes. Many are veterans, though that’s not required. In fact, you don’t even have to ride a motorcycle. They don’t care what your political views are. All that is required is respect.

In the event of protesters at a funeral, the Patriot Guard will park their motorcycles between those with signs and the ceremony, and raise their flags so as to screen off the protesters from the view of the mourners. I am happy to say this has not yet been necessary on any of the dozen or so missions that I have been on with the PGR.

Mykal Burns

Grown Up Decisions

We all (most all of us, anyway) make decisions everyday. Lots of them. Whether it’s the choice between getting up with the first alarm or the fifth tap of the snooze bar, the choice between giving voice to your internal monologue or keeping your job, or any of a multitude of other choices, we’re usually making decisions at breakneck speed.

It is just a fact of life that the ability to make those choices expands greatly once you become an adult. As a kid, many of the choices you would like to make are decided for you by the adults in your life; mostly parents.

When I was a kid, I would occasionally tell my mom that I wanted to have dessert first. The answer was always no.

“When you’re a grown-up,” she would say, “you can do whatever you like.”

Whether I’ve grown up or not is a debate for another time, but I have most certainly reached the age of majority; I am definitely an adult. Now I do whatever I like.

Thus, I would like to show you yesterday’s lunch.

That’s it. This Strawberry Shortcake and a bottle of sparkling water. It was delicious.

Mykal Burns

My Monday

So, what did you do yesterday? I spent a good portion of my afternoon at LAX in Los Angeles, waiting for a plane to arrive. I know Whatever readers like photographs, so I shot a few for you while I waited. (Pro tip: all photos can be clicked to see a gigantified version in my Flickr stream.)

An unusual part of my airport adventure was that I was actually waiting on the runway, at the far end of the airport from the main terminals. For most of the day my view looked like this:

Shot with my craptastic iPhone camera (non-4g variety.)

A pretty dull view, made even less attractive by the marine layer that has been plaguing Los Angeles for a month. It’s rolling in from the beach, about 1/2 mile from the left side of the frame above.

Activity eventually began to pick up and about 30 minutes before the plane I was waiting for arrived, three large Marine helicopters landed and staged off to the right behind the building.
In addition to the large transport helicopters, two smaller passenger helicopters arrived, as well.
Here’s something that never seems to happen when I’m on a plane. The flight I waited for arrived 40 minutes early and headed directly for its gate, no runway delays.
If you haven’t guessed yet which flight & passenger I was waiting for, click past the jump for more photos. Heck, even if you have guessed, click for pics…

Mykal Burns

The Thing About Monkeys

The thing about monkeys is, they’re everywhere.

When this is over, you may not want to hear about the monkey theory, but I just have to put it out there.

Everyday –every day- you will have a monkey sighting. You’ll see a picture of a monkey, someone will say “monkey,” you’ll hear a monkey noise, whatever. There are monkeys everyday. If you miss one, don’t worry about it; there will be others.

A friend told me about the monkey theory five years ago. I’ve seen monkeys every single day since then. Usually several monkeys throughout the day. I can’t escape them. Now, you can’t escape them either.

Oh, there will be contrarians among you. Some will say this is ridiculous; that there can’t possibly be a monkey every day. I’m telling you there are. There will even be those who come back here to the comment thread tomorrow, only to say, “See? I didn’t have a monkey sighting all day yesterday.” To them I say that denial is not just a river in Egypt. You may consciously avoid monkeys now; but tomorrow, next week, and forever more, when you’re not thinking about it, they will be everywhere.

On a somewhat related note, I mentioned previously that while I don’t have a cat, I do have friends with cats. Thus, I present Charles. And his monkey.

Please don’t curse me for opening your eyes to all of the monkeys. When you relax and accept it, monkeys are kind of fun. As the Barenaked Ladies sang in If I Had $1,000,000, “Haven’t you always wanted a monkey?”

Mykal Burns

The Other One

Hi, Whateverites. (Whateverians? I know a group of lions is a pride and a group of wolves is a pack. What does one call a large group of Whatever readers?) I’m the other one. Well, not necessarily The Other One, but certainly an other one. One of your other guest bloggers here for the next six weeks, my name is Mykal Burns.

Tangent alert! My mind works in a somewhat non-linear fashion, so I often drift off on tangential spurs in the middle of a conversation (or blog post.) I do always try, sometimes successfully, to bring it back around to the subject I began with. In this case, I’m thinking about science fiction character names. Do you know what I like best about John Perry and Jane Sagan from Scalzi’s Old Man’s War universe? I can easily read and pronounce their names. Many science fiction authors think that because their characters come from other worlds, they need names like Zapldrk Nuumsphoqx. My problem is that every single time I read a name like that, I will try to pronounce it correctly in my mind. Every time, throughout the book. It breaks the rhythm of my reading and really slows me down. A note to sf/f authors: why you gotta make it so hard? Anyway, the point is, while my name is spelled Mykal, it is pronounced like “Michael.” Don’t let the weird spelling slow you down. Besides, many people just call me “Burns.”

Annnd…we’re back. By way of introduction, here’s a bit about me:

First, I have to tell you something that I know will cause some of you great consternation; you may be tempted to stop reading anything that I post here altogether. Fight that urge. My admission? I don’t have a cat.

Even now, I hear many of you grumbling toward your computers. Why would Scalzi choose a guest blogger without even the possibility of adorable kitteh pics? I want you to know that I understand your feelings. There are certain expectations when one comes to the Whatever, and it would seem that I’ve let you down on this one, even before I’ve begun. There is hope, though. I have friends with cats; maybe you’ll get pictures of them. I also occasionally shoot photos of other amusing subjects, so I’ll do my best to fill this gap that I have unwittingly created.

I like to follow bad news with good, so on the upside, I suspect that I am the guest blogger who has known Scalzi the longest. I saw a comment in one of the other threads asking for embarrassing secrets, and if anyone is going to have those, it’ll be me. John and I met sometime around 10 or 11 years old, so I’ve even got stories from the awkward teenage years. I try to maintain a fair level of confidentiality, but if I get stuck for material (or if I’m properly bribed) I may have to bring some of those stories to light.

In keeping with local custom, I expect to spend the next six weeks writing about Whatever strikes me as blog worthy. I’ve got fairly varied interests, so I hope there will be at least a little something for everyone. Though I usually lurk, I’ve spent a good bit of time over the years reading the comment forums here, and I’ve always been impressed by the level of discourse amongst Whatever readers. It’s a sharp bunch here, and I hope to keep you all engaged and somewhat entertained. I also look forward to an opportunity to take a more active role in the conversation.

Thanks for having me and the other guest bloggers. I am honored to be in their distinguished company, and to have a chance to hang out here with you. Now let’s have some fun.